Portland Trail Blazers (12-11) at Memphis Grizzlies (15-8)
Dec. 8, 2016, 5:00 PST
Watch: CSN NW; Listen: Rip City Radio 620 AM
Blazers injuries: Festus Ezeli (out)
Grizzlies injuries: Vince Carter (questionable), Mike Conley (out), Chandler Parsons (out), Brandan Wright (out)
SBN Affiliate: Grizzly Bear Blues
For Portland’s second road matchup of the year with the Memphis Grizzlies, Blazer’s Edge sat down with Brandon from our SB Nation sister site, Grizzly Bear Blues, to answer a few questions about what to expect from the Grizzlies tonight.
Blazer’s Edge: Coach David Fizdale has the team playing more of a pace-and-space style compared to previous seasons that sees even Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol shooting the 3-pointer. How successful has the transition from the Grit & Grind era been so far?
Brandon: So far, the results have been pretty positive. Gasol has finally shown a willingness to accept a role as a perimeter shooter when he gets open looks, and we've even started to see him handle the ball outside a little more. Right now, Marc is averaging 3.5 threes per game (easily a career high) and he's converting them at a 42% rate, but even with a little bit of regression on that, it's a huge benefit to the offense.
The Grizzlies have also jumped from 25th in the league in three-point attempts per game last season to 15th so far this year, so it's not just Marc that's increased his rate. Troy Daniels has finally started to get playing time and seems to be finding his shot, Mike Conley was shooting more threes before he went out with an injury, and the young players (there's plenty of those, too) have been encouraged by Fizdale to shoot open shots. It's been a complete change from teams of the past, and, while they're still going through a few growing pains, the results have been almost all positive.
As for pace, there hasn't been much of a change there. The Grizzlies still rank near the bottom of the league in terms of possessions per game. Under Fizdale, I think they've tried to bring the ball up faster, but the offensive emphasis is more on getting the right look more than getting a look quickly. They may speed up a little as they get more comfortable in the new system, but I still don't see a drastic improvement happening anytime soon.
B.E: Mike Conley is unfortunately sidelined again for an extended period of time. How is Memphis manufacturing points in his absence?
B: It's really come from a variety of sources. Marc has shown an increased willingness to be aggressive on the offensive end, something he's been hesitant to do in the past. Memphis has also managed to squeeze points out of their bevy of role players. Troy Daniels has finally started to produce like they thought he could. Guys like JaMychal Green and Andrew Harrison have chipped in with key performances.
It's been someone different almost every night lately. I'm not sure how long they can keep that up, but they just got Zach Randolph back, and with Marc anchoring the starting lineup, it's nice to know that they've at least got several different players capable of producing if their number is called.
B.E: Chandler Parsons continues to deal with knee problems. After signing a max deal with the team, are fans starting to get concerned that this is a chronic issue?
B: Definitely. Obviously, everyone was excited when Parsons signed. He's the biggest free agent that Memphis has landed, and he added the sort of shot-making and play-making ability that the Grizzlies have missed on the wing for so long. Now, with the way the initial recovery lasted way longer than expected, and this new issue, I think a part of the fan base is suffering from buyer's remorse.
I still think the team made the right move by signing Parsons, and that they're doing the right thing by exercising caution (he's still in the first year of a four-year deal), but I also understand the impatience. At this point, it's hard to know when Parsons will be back, and even then, he'll likely need to shake rust off his game (even in the games he played, he didn't look like himself), but hopefully once he's back, he looks like the guy that Memphis gave a max contract.
B.E: Despite the rash of injuries, the team has won four straight, albeit against less than stellar competition. Do you think Memphis takes a step back until Conley and Parsons are healthy as the schedule gets more difficult or is the supporting cast contributing in a way that is sustainable? And if so, how are they doing it?
B: Like I said before, they're really getting a lot of production out of their role players, as well as getting more out of Gasol. I'm not really sure how sustainable any of that is. Getting Randolph back should give them another scoring option with the second unit, but if they want consistent offense, they'll need some of their young players to be more consistent, and that's a tough ask.
So far, the Grizzlies have done what they've needed to keep their head above water with Conley out by beating four weak teams, but the schedule's about to get tough. Over the next four games, they've got Portland, then Golden State and Cleveland twice. Marc should probably get at least one of those games off. He's played too much already, and you're likely not winning either of those last three games without something short of a miracle. I'd let Marc take some time off just to get him back in line with his minutes restriction (if it still exists).
Apart from that, I think Memphis just needs to keep doing what they just did: beat weaker teams and get whatever you can out of your young players. If they can do that, I think they should be able to stay afloat until Conley is back. As for the tougher matchups, I'm not opposed to just punting them to get Marc some time off during games they'd likely lose anyway.
B.E: Marc Gasol is having another solid all-around season, and just notched a triple-double. What kind of matchup problem does he pose for Mason Plumlee?
B: Marc will find the open man when he needs to, but over the past few games, Gasol has shown an increased willingness to be the offensive focal point, and I'd expect more of the same out of him in this game. I expect the Grizzlies to try to get him the ball in the post early and often to go to work against Plumlee.
If Portland sends help, Gasol can find the open man. Memphis shot incredibly poorly against Philadelphia, but they were also on a SEGABABA and coming off a double overtime game against the Pelicans, so I'd expect them to shoot a little better against Portland. Gasol will take his threes when the opportunity presents itself, but I'd expect the majority of his touches to be down low, where he can use his play-making ability and veteran moves to get to the rim.
B.E: Brandon, thanks for the taking the time, enjoy the game.
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