The Western Conference Finals.
*again allows phrase to echo around in his head for a second*
Ok, I’m back.
There have been a ton of great games by Grizzlies players in these playoffs thus far, and a look at some stats provides a good look at which players have been going which direction as things progress.
Let’s play schoolteacher and give out some grades.
Marc Gasol: There’s just no way not to give this guy an A+++++++, is there?
Scoring, regular season: 14.1 ppg
Clippers series: 17.3
Thunder series: 19.4
Sure, his minutes have increased by over ten percent, so we’d expect to see a slight uptick. Another aspect of it, though, and the aspect that speaks the most highly of Gasol’s play (and Hollins’ coaching) is that in the playoffs thus far, Gasol has had only peachily favorable matchups starter-wise-Deandre Jordan and Kendrick Perkins are weak links, and the Grizzlies fully capitalized on that. Defensively, he’s shown why he won DPOY, and it hasn’t been about stats. Sure, he rebounds and blocks shots (at around the same pace in postseason as in regular season), but helping at the top of the key against Paul while still darting back to minimize the lob factor was huge for the Grizzlies against LAC.
Zach Randolph: The good: he’s averaging over five points more per game in only two or so more MPG, and his shot attempts have stayed reasonably static, particularly in proportion to his increase in minutes. He’s gone from a paltry 42% on FG’s in April to 51% in the postseason thus far, which is part of the reason for the rise in scoring. Best part, however, is that his free throw attempts have gone up significantly, from only 3.9 in the regular season to 6.4 in the postseason. The Grizzlies’ repeated parades to the FT line against the Clippers were a large part of the team’s win in the series, and ZBo had a good series in terms of FTA’s against the Thunder as well, capped by a lovely 12-16 effort in the clinching game. The not so good? His rebounding is solid, but will need to stay solid and go up as the pressure increases. The lesser results on the boards are also likely linked to the perhaps more dire “not good” about ZBo-that ankle. Sure, it seems fine now, but it’s vulnerable.
Mike Conley: Well, where to start. He hasn’t caved yet under the weight of more national media attention (pressure??!?) than he’s faced since at least the Final Four, maybe ever.
It’s not all sweetness and light, but the thing that stands out is that his minutes have increased like any starter’s will on a playoff team, from 34.5 in the regular season to 38.5 in the postseason…but his turnovers have decreased by around 25% (!!!) while his assists have gone up by about the same percentage. That, fellow Griz fans, is flat-out amazing.
His shooting percentage has not exactly gone through the roof-in fact it’s dropped-but the fact that his FT trips have basically DOUBLED over the regular season is more than enough to make up for it.
Defensively, stats aside, it’s hard not to look at his series vs. Chris Paul and the Clippers as a quantum moment for Conley. The confidence he displayed built on itself as the series went on, and CP3’s ability to get to the elbow area and whizz back and forth until someone was open decreased concomitantly. Of course, it helped that the Grizzlies stopped leaving guys like Butler and Trash Can Man Barnes open in the corners so much…because they trusted Conley and Gasol to handle Paul entering the lane..wait, there’s a joke about a chicken and an egg around here somewhere, just gotta find it…
A, but the FG % needs to rise. Believe it or not, that could happen against Parker. Time will tell.
Tony Allen: The Grindfather has filled his role, and, well, that’s why the Grizzlies will pay him *pretty much* whatever he wants this summer. It’d be pretty easy to look at shots like that three early in game five against OKC and think that “Tony Allen out of the offensive box” has happened more than anyone might prefer, but when he winds up with the ball on the wing with sub-10 on the 24, it’s just not his fault. Guys still help off him, but it’s worked out ok, as the team has started using him for cutting more than in the past and it’s worked wonderfully. A couple times in the OKC series we saw TA straight-up guard two guys at once, and that’s just joy to watch. The phrase “generational defensive specialist” is just not an overstatement at this point.
Tayshaun Prince: Last but not least, the newest member of the band…but as I’ve told many people many times, it just seems like he should have been here for years, doesn’t it? No, he’s not quite the player who won in 2004, but that dunk in game five should have removed any doubt that he’s still able to use his athletic ability in addition to his amazing basketball IQ and court smarts. His shooting has been, well, not stellar-but his defense on Durant was more than competent and kept the liabilities on the offensive side of his ledger from being overbearing. Just a great fit for the Grizzlies, and if that jumper can fall just a bit more frequently, his grade could increase.
And now, the bench.
Quincy Pondexter: Consistency-that’s what Hollins wants from Pondexter, and that’s what he’s gotten out of him. Pondexter’s minutes have been virtually the same in the postseason as in the regular season, and he’s done the same with them. It’s testament to his abilities and the coaching staff’s use of assets that he’s been able to be consistent, as he’s been asked to guard three positions regularly, with even a few minutes at a “PF” position during the teeniest of small-ball scenarios. He’ll likely face Leonard, Neal, Green, potentially even Ginobli in the Spurs series, and his growth into the Grizzlies next D-and-3 guy will be tested.
Grade: A. Solid D and never goes outside the box.
Jerryd Bayless: The new OJ. It went around during the first round, when his minutes dipped, that he was a bit mumbly-grumbly about it…but he’s gotta know that a meager three-minute drop is to be expected, even for a player who’s been the first guard off the bench during a majority of games over the regular season. His shooting percentage has dropped in the postseason, and that’s the reason he’ll get a bit more harshly treated grade-wise. He’s got to look for his shot, as “bench gunner” is the role he’ll need to fill against the Spurs, and he’s really yet to show he’s ready to take on that duty thus far.
Darrell Arthur: The enigma. Should anyone run into the DA of 2011 vintage, please have him return to the team. The pectoral tear, the achilles tear, and the other injuries he’s endured over his still-young career seem to have taken their toll on his rebounding ability, which was never the first focus of his game anyway. His crazy good pick and roll coverage on the perimeter and that nasty pick-and-pop jumper from the elbow will need to continue to be his calling cards, and he’ll get his chance-his familiarity with the Spurs’ library of Parker pick plays will serve him well against the Spurs, although his decrease in court time during the playoffs will likely continue as Hollins leans on Zbo and Gasol more heavily.
Keyon Dooling: Not much to say, as his game has been rather nondescript vintage Dooling. He’s managed to shake off the rust that was obviously on his gears when he first arrived, and his energy on defense has been good-but it’s not likely that he’ll see many regular minutes except for reason of foul trouble/tweaked ankle/etc.
Ed Davis, Austin Daye, Tony Wroten, Jon Leuer, Donte Greene, Willie Reed: No, I don’t know why Davis isn’t playing more either, so don’t bother asking. His length on D could help the Grizzlies guard Splitter for short stretches, but Arthur is FAR more suited to guard Bonner due to his perimeter quickness. Would not be radically surprising to see Wroten get some minutes if Bayless falters, as his quickness will help him against Parker (although Parker’s vet moves will put Wroten’s shoes in concrete) on both ends.
This series is going to be an absolute delight for any NBA fan, and there will be blood. And defense. And ZERO bluffing.