The Memphis Grizzlies Are Falling to .500, but It Isn’t Time to Panic...Yet
After a hot start to the 2018-19 season that not many had predicted, the Memphis Grizzlies have reverted to the mean. Following an impressive win in New Orleans on December 7th, the Grizz were 15-9, Southwest Division Leaders, and holding down the 5th seed in the West. After Memphis fell apart in the last two games of a mini-homestand Miami and Houston, they took their bad vibes on the road, dropping back-to-back efforts against Golden State and Portland, with Sacramento and the Los Angeles Lakers still to come.
The 5-seed has turned into the 10-seed in the bunched-up West, and observers are clearly wondering: Have the Grizzlies plateaued? Is this a good team going through a bad spell? For Memphis, it is a bit of both of those scenarios.
The Bench Is Getting Right
The Grizzlies have had a remarkably stable starting line-up, and their six top players -- starting five plus sixth-man Shelvin Mack have all played at least 30 of the possible 31 games thus far. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that injuries have decimated the support crew. Chandler Parsons hasn’t played since the first week of the season. Dillon Brooks (or is it MarShon? No, it’s definitely Dillon) has followed up a tremendous rookie year with an MCL strain that has limited him to 11 games. JaMychal Green has put up the best numbers of his career now that he’s back from injury, but he and Brooks have both been healthy in only two games this year -- Games 1 and 2.
This has meant lots of minutes for journeymen MarShon Brooks and Omri Casspi, and the disappointing Wayne Selden Jr., none of whom have made much of their time on the court. The Grizzlies have tried to get creative, signing Joakim Noah, and giving their second round pick, Jevon Carter, his first NBA minutes in Saturday night’s game against the Rockets. He provided Memphis with an energy boost despite the loss and showed that there is a spot for him on this roster, even when guys come back from injury.
With Dillon Brooks almost back, Green putting up his best numbers, and Mack holding steady, there’s definitely the potential for a second unit that can give the starters some real support, and while there’s a lot of talk about featuring Green in a trade midseason -- if the Grizzlies ever decide to be involved in a trade again -- just getting the bench healthy will do enormous good for Memphis.
But Is This Roster Good Enough?
Starting shooting guard Garrett Temple is playing the best ball of his career in his tenth season, but is he a starter on a playoff team in this loaded Western Conference? Shelvin Mack is looking as good as he has since his breakout season in Utah, but is he a compelling 6th man? Right now the Grizzlies are neck-and-neck with the Mavericks just on the outside of the playoff picture: the Mavericks have Wesley Matthews and J.J. Barea starting at shooting guard and first man off the bench, and they’re the 9-seed! Does Memphis have the firepower to compete?
The call-up of Javon Carter screams that Memphis is looking for help in the backcourt, and the looming signing of former Wizard (and briefly, Sun) Austin Rivers supports the theory. There aren’t enough backup minutes at the point for all three of Mack, Carter, and Rivers, but Memphis has to see what will stick, before they find a promising season evaporate as quickly as their Southwest lead has.
Memphis isn’t going to go quietly into the night. As Conley and Gasol age, and they draw closer to the ends of their primes, ownership and the front office is doing whatever it can to support them and extend the great run of Memphis basketball the Grit-N-Grind era has brought. Jaren Jackson Jr. is doing a lot to support that end; the question will ultimately be if they can find more pieces to surround their central core.