With the Memphis Grizzlies due in town tomorrow night, Chip from 3 Shades of Blue organized a home-and-home Q & A which I was happy to participate in. If you want to know what's going on with the Grizz, 3SoB is THE source. Plus, Memphis is a fun, young team to follow and with Mike Conley on the roster I always keep an eye on their boxes. So, many thanks to Chip for taking some time to offer me some thoughtful and thorough answers to a few questions.
IC: Memphis made a couple of moves with an eye toward the future. What are your thoughts on the changes? Does the team appeared headed in a defined direction?
3SoB: Right now there is a lot of apprehension about the moves around the trade deadline but personally I feel the moves did a lot of good things. The trade of Kyle Lowry brought back a #1 pick. Chris Wallace, the Grizzlies GM, explained to me that Lowry was not in the long term picture for the Grizzlies. Mike Conley, an Indianapolis native, had won the job and once you make your mind up that someone is not in the long term plans of the team he will gladly trade them for a #1 pick. It is yet to be determined if the player they get with that pick will be better or even as good as Kyle but Lowry was unhappy with his role and a move had to be made. I doubt a better offer was available.
The buyout boys (Chris Mihm, Adonal Foyle and Mike Wilks) all brought income to the franchises' bottom line. With ticket sales down and not likely to improve soon these moves helped keep the franchise from sinking deeply into the loss column. If any of the players except a buyout (Chris Mihm seems most likely at this point) then that helps even more. The franchise is rebuilding with youth and it will take some time to convert the young talent into a talented team so anything that mitigates losses on the end of the bench has to be seen as prudent in this environment.
The previous moves have been exciting. The trade of Kevin Love and Mike Miller plus scrubs for O J Mayo and scrubs worried me at first but now is seeming to be an incredible trade in our favor. Mayo has been everything you could hope for as a rookie. The 2nd pick in last year's draft was Darrell Arthur who has been up and down all season like most rookies but shows promise as a strong backup or weak starter on the team. Marc Gasol, who was acquired in the Gasol trade gives us a 3rd rookie who has performed above expectations this season. Memphis has another pick from the Lakers' trade, plenty of cap space to buy more experienced talent this summer when prices should be low for free agents and Javaris Crittenton was traded to Washington in exchange for the option on a future Grizzlies pick. All of these moves are looking very good for a rebuilding team.
IC: Last year Memphis had a glut of young point guards, but after moving Kyle Lowry before the trade deadline, it appears Mike Conley is the last man standing. There are plenty of Conley fans in Indy (including me) so what are your thoughts on Conley's development this year? Is he showing signs of "getting it" at the NBA level?
Last year at this time Chris Wallace joked about putting all the point guards in a room and see who comes out. Well now we know who came out. Conley wasn't a clear cut winner in mid-January but since the coaching change has clearly taken charge of the position. Conley missed a lot of time last season due to injury and was held back in his development by Iavaroni's insistence on slowing down the pace of the game. Now that Memphis is, correctly I might add, using their young talent to create tempo Conley is doing much better. He nearly had a triple double against Sacramento and would have if his teammates could have hit layups and open jumpers. Conley has clearly ‘gotten it.'
The bigger question is not whether Conley can play in the NBA but rather is he a good backcourt mate with O J Mayo? Mayo has taken over the point late in games and that negates a lot of Conley's strengths. He is not a great perimeter shooter but he is a great penetrator and a good assist man. Taking the ball out of his hands leaves him hanging around the perimeter and until he develops an ability to hit the open shot he isn't a real big impact at the end of games. Conley has shown the willingness and ability to improve the areas of his game that he is weak at and there is no reason to not believe his outside shot will improve down the line. Many people in the Grizzlies front office see Mayo becoming less of a big scoring SG and more of a Chauncey Billups type of PG. If that is the case then how will Mike fit into the equation? At this point the answer is unknown both on Mayo's ability to be a full-time PG (his turnovers are way too high in that role) and Conley's ultimate role on the team if Mayo learns to run the point better. Conley is only 21 and has barely played 100 games in the NBA so the Grizzlies are willing to give him more time to mature before making any decision about him.
IC: Both O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay seem like they can go off on any given night. How do their games complement one another? Or do they? Will they become a dynamic duo for years to come?
Once again the team is very young right now. The core of the youth movement right now is Conley, Mayo and Gay. Rudy is in his 3rd season with the team, Conley his second and Mayo is a rookie. How well they will merge their impressive skills has yet to be determined. One thing is obvious however. They all have game breaking potential on any night. It seems right now that the team sees Mayo as the closer and Rudy as the sidekick. Rudy's ball handling skills and passing ability make it unlikely he would be the player who gets the ball put in his hand to make things happen at the end of games.
Rudy has shown a far better ability to hit the boards since Lionel Hollins took over as coach. In fact the team in general is doing a much better job on the boards since the coaching change. That rebounding has allowed the team to use their speed in the open court and Rudy is a phenomenal closer. He also has the nerves to be a game winning shot taker. Mayo and Conley can create mayhem with their ball handling and that can free up Rudy for open looks. Rudy has proven he can hit the shot in that situation. Defensively Rudy has struggled and that is a concern for fans. Until Rudy can shut down his opponent in crunch time the team will struggle at the end of games. With his size, long arms and leaping ability Rudy has the skills to be a good defender. It is just going to take more effort.
Effort would be greatly enhanced by better conditioning. One of the first observations Lionel Hollins made when he arrived in Memphis was the poor condition of the players. Coach Iavaroni didn't have the team in the best shape possible and that is seen at the end of games especially. Hollins is working on getting the conditioning up but at this point of the season it is difficult to make a big impact. Hopefully next season the players will be in better shape to go hard for 48 minutes. This problem will probably be readily visable late in the game against the Pacers as it will be the 2nd game of a back to back road trip. Those are the times that tired legs make shots come up short, defense breaks down and fouls are committed as players don't move their feet to get in to position.