And things were going so well.
The Memphis Grizzlies made no substantial changes to their lineup this year, banking on the continued development of their core, mostly made of young players, to get them to the next level. After all, last season they greatly exceeded expectations, going from what was widely considered to be one of the worst teams in the league to a near-playoff team. I mean, sure they were dependent on a core of players none-of-whom are considered league wide to be stars and their bench was the rough equivalent of a beached whale, but hey, no team's perfect. With projected improvements, it wasn't beyond belief to consider the possibility of the Grizzlies matching last year's success, if not exceeding it.
Only, that's not happening.
The Grizzlies are 9-14, even after a Rudy Gay buzzer beater to force overtime led to a solid win over the Suns on the road Wednesday Night. Mike Conley is playing much better than we thought he would. Rudy Gay has legitimately made the jump to franchise player, improving in nearly every statistical area and taking and making huge shots such as last night. The Grizzlies added Xavier Henry for offense, Tony Allen for defense, and Darrel Arthur looks like a real pro finally.
So then, what's the problem?
There's an idea that the problem is the offense, which has been 2 points worse in offensive efficiency this year, while the defense remains largely unaffected. The following table outlines the difference in this year's stats from last year's stats for those players who have played both years in Memphis. We're going with pace adjusted stats like rebounding percentage and PER which will also help us with the per-minute issues, though not all of them. All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com .
Okay, before you freak out, Hasheem Thabeet is averaging a mere 8.4 minutes per game this year, so that Offensive Rating (team points scored per 100 possessions while the player is on the floor) being 27 points worse isn't that bad (it's not good either, but let's move on). There's no way getting around it. The plummet of O.J. Mayo is a problem for this team. He's shooting worse, distributing less, rebounding at a lower clip, and using roughly the same number of possessions.
The move to the bench hasn't been phenomenally better for him but has slightly improved things. What's been odd is that coach Lionel Hollins elected to move Mayo to the bench, which he's obviously not big on, instead of supporting him through the slump. Zach Randolph also hasn't been his normal self, but he also dealt with early season injury issues. Let's try not to start directly at Hasheem Thabeet's numbers for fear they will sear all hope from our souls. That's a number two overall pick, ladies and gents.
The good news here is that Mayo's slump is unlikely to sustain over the course of the season. Even with a bad year, it's more likely that he'll find himself back on track. However, Mayo's body language has been pretty terrible, and you have to wonder if he's not trying to work his way out of town.
In the interim, the team is going to have to either improve defensively or find a more consistent option on offense. Xavier Henry has shown flashes of why he was drafted in the last five games, but Tony Allen's favorite album is the Tony Allen ISO Project's "Throw It Up and See What Happens." If the team were to figure things out, there's no reason this team can't compete for the playoffs. But as Grizzlies blog 3 Shades of Blue points out, that time may have already passed:
To guarantee a spot in the Western Conference playoff picture a team has to win 50 games. To reach the 50 win plateau the Grizzlies would have to win just under 75% of their home games 30-11 and win 50% of their road games 20-21. So far the Grizzlies are 6-5 at home. That means the team has to go 25-5 the rest of the season in the half full FedEx Forum to reach the home win mark. The team that has lost 5 home games out of 11 this season still has to play San Antonio twice, Dallas once, New Orleans twice, Oklahoma City twice, Denver once, Portland once and Utah twice. Thats 11 tough home games and the Grizzlies can only lose 5 of them to reach the 30 win total for home wins.via Are the Playoffs Already Out of Reach? | 3 Shades of Blue .
With Heisley already making noise about "changes" should the team not be on pace for the playoffs, what seemed to be a rising team could be headed for the scrapyard before it even got out of port. It's not the first time a team has looked to be on the path up only to fall backwards into oblivion. The concern has to be in the $180 million the team gave out to Rudy Gay and Mike Conley in the past six months. If this isn't the path, what is?