Today is November 7, 2013. The NBA season is now 10 days old, and your Memphis Grizzlies have a record of 2 wins, 3 losses, and 1 very unhappy fanbase. The questions have begun mounting.
What do we know about this team after five games?
What is wrong with this team?
Why are beer prices higher?
Why doesn’t the Wi-Fi work in the FedExForum?
Who’s on first?
How many physicists does it take to change a light bulb?
Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?
What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
When will this team start to resemble the Grit and Grind Grizzlies of the past few seasons?
Unfortunately, I don’t have a definitive answer to most of these questions. However, there are a few that I can posit some theories on.
Driving to campus this morning, I was following my usual routine of listening to Wolo and Bash on Sports 56, and they had Ron Tillery on as their daily guest. As they discussed the woes of the hometown team, something that Bash said struck a chord with me, so I went to Twitter to express my agreement with him.
— Joshua Red Coleman (@3SOB) November 7, 2013
@3SOB self-motivation is a necessity to be a professional at anything. You shouldn’t have to have someone else get you ready to play
— Bash (@dbash10) November 7, 2013
@dbash10 I agree 100%. Pro athletes should need to be guided and taught by their coaches, not motivated. You want it? Go get it! Period.
— Joshua Red Coleman (@3SOB) November 7, 2013
There is a distinct lack of intensity with this current Grizzlies squad that has been evident over the last couple of seasons. Some people are quick to point out that the only big difference between this year and last year is the head coach. That is certainly a fair point, although not one that I subscribe to in explaining why this year’s team looks lost and confused. Another theory is that they have become complacent following their trip to the Western Conference Finals last May, feeling as though they can just coast through this season and turn it on after the All-Star break. I hope that is not their mindset, although I am not prepared to dismiss it entirely just yet. Others have pointed to a “new offensive system” as the culprit. A couple of people have questioned whether recent contract extensions and talks might have some players distracted or complacent. I was alerted by a fellow 3SOB writer that some are even suggesting that this team is “too deep” and that a trade needs to me made to do away with our excessive talent. I can’t even offer a remark about that last opinion without being at least mildly insulting, so I’ll just let it slide since you, the reader, can parse that one out for yourself.
So, what is wrong with this team?
First and foremost, they are playing like middle schoolers at recess and not professional basketball players. By all rights, they should be 0-5 right now, instead of 2-3. That’s right — they should have lost to Detroit and Boston, too. No team can consistently fall behind by double-digits and then expect to just turn it on in the fourth quarter to come back and win games. In fact, it might be better if they were winless right now, since that would be a stark reminder of just how poorly they have played through the first five games of this young NBA season. There is no intensity or motivation on display by the majority of the team right now. Tony Allen still plays like his hair is on fire, and Jon Leuer leaves it all out on the floor when he gets the opportunity, but the rest of the team seems lackadaisical when they are on the court. Mike Conley has probably played the best of anyone, and even he doesn’t seem to have his usual drive.
Next, a by-product of their laziness is the way that their defense no longer resembles something to be feared, but instead has turned into something to be scoffed at. The Pelicans were getting whatever shot they wanted all game long last night. They were knocking down mid-range jumpers with impunity, and got to the rim at will. For an opponent that has no serious outside threat, that is simply inexcusable. Defense is a team effort. Unless all players are on the same page and working together, it is not going to be effective. Last year, we discussed at length the fact that the solidity of Conley, Gasol, and Prince allowed TA to freelance, which is where he is at his most destructive best. It allows him to gamble and wreak havoc on another team because he knows that he has someone covering his back if he doesn’t come up with a steal or deflection. So far this year, no one is rotating or covering correctly, so opposing teams are getting easy baskets and wide open looks from the perimeter. Neither of those happened last season with any frequency.
Finally, as a result of those first two items, this team has lost its identity. They have made their mark the past three seasons by outworking and outhustling their opponents. That is what Grit and Grind is all about. Whether or not they have the same level of talent is irrelevant because everyone knew that they were going to leave it all on the floor in a display of blood, sweat, and tears. What we have seen to this point is not Grit and Grind. It has been more like Loaf and Lounge. That has to change — and soon. Otherwise, this squad will find themselves in yet another deep hole that could cost them serious positioning in playoff seeding. That might not mean much if they are rolling and firing on all cylinders when April comes around, but I doubt that anyone actually wants to face the Spurs in the first round of the playoffs as a #6 or #7 seed — something that is a very real possibility if they don’t get their house in order posthaste.
There is no need to panic just yet…but showing some concern is an absolutely legitimate response right now.