Given the tumultuous start to the season that the Grizzlies endured, the margin for error is slim, but a playoff seed is within grasp! With a big game on the way tonight, the 3 Shades of Blue team took some time this morning to look at the backup point guard spot, James Johnson’s awesomeness, and what it’ll take to pull out a win against Kevin Durant and the Thunder.
1. Is there a team MVP since the All-Star break?
Chip Crain: Tough call here as it seems a different player has stepped up every game. Conley was huge against the Knicks, Randolph against the Clippers, Courtney Lee against the Lakers but to me the MVP may be Mike Miller over this stretch. He’s reached double figures in scoring in 3 of the 4 games (falling short against the Lakers) but has given the bench some perimeter shooting needed while JJ and Lee struggled.
Zach Thomas: James Johnson is the MVP. His energy off the bench, along with his fierce defense on athletic power forwards has been stellar. With Bloodsport now playing the 4, he’s showing just how versatile he can be to this roster and can fit in with just about any rotation.
Matthew Noe: Hmmm…gotta go with Gasol. He’s stacked up some nice games, and numbers-wise he’s coming around. He’ll need to improve even more for the Grizz to make the playoffs. Maybe not all the way to 100%, but he’s got to keep improving.
Steve Danziger: The Grindfather. Sure, he missed the first game of the set against the Knicks, but the guys have been absolutely all over the place, and his energy is infectious. It also warrants mention that he’s been over 50% shooting in each of his three games back, even connecting on two long balls, and six rebounds per game from the wing is nothing to sneeze at.
2. With Beno Udrih joining the roster, how long a leash will/should Nick Calathes have on the court?
Chip: That’s hard to say. I suspect Nick will have to fight hard in practice to earn the first rotation off the bench. Nick should hold onto his position this weekend as the prime backup but not much longer in my opinion. The real question is will Nick be given the opportunity at all in the playoffs?
Zach: The Front Office wants to see Calathes develop. They have invested time and resources into him and believed at the beginning of the season he would be a great second option point guard. Nothing has changed in that regard. Everyone still has full confidence in Nick Calathes. The team needed a 3rd PG as insurance. Picking up Beno Udrih off waivers was the best option for the guys who were available. Calathes will still get playing time and Udrih may even see some time at the 2 spot playing off the ball alongside Calathes. It will definitely help Calathes having another veteran point guard in practice and around the locker room, but I wouldn’t suspect his leash is any different than now. I would argue that what changes is Udrih may now sub in for Calathes if he is having a bad game or faces a tough matchup rather than rushing a tired Mike Conley back onto the floor to stop the bleeding. This should not be looked at as a negative for Calathes, but rather a positive for Mike Conley.
Matthew: Absolutely no shorter than it’s been. No reason to make it longer, but no shorter. The wheels on this guy’s confidence train are finally starting to turn and he is by far a better short-, medium-, and long-term option than Udrih.
Steve: Well it came out yesterday that Joerger has “no intention of playing [Udrih] in front of Nick Calathes,” per Matt Stark of Fox 13, so there’s that. But even before that quote came out, I’ve been pretty certain that Nick would have to seriously play himself out of the job in order for Beno to take his minutes away. The direction of the new regime appears in that it will take some bumps and bruises in the early going to reap the rewards later on. As such, it would be pretty hypocritical to relegate a first year point guard who has shown considerable growth over the course of the season to an empty role, in favor of a guy who in all likelihood will be elsewhere seven months from now. That being said, how could you not like the signing as a “best player available; break glass in case of emergency” deal?
3. How are you feeling about Tony Allen in his return, and more specifically his role off the bench?
Chip: You can’t bench Courtney Lee after his performance since the trade. Tony realized it as much as anyone. Tony’s been a solid bench player in Boston and he understands that this will likely be his role in Memphis moving forward. He has taken the move with a great attitude and frankly he and James Johnson together off the bench has caused teams nightmares with their defense and attacking style on offense. What’s not to love?
Zach: Tony Allen is my favorite player on this roster. I even bought his shirsey (woo big spender, I know). For what this team has going for it right now, he knows his role, and he has fit into that role, with the same fervor and energy he brought as a starter. Having TA coming off the bench is so dangerous for any second unit that plays the Grizzlies, that every team should be afraid of facing us in the playoffs. I said last week I thought TA may actually gain his starting spot over Tayshaun Prince, but after seeing the rotations and second unit play, there is no way I would start TA over Prince. The wing rotations fit well together.
Matthew: Surprisingly good. Playing the fireman suits his game well, and ego-wise it seems to be working well. He can play with any combination of bench/starters on D, and Conley and Calathes can both find him well on basket cuts.
Steve: It’s like falling in love with Tony Allen all over again. To be honest, and I mean this not as a detriment to TA, he was probably always best served as an off-the-bench energy machine, to maniacally introduce chaos to the game upon insertion. He sort of slipped into the starting gig in a lineup that at the time had too few shots to go around and was starved for defensive tenacity at his position. The tides have changed with Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo earning their paychecks in different zip codes now, and I think this is the best arrangement for both he and the team to succeed at this juncture. Especially with Courtney on board.
4. Since they’re piling up by the night, do you have a favorite James Johnson highlight so far?
Chip: A favorite? Not really but the backboard toss slam against the Clippers has to be up there. It was a playground trick but something you don’t see in the NBA too often except on fast breaks where no one is back. JJ did it in a crowded lane after faking DeAndre Jordan out of his pants and it finished on Barnes head. A showboat dunk against Dunk City ending with a smash down on Matt Barnes, who has killed the Grizzlies in the past was priceless however.
Zach: While the Clippers dunk will go down as one of the best of the NBA season and in Grizzlies history, my favorite highlight is JJ taking an uncontested three after stealing the ball from Marco Belinelli while the lane to the basket in front of him for an easy layup was wide open. The Grizzlies eventually lost in overtime but it took some major stones, and he delivered. That is my favorite treat so far.
Matthew: Off the backboard and onto Matt Barnes’ head. No question.
Steve: Well damn, Zach. Here I am thinking I’m all sneaky-like, setting this question up to bait everyone else into rolling with the recent playground dunk against LAC so that I could swoop in and bring up that steal-to-three sequence from the Spurs game… but you beat me to it. Considering the stakes of the situation and the fact that I was about 20 feet away from the play at my first ever Grizzlies home game (thanks again, Chip!), that one will be embedded in my memory bank for as far into the future as I can see.
5. What will be the key to beating an ice cold and hungry Oklahoma City team, tonight?
Chip: That is easy. Score more points. Seriously the key is to allow Russell Westbrook to try and beat them but not Durant and Westbrook. If I were the Grizzlies coaching staff, and I am sure everyone is happy I am not, I would give Westbrook every opportunity I could while rotating JJ and Allen on Durant. I would limit Prince’s minutes as much as possible in the process. Offensively it will be attack, attack, attack. Without Perkins in the middle the Thunder don’t have the size to keep Randolph and Gasol away from the basket. Make the Thunder beat the Grizzlies from outside while punishing OKC with body blows in the paint. Good old Grit and Grind basketball in other words.
Zach: With Westbrook back in the lineup, we won’t have to worry about stopping Durant because Westbrook’s presence does that on its own. However, taking away the 3-point shot will be key. The Grizzlies need to defend the perimeter and not over help on defense inside the paint, leading to wide open Thunder players for catch and shoot threes. Limit those triples and the Grizzlies should have the advantage inside, without Kendrick Perkins playing. *wink wink*
Matthew: Let KD fly. The onus is on Conley to contain the most fashionable man in Oklahoma, and on the big guys to keep Ibaka from getting open on the perimeter too much. Sure, it’s dangerous to have him available for dropoffs in the lane, but keeping the paint clogged keeps RW outta there.
Steve: Toughing it out against their bigs. I know this sounds ridiculous coming from the perspective of a team that resides in the mud, so to speak, but the Grizzlies seem to struggle with the physicality of the Thunder big men; particularly those off the bench. Even with Perkins out, Collison 1 (Nick Collison), and the larger Collison 2 (Steven Adams) are equipped with a combined 12 fouls and aren’t afraid to use them in either their pursuit of the glass. Durant and Westbrook are dangerous enough in their first chance scoring opportunities, so you can’t afford to give them any extras. If the Grizzlies manage to protect the boards, I like our chances to play them straight up otherwise, and at least take this one to the wire.
Have any questions for the 3 Shades of Blue staff to chew on? Send them our way via the comment section, calling into 3SOB Radio on Sports56 every Saturday morning, smoke signals, or reaching out to us on Twitter!