Well, it seems to have come sorta quickly (‘cuz it did), but here we are at the (roughly) halfway point of the season.
It’s been up and down, as one would expect, since the Griz lost last season’s main frontline sub before the season even started, and then the Griz’ best player goes down for an extended period within a few games of the opener (it’s perhaps arguable that Gasol has supplanted ZBo as the Griz’ best player, but would he have had the chances he’s had if ZBo had been around thus far?).
Let’s look at how each player has fared, with a grade and a prediction for a trend for each:
Marc Gasol: Who didn’t see this coming? There are no adequate superlatives in the English lexicon to describe how important he’s been to the Grizzlies in Randolph’s absence. He’s had a couple bad shooting games, and a couple of turnover-ridden games (and stretches within games), gets WRONGED by the zebras as regularly as any big man in the league…and has still been the rock-like center that is so desperately needed by every team who fancies itself as looking in from not-too-far at the contender’s lounge. Offensively, it’s pretty much impossible not to call him the best center in the NBA. Yep, he’s fairly floor-bound, but that’s ok-his passing, court awareness, clock awareness,ability to work with Conley at the top of the key, and shooting give him the most well-rounded game of any center currently in the NBA. MOST IMPORTANTLY, he shoots a REAL HOOK SHOT. It’s sweeping, and it’s actually got a bit of grace to it. Nothing graceful about the bullcharge from the block to the center of the lane where he releases said hook, but the true hook is somewhat of a lost art in the NBA, and it’s great to see it executed so well.Defensively, it’s all about being the “defensive PG”, which he does very well. The crazy blocks-per-game average? Gravy.
Grade: A+. Trend? More of the same, and the potential drop in minutes he could see when ZBo gets back will be huge for his freshness as playoff time comes.
Ok, now that we’re finished gushing over Gasol, we’ll look at this with a *tad* more formality:
Rudy Gay-Mr. Gay has performed very well, but still has yet to reach his full potential (hint, folks: where Rudy is is about where he’s gonna get, offense-wise). Mr. Gay’s defense has greatly improved-he has learned to let his length work for him while still not playing lazy, hand-reaching defense. When a player like Mr. Gay executes a smart defensive scheme along with maximizing his physical tools, he can be an extremely valuable perimeter stopper and helper. Mr. Gay, however, is vulnerable in the post-it is too easy for an opponent to get by him or shoot over him from closer range. Mr. Gay’s biggest problem is between his ears. His frustration, usually with himself or the officials, is his biggest roadblock to success.
Grade: B+. Trend: upward on offense, since ZBo will be back to attract attention.
Tony Allen: Nutty, hardworking, and unfiltered. Everyone’s kind of NBA player. Mr. Allen has continued to be an elite perimeter defender, able to seemingly guard an opponent’s entire backcourt on his own on a given possession. A player of unimpeachable defensive ability. Offensively, he’s managed to rein himself in (that’s not “reign” or “rain”, by the way) a bit, and has made better decisions in transition. Still has the hide-your-eyes thing going from time to time at the rim, but his ability and his contract make him perhaps the best salary value in the entire NBA. And don’t come to me with some Lin business.Mr. Allen is sometimes subject to early foul trouble from overzealousness, but he’s usually able to play right through it.
Grade: A. Trend: Continued barely-controlled insanity. And we love it, don’t we?
Mike Conley: Mr. Conley’s importance to the team is illustrated every time he comes out of the game. The change in him from his first two seasons to now is nothing short of astounding. The shrinking-violet version of Mr. Conley has basically disappeared-he’s been consistent, and his late-game free throws have saved a win or two for the team of late. Defensively? Mr. Conley leads the league in steals, and that, in and of itself, is amazing-but even more amazing is that the Griz have three players in the top 20 in the NBA in steals. Testament to the backcourt’s belief in Hollins’ defensive ideas. Conley’s big weak spot this season? Too, too many poor shooting games. Great ast/TO ratio, great control of the team, however.
Grade: A- Trend: continued solid, and he’ll be as happy as anyone to see big #50 back to work setting up on that block.
Marreese Speights: He’s done very well filling the biggest pair of shoes on the team. Has not shown consistent effort on D, but has shown flashes of understanding how the passing lanes can be played close to the basket just as they can on the perimeter. Has not been quite as dependably versatile as the Griz need him to be on offense-he’s lost the ball an inordinate number of times inside, and his 15-footer has not been as automatic as one might desire. However, the dropoff from ZBo to Speights has not been as precipitous as some might have predicted.
Grade: B. Trend: Moving to the bench will do him a world of good-he’ll be the inside scoring focus (depending on who’s on the floor with him).
Dante Cunningham: Mr. Cunningham has been exactly what the Grizzlies need him to be-that proverbial “energy guy”. The application of that moniker is unwarranted many times that it’s used, but not in this case. This guy comes into the game on springs, has a nose for the ball, does NOT command or demand the ball on offense, and is a right-place-right-time rebounder. He’s gotten the Grizzlies extra possessions, and has played the 3/4 swing to the utmost of his abilities. You AIN’T gonna catch this guy purposefully slacking.
Grade: A+. Trend: His minutes will not significantly drop upon ZBo’s return.
Whoof. That’s enough for now-second half coming later this weekend.