1. As I type, the Grizzlies currently sit in 7th place in the West, just percentage points behind Utah and OKC for the 5th and 6th seeds respectively. Is this about where you thought the Grizz would be this season, or have they surprised one way or another?
It’s really hard to give a simple answer to that question. The Grizzlies came into the season with one of the widest variances in terms of expectations. I thought they’d finish in the mid-forties in terms of wins, just enough to hit the over, but 50 felt unrealistic.
To this point, I’d have to say they’ve exceeded expectations. They’re technically on pace for 50 wins, which is above where I expected, but the biggest surprise isn’t how many games they’ve won, but how they’ve done it. They’ve already suffered injuries to Mike Conley and Chandler Parsons, and their depth has been tested with injuries to other key role players (Vince Carter, Deyonta Davis, Brandan Wright, James Ennis, et al). They’ve also done this with Andrew Harrison at back-up point guard and Tony Allen handling spot point guard duties. Given all those circumstances, where they are feels closer to miraculous than just surprising.
I also think that the bottom half of the West, from 9-16, is less competitive than I expected. It feels like the eighth seed could come from one of Sacramento/Portland/Denver, but those teams are still a ways off the pace of the top seven. Barring some sort of major change or injury, it feels like the top seven teams in the West are as close to locked in as they can get.
2. The Grizzlies made a relatively large splash in free agency when they signed Chandler Parsons, luring him away from the Mavs. He has been injured most of the season, playing only limited minutes in 10 games, but have you liked what you've seen from him?
After his first return from injury, Parsons never looked like himself. He was tentative, he wasn’t explosive, his jump shot didn’t look right and it refused to go in. Obviously there was some rust to be shaken off, but that first handful of games didn’t do much to alleviate the worries of the fan base.
Since returning from the bone bruise, Parsons has looked better. His shot is coming back, and, more encouraging, he’s moving around the court better. He just looks healthier than he did before. There’s still going to take some time to get back to the sort of player that he was before the last injury, though, and I’m fine with the training staff and coaching staff limiting his minutes while he shakes off rust. After all, Memphis doesn’t need him to be healthy now. They need him to be healthy entering the playoffs this year, and they need him to be as healthy as possible for the life of his contract. As long as there aren’t any setbacks (fingers crossed!) I think he’ll be fine.
3. Dave Joerger was terrific in holding the team together last season through a myriad of injuries, but he left this summer, and was replaced by acclaimed assistant David Fizdale. Do you like what Fiz has done so far? What weaknesses does he have, and how can he improve?
It’s been less than half of a season, but so far, I’m a huge fan of Fizdale. It isn’t just x’s and o’s either; from day one, Fizdale has made it a priority to positively change the culture in Memphis. He was proactive in moving Z-Bo to the bench, a move that’s helped Memphis’ offense open up with the starters while also providing a scoring threat for a bench unit that’s pretty inexperienced.
He’s also been very upfront about what he expects from his stars, none more so than Marc. Fizdale made Marc the only captain, and he’s challenged the big man to be the sort of force that he (and a lot of Grizzlies fans) know he can be. When Mike went down with the back injury, Marc put the team on his back. Now Fizdale is trying to get Marc to carry that aggressiveness into games when Mike is there.
It’s things like that that really inspire confidence in Fizdale going forward. Sure, he’s gotten the Grizzlies to shoot threes and has implemented a defensive scheme that’s made the Grizzlies one of the league’s best defenses once again (Marc also has a lot to do with that), but it’s the cultural changes and the accountability, especially with the biggest names, that really make Fizdale look like he’s a longterm solution.
4. Much like the Clippers, the Grizzlies have a core of players that have been together for over a half-decade. Are you willing to move on from any of those players? If not, who do you think the Grizzlies should trade, and what should pieces do they need to move from "good team" to "great team"?
That’s a tricky question. Mike, and even more so Marc, aren’t really moveable. If any of the core were to be moved, it’d be Zach Randolph or Tony Allen (I actually recently did a piece comparing their trade value). But the thing is, both TA and Z-Bo are such key pieces in terms of Memphis’ identity that trading them would seem sacrilegious to a good chunk of Memphis’ fan base.
It’s also hard to know what value either of those players holds to other teams, and if moving them is worth the cost. Z-Bo has been key off the bench, and TA is still instrumental in what the Grizzlies do defensively, and he’s actually handled the ball more since the team has only Andrew Harrison and Wade Baldwin to back up Mike Conley.
Outside of the Core Four, I’m not sure how much they’ll be able to move the needle with a trade. JaMychal has been discussed multiple times. He’s been great this year, but he may cost too much to keep in restricted free agency, so if they can get something, it might (might) make sense to try and move him. Vince Carter is on an expiring contract, so he could be moved, but what would he bring back?
I really think the piece they need is already on the roster in the person of Chandler Parsons. The Grizzlies just need him to get healthy. The Grizzlies have needed another primary ball handler outside of Mike and Marc who can create their own shot and facilitate for others. Parsons, when healthy, has that skill set. If he can get back to that, I think that’s the best possible upgrade for Memphis.
5. Outside of Golden State, what team would you least like to face in the Western Conference Playoffs? And what team do you think the Grizzlies could handle easier than some might think?
Outside of Golden State, Houston feels like the biggest worry to me. I know Memphis managed to beat them recently, but that offense scares me.
Other than that, I don’t know who I’d really want them to play. The Grizzlies have beaten Houston, Golden State, Utah, and stomped Oklahoma City into the ground after Westbrook was ejected, so they certainly are capable of beating anyone. I don’t know that there’s a team I’d necessarily want them going up against, though. In terms of playoffs, I really think the Grizzlies have an outside shot at the four seed, but as long as they stay out of the eight spot, they should present a tough first-round test to whoever they draw.
Big thanks to Brandon for giving us some insight into the Grizzlies this season. If you want to check out my answers to his questions, they are up on Grizzly Bear Blues!