I’m sure most of you were as inundated as I was with people on your Twitter and Facebook feeds giving daily updates about the things they were thankful for last month. I thought that was a good idea, so after last night’s contest, I decided that there was one thing in particular that I was in need of expressing thanks for.
Yes, I’m aware that Thanksgiving was over a week ago. So what?
We all know just how good the Grizzlies’ starting five has been this year. They have legitimate All-Star prospects at all three front-court positions, a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate at shooting guard, and one of the best all-around point guards in the game today. They have the best +/- rating in the entire league among 5-man units according to NBA.com. I think we can all agree that their starting unit can match up with anyone else in the NBA.
There has been much talk of the improvement that has been displayed by the bench this season. Many people feel that they have been the difference that has allowed the Grizzlies to get off to a such a strong start — and it is difficult to find fault with that.
The perimeter shooting that was introduced in the form of Jerryd Bayless and Wayne Ellington has certainly been a big positive for the team’s bench play this year. However, it is another player that I feel truly gives this team a tremendous advantage over every other team in the league.
When fans of other teams are asked what worries them about facing Memphis, the answer is almost always their talented frontcourt and their often suffocating defense. And let there be no doubt, there’s almost nobody else in the NBA with the personnel to match up with Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol. The difference between this year and previous ones isn’t just that all three of those players are healthy at the same time, finally.
When Z-Bo and the Spanish Bear need to take a rest, the guys who come in to spell them are Marreese Speights, a huge find via trade last year, and Darrell Arthur. Arthur, with his return to health after missing last season and most of the early portion of this year, is a difference maker for this team.
After covering his injury history and the strange medical issues that made his stock drop on draft day, what do you think of when D.A.’s name comes up? If you asked 10 different casual NBA fans about him, I suspect you’d get 5 different answers, 3 shrugs, 1 blank stare, and 1 question about who he plays for. If you asked 10 hardcore NBA fans though, I suspect you’d hear several mentions of his mid-range shot and maybe his energy.
For a fan like myself who has watched him play every game of his professional career, I see his great shot from 15-18 feet and appreciate how it stretches defenses. I also recognize his energy and hustle on both ends of the floor, his drive to crash the boards as much as possible when he’s on the court. Both of those things are strong positives for him nearly every night.
However, it is his defense that makes me thankful for D.A. more than anything. He just might be the best pick-and-roll defender in the entire league. His knowledge of how to hedge, push the ball-handler farther out rather than giving up a driving lane, and to recover to his man while still leaving his teammate in a favorable defensive position is something that cannot be over-valued.
With his length, athletic ability, and skillset, Darrell has all of the tools to be a solid player in the league for several years. He presents a matchup problem not just for other team’s bench players, but even for their starters. He was pivotal in the Grizzlies playoff run of 2011 before he got injured. He reminds me of a more blue-collar version of Rasheed Wallace (because the term “poor man’s version” just doesn’t quite seem right here) in that he can play inside and out, defend everywhere on the floor, and clean up the glass, too. That’s the type of player he has the potential to become over time if he can stay healthy and continue to improve.
With Arthur and Speights backing up Randolph and Gasol, the Grizzlies have a quartet of big men that is unmatched in terms of talent and skill. If they can keep all of them healthy through the spring, it could be the thing that allows them to make a deep run into the postseason.