Team Report: Memphis Grizzlies

Team Report: Memphis Grizzlies
Dec 01, 2006, 12:06 pm
Justin Poulin

The Memphis Grizzlies are 4-11 on this young season, tied with Charlotte for the worst record in the league, and far off the pace that led them to a 49-33 record in ’05-’06 before being swept in the first round by the Dallas Mavericks. Pau Gasol’s absence has hurt the team as they lost 8 of 9 games to start the season before pulling together and defeating the Orlando Magic on November 20th. Since that inspired win, led by Gasol’s replacement Hakim Warrick and his 15 fourth quarter points, the Grizzlies have defeated the Wizards and the Nuggets and may be gaining some momentum.

Rookie Kyle Lowry was quickly earning significant playing time and easily had his best game of the season in the win against Orlando finishing with 16 points, 6 assists, and 5 steals a night before suffering a broken wrist in a close loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. The rookie out of Villanova could miss the remainder of the season which leaves the team dangerously thin at point guard. Lowry’s scrappy play and ability to force turnovers by getting under opposing big men in the paint and slapping the ball loose will be missed. Chucky Atkins has played admirably as the team’s starting point guard but defense has never been his strong suit and opposing guards can get by him with an average first step requiring a teammate to either switch on the perimeter when screened and resulting in a mismatch or by requiring help from the post to defend a penetrating guard. Atkins also has a tendency to make his cut too far from the pick making it difficult for him to find the lane himself or with a pass to the player on the roll. A more effectively run pick and roll would help mask the size disadvantage this team encounters on a nightly basis and also help to raise the team’s horrid field goal percentage by producing higher percentage shots such as lay-ups, dunks, and close range jumpers rather than settling for outside shots. The only other remaining point guard on the roster, veteran Damon Stoudamire, is a question mark as he attempts to return from a serious knee injury suffered last season. Damon missed the first game of the season with a sore knee in a long-time-coming road win against the Denver Nuggets and was out once again the next night in a loss to the Clippers. Coach Mike Fratello was forced to play Atkins extended minutes in Denver with Mike Miller directing the offense when Atkins’ was on the bench for only 6 minutes of the game. Incidentally, Miller finished the game with 14 assists and now leads the team with 3.7 per game.

In those three most recent wins the team averaged only 11 turnovers; three less than their season average of 14 per game. Taking good care of the ball is essential to the Grizzlies’ success as they are the 8th worst team in the league in rebounding differential and dead last with a 42.3 field goal percentage leaving little room for careless ball handling. In the win against the Magic the Grizzlies committed a season low 9 turnovers while forcing Orlando into 18 miscues – that was the largest margin in Memphis’ favor since the home opening loss to the Knicks in triple overtime. The team stands to improve significantly with the return of Pau Gasol who is hoping to get back on the court in December after undergoing foot surgery. Gasol should make an immediate impact on the team’s poor rebounding differential provided that he exhibits the same tenacity he showed last season in his effort to shed the “soft” label. His 8.9 rebounds per game would be a welcome addition to a team whose current leader weighs in at 6.4 per game (all purpose veteran Mike Miller).

Hakim Warrick has had a chance to shine in Pau’s absence and while the super athletic and wiry draft night tweener is not a rebounding machine, he has made the best of his opportunity and established himself as one of the top options on offense and the number one option in the post. Hakim relies on his length and leaping ability to score close to the rim by elevating over his defenders to get his shot off rather than attempting power moves which are not his strength. Warrick averages 6.1 rebounds per game but had his best game against Dwight Howard hauling in 10 boards off the glass, his second highest total of the season.

Rudy Gay has also seen significant playing time and has been inconsistent as you might expect from a rookie this early into his freshman campaign. Gay has struggled to find his shot on a number of occasions shooting 34.9% from the field and averaging slightly over 9 shots in 24.5 minutes per game. Rudy has displayed an ability to get to the rim, but still struggles to finish once he gets there sometimes not finishing powerful enough with the dunk and other times laying the ball too hard off the glass. His most effective shot right now appears to be his mid range turnaround jumper which he takes in confidence with one quick and fluid motion often set up by first faking a step to drive into the lane. Gay should improve significantly over the course of the season as he adjusts to the game and becomes more comfortable at the pro level.

The Memphis Grizzlies are not as bad as their record would indicate and things should start to come together once Pau Gasol is back and close to 100%. There are a number of contributors seeing regular playing time that are either new to the team or adapting to increased responsibilities. Rumors have spread that Pau Gasol may be traded and that Mike Fratello is on the hot seat; while both are possible, majority owner Michael Heisley has denied the trade rumors and a coaching change would surprise at this early point in the season before Jerry West and ownership see what this team is capable of once their star player is back in uniform. Still, the point guard woes will likely plague this team for the rest of the season and prevent them from going too deep into the playoffs even if they do recover from the slow start.

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