Many thanks to Kevin Lipe from SB Nation's Straight Outta Vancouver for answering a few questions about the Grizzlies in advance of their game with the Pacers on Monday.
After a strong start Grizz have cooled off a bit (5-5in last 10). What ails the team when they struggle? Is it a common problem?
The Grizzlies got off to a great start this season by moving the ball on offense. They weren't just making the extra pass; sometimes they were making the extra extra pass. The team was playing really well together, and making three pointers, which spread the floor for Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to go to work.
When the team hasn't played well, it's been because only Randolph and Gasol can score. Rudy Gay sometimes fills up the stat sheet, and sometimes comes out cold and keeps taking contested jumpers. Mike Conley has had a couple of cold games. The bench scoring dries up. Gasol gets too passive and starts passing when he should be looking to score.
The Grizzlies' much-vaunted defense hasn't been there the last few games, either. The intensity hasn't been there (except for the Mavericks game, when Lionel Hollins wanted to prove a point and shut O.J. Mayo down). Teams are able to get out on fast breaks, and the Grizzlies can't stop them. The team has been in a bit of a funk lately, and to me, it starts with ball movement on offense.
How critical is Zach Randolph to the team's success. Can they rely in ZBo to be a reliable force for good (and wins)?
Zach Randolph is very critical to the team's success. In our playoff run in 2011, Zach put the team on his back and said "we're not losing," and the results were incredible. When Z-Bo is playing well -- hitting those jab-step jumpers from all over the floor, and sucking up every defensive rebound on the other end -- there's little anyone can do but feed him the ball and get out of the way. His role has shifted a little bit this year, though, where now he's picked up his rebounding to match his scoring. He's said to the media that his goal is to get a double-double every time he sets foot on the court, and most of the time, he's done that.
Whatever Zach Randolph's reputation was before he got to Memphis, he's absolutely a reliable force for good in Memphis. He's embraced his role as a leader of the team, and he makes an honest effort to make everyone around him better. He's also a major force for good in the Memphis community. last winter he paid utility bills for families whose power had been cut off during the winter. He gave away food baskets at two or three inner city high schools before Thanksgiving. People here love Z-Bo, and Z-Bo loves us back, and it's a beautiful thing. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen (along with coach Lionel Hollins) are largely responsible for the major positive shift in the relationship between the Grizzlies franchise and the community here.
Another Hoosier legend, Michael Conley always seems to find himself running winning teams even if his numbers don't stand out. How much does he influence winning for the Grizz?
The story of Mike Conley is the story of this Grizzlies core group: the better he gets, the better they get. Conley really struggled early on in his career until Lionel Hollins came in and made him "the guy." His confidence and his abilities have grown year after year, and he's developed into one of the better floor generals in the game. He doens't always put up big numbers (except for steals) but when he's got his game going, he's a difference maker. (And, speaking of numbers, last Friday he broke the all-time franchise record for assists.)
The flip side of that is twofold: first, as Conley goes, so go the Grizzlies. If he's having a bad night, the team really struggles, and everything becomes an uphill battle. Second, he play sa lot of minutes because it's hard to find a backup point guard who Lionel Hollins will trust. Last season, Conley averaged 40 minutes a game, and so by Game 7 of the playoff series against the Clippers, he was so tired -- and sick; he had the flu -- that he couldn't really do much on defense. Hollins has never had a backup PG that he's trusted, and we've had a lot of them. So far Jerryd Bayless has the spot, but it's easy to see Lionel falling back into his old habits and overplaying Conley.
If Zach Randolph is critical to the Grizzlies' success, Mike Conley is even more so.