Tag:Lionel Hollins
Posted on: April 9, 2011 1:47 am
Edited on: April 9, 2011 1:16 pm
 

The Memphis Grizzlies are a playoff team

The Grizzlies clinch a playoff appearance with a win over Sacramento.
Posted by Matt Moore




Three years ago, the Memphis Grizzlies committed to rebuilding. Not the stubborn, slow decline type that buries teams in NBA purgatory for years on end. Instead, the Grizzlies traded their best player, their biggest asset, their All-Star, for what was perceived to be scraps. Expiring contracts, a fringe prospect, the brother of the star they were trading, and a draft pick. That's it. The only player to make roster in 2010 for the Grizzlies from that trade was the brother, who started at center. 

Three years after that trade, the Grizzlies have clinched a playoff berth for the first time since 2006 in a 101-96 win over the Sacramento Kings in front of a raucous, yes, raucous, crowd in Memphis, Tennessee at FedEx Forum. 

That the Grizzlies made what will likely be the 8th seed barring a phenomenal collapse by the New Orleans Hornets will be a sidebar, a nice little story, quickly forgotten. It will be ridiculed by fans of juggernauts like those in Boston, Miami, Chicago, and of course, Los Angeles. It will be considered nothing more than a blip on the radar screen. But if you're looking for a sports story that epitomizes what can be great about the NBA, what can be great about sports, the Memphis Grizzlies are a pretty fine place to start. 

Memphis should not be here. Their best overall player, Rudy Gay, has been on the shelf since before the All-Star break in February with a shoulder injury. Zach Randolph, their best remaining player and best offensive weapon, relies on nearly no athleticism, instead out-crafting and out-hustling his bigger, longer, faster opponents on the glass and managing to slip in shots amid a sea of limbs. Randolph was a team killer for a decade before landing in Memphis, and the Grizzlies' acquisition of him was considered in and of itself a joke. Tony Allen was the Grizzlies' big free agent pick-up in the summer of 2010, and he was a player Celtics' fans called out with glee when he was gone. A terrific defensive player that fancied himself an offensive weapon, Allen was so fond of taking the ball and breaking the set in isolation on offense, I took to referring to his escapades as the Tony Allen ISO Project. I imagined a house band tuning up in Allen's head when the leather touched his hands, his mind exploding with the possibilities of ways he could score. This is even more ridiculous considering how the room for Allen was created. The Grizzlies traded a draft pick to Utah for Ronnie Brewer, then a restricted free agent and now a key member of the Bulls' bench mob. Brewer got hurt, then the Grizzlies rescinded their restricted free agent rights for Brewer. They paid a draft pick to watch him walk to the top team in the East. They used that money and roster space to sign Allen. 

The roster goes on and on from there. The Grizzlies' second overall pick in the 2010 draft, a gift from the heavens, was wasted on a pogo stick with no discernible basketball talent who was traded along with a first-round pick for an aging wing defender with questionable shooting numbers. Darrell Arthur was supposed to be a draft bust, plagued by injuries and a lack of discernible role. Leon Powe was a washed up injury-plagued center cast aside by the Celtics after his championship contributions. 

Then there were the guards. I described Mike Conley's $40 million extension at the beginning of this season as the worst move in franchise history. He entered the season as a point guard with questionable handle, decision-making, play-making, and defensive skills. O.J. Mayo struggled as a point guard in Summer League, lost his starting job during a shooting slump, then was nearly traded to the Pacers. But a last minute bit of the trade jitters from New Orleans sacked the deal, and Mayo was stuck on a team that clearly didn't want him. 

How was this team supposed to make the playoffs? 

Randolph turned his entire reputation around, not only delivering efficiency, production, and leadership on the floor, but in the locker room. Randolph is the first to tap up the rebound, first to help up his teammate, first to greet the bench unit in a timeout. Everything you associate with a selfish, stat-hounding, head-case, team-cancer player like Randolph had been categorized as, he's been the opposite of. He set the tone, and the team rallied. Tony Allen came in and became the heart and soul of the team. He battles for every rebound, constantly swipes in the passing lane, helping the Grizzlies lead the league in forced turnovers, and, against all reason, has turned into an outright offensive threat. He finishes much like Randolph, in contrast to all things logical and traditional in offensive basketball form. He just gets the job done. And it's his emotion the team, the city, the fans feed off of. The working man's hero. 

Shane Battier came in and immediately resumed his role as a fan favorite, providing the cerebral balance to Allen's emotional energy. In his first game back in Memphis he was in O.J. Mayo's ear, talking to Darrell Arthur, communicating with the coach. Battier has come to provide the yang to Tony Allen's unstable yin. It shouldn't work, but it does. Arthur all of a sudden is a lock from mid-range, a quality defender in both low-post man and weakside help situations, and able to finish off the pick and roll. Combined with Gasol and Randolph, the Grizzlies host a three-man rotation down low with matchup advantages in skill, size, length, athleticism, and range. Powe is a hammer that does the dirty work and still has quality minutes in him.

At the time, I wasn't wrong for criticizing the Conley deal. It was poorly timed by the team considering his then-upcoming restricted free agent status and what he had shown as a guard. I am now. That's how these things work out, and Chris Wallace and Michael Heisley, along with head coach Lionel Hollins deserve every bit of credit for seeing the future of Conley. Mayo rediscovered his shot, and seems to have found a partner to work with in Shane Battier. Instead of pouting, abandoning his teammates and an organization that didn't want him, Mayo came to work, and produced. 

And now the Grizzlies have made the playoffs. They're in the postseason; they have a seat at the table. And yeah, they'll in all likelihood be ushered out swiftly by the Spurs or Lakers, as championship teams do to 8th seeds. But they have the hope of winning a few games which hasn't happened in Memphis. Ever. It's these kinds of steps that help a team build itself into something more than a fringe punch line, more than a Washington General to the big market bullies. The Grizzlies' road to the postseason hasn't been filled with success after success. It has had its mistakes, its bad luck, its times where the vehicle has slammed into the ditch. But the team has rallied around itself and even without its best player, is headed for the second season. 

Ain't that something? Strike up the band. Memphis has got one more dance in it. 
Posted on: December 31, 2010 4:19 am
Edited on: December 31, 2010 4:28 am
 

A very Rudy New Year

Rudy Gay is quietly having the kind of season you want your emerging star to have, breaking out not in any one area, but improving in every facet of the game. 
Posted by Matt Moore




It's almost a new year, so perhaps it's time to inform you in case you haven't heard. It's also a new Rudy Gay. 

After signing his five-year, $80 million extension with the Memphis Grizzlies this summer, most wondered if Gay was in any way worth that kind of investment. How could he be? From every measurable standard, he was below star-level. Points, rebounds, efficiency, wins, playoff appearances, the works. Though the Grizzlies showed signs of life last season, they faded down the stretch. Would Gay really improve in the necessary ways to justify that contract and the Grizzlies' future investment in him?

Turns out, he's on his way. And where he is now and where he's headed is a long way from where he started, in Baltimore, Maryland. 

*


It's Christmas time in Memphis, and for once, it feels like it. There's a significant chill in the air on Christmas Eve as the Grizzlies wrap up practice at FedEx Forum. Later it will snow through the night, though of course the warm Tennessee ground won't hold anything but the slightest layer of white. Still, it's got to make the Grizzlies from colder climates even more homesick at Christmas.  They've got a game the night after Christmas in Indiana, their flight departing Christmas Day, so there's no time to get to their respective homes. They'll spend Christmas in Memphis, before hopping on a plane for a hotel as they try and get off their losing streak.

For Gay, missing Christmas is just part of the job. He says that with video chat and all the technology, it's almost like being there. And "there" means quite a bit to him.  Baltimore is notorious in the NBA for two things: being tough and producing ball players. Players talk about Baltimore carefully, trying to manage how tough the environment is with their pride of the system they came out of. For Gay, he has a clear feeling of solidarity with the many players that come out of Charm City.

"The best feeling about being in the NBA is going back to Baltimore," Gay says. "It's a basketball city. There are so many guys that come out of there and try and get to this level. For those of us who do, we're thankful, and we try and stick together."

Part of the tradition of basketball in Baltimore is the AAU Teams.  The AAU circuit in Baltimore is as strong as it is anywhere in the country, and its products have filled the NBA ranks.  The teams also come under scrutiny, as was the case in fellow Baltimore native Carmelo Anthony's Team Melo personnel's involvement with Josh Selby. For Gay, though, AAU was nothing but a positive experience, and he credits the AAU programs in Baltimore for helping kids there stay out of trouble. 

As practice wraps up, the Grizzlies huddle up and chant "1-2-3-Merry-Christmas" before heading for the exits and their respective holiday plans. A few elect to hang out on the sidelines. But Gay and Mike Conley, the player for Memphis who Gay has played the longest with, remain on the floor, shooting and working, getting in extra time. The Grizzlies need it. They've lost three in a row, including an inexcusable loss to the Nets. If ever there was a time for Gay to exert the leadership he's learned as he continues his fifth year in Memphis, now would be it. 

It's not that the Grizzlies have been terrible this season. On Christmas Eve, they're only a game back of where they were last year. But last year they depended on a long winning streak after a terrible opening to recover and make it into the playoff picture before fading late. This year they've toppled the Lakers, the Suns, and the Mavericks, but have also lost to the Nets, the Warriors and the Wizards. It's that kind of inconsistency and playing up or down to their opponent that Gay says is the key to Memphis getting back on track. 
"We're just learning how to play consistently every night. We can't play good against good teams and bad against bad teams. I just want to get this team to that level. I can feel it. We're close."

*


Two nights later in Indiana, they certainly look it. The Grizzlies dominate on both sides of the floor and walk out of Indiana with a 104-90 victory. Merry Christmas, indeed. Gay sets the tone with his best performance of the season, one of the best of his career, with 30 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals. The vaunted "stat-stuffer" line. The 30 points is nice, but it's been the total efficiency and productivity where Gay has made strides this season. Sunday night's win is just the jewel in the crown of his improvement in 2010. 

RG is posting career-highs in points, assists, and steals per game, as well as in advanced numbers like assist, steals, and block percentages, and eFG% (percentage factoring 3-point shooting). In essence, he's a more efficient player than he ever has been. His PER is a career high 18.8. You get the feeling that his near-career-high rebound rate (8.9%) would improve if he needed to, but with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol down low, Gay's priorities are in contributing at every level, "in every column" as his coach says. And it's that total effort that Lionel Hollins says best describes Gay's role. 

"He needs to utilize his talent, and fill the stat sheet like he has. Some nights it will be scoring, some nights it won't. Those other stat columns have to be filled regardless of whether he goes 11-17 or 6-17. I think when he gets to the level where he has an impact on the game even when he's not scoring a lot, that's his role. When you're talented like that, players can think that the fans and media expect them to score a lot of points. But the best player doesn't always score the most points."

Hollins says Gay is also a key for the defense. RG has posted his lowest defensive rating of his career with a 105 score. Far from elite, but a huge step in the right direction.

"When he's engaged, our whole team is engaged," Hollins says.
*
It's Monday night, and time for a dreaded back-to-back, this time against the Toronto Raptors, an up and down team which is missing several key players. Before the game, Gay has that leader swagger going again. He pumps up the music, dances, and raps, but also goes around the room talking to several of the younger players, providing instruction. It's reminiscent of the behavior of another talented stat-stuffing power forward, LeBron James, in pre-game activities. It will not be the last time Gay looks the part of a King-James-type that evening. 

One player that Gay gives extra attention to his rookie point guard Greivis Vasquez. Vasquez attended high school in Maryland and proceeded to attend college at Maryland as well. Gay and Vasquez have what the rookie describes as a "real relationship." Team officials refer to them as "close as any players on the team" and Vasquez credits Gay with taking him under his wing and helping him transition through the rookie process. 

Gay does not talk pre-game, but where's the same quiet, confident look he always seems to adorn as he heads for the floor and yet another moderately-attended game in Memphis. 
*
The Raptors are up eight as the second period begins. The Grizzlies look lifeless. The Raps are starting Amir Johnson and Joey Dorsey in the front court due to injuries, and yet they are the team slowing it down and grinding it out in the halfcourt set. Linas Kleiza is giving Gay fits as he rises over him to fire long jumpers. But in the second quarter, something clicks. 

RG's biggest asset? Detonation into transition. And instead of looking for it off the work of his teammates, Gay is again initiating those opportunities. He bursts out to initiate the break, forces the issue, and the offense is off and running towards a 32-point quarter after only scoring 16 in the opening set. The Raptors manage to hang in until the third, when the Grizzlies get Zach Randolph, who is battling with a cold, back on track. He takes over down low, and Gay snags two steals using that athleticism people have raved about since his days at UCONN. He uses it in conjunction with a learned anticipation, the kind of mental improvement that's made such a difference in his game. 

By the time the fourth rolls around, it's all over but the shouting. 

With Hollins completely reversing his game plan, going small instead of big, an unforeseen development reveals itself.  A lineup hits the floor of Darrell Arthur, Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, O.J. Mayo, and Rudy Gay. Gay plays point guard, initiating the offense and acting as the conduit for O.J. Mayo to break open for some buckets. It's a brief indulgence, but one that Gay says they've been working on in practice. 

"Most people who play my position aren't used to guarding a guy running point. It creates mismatches. I enjoy being in that position."

Randolph will get the headlines for taking over in the second half, but it will be Gay who ties his career high for combined assists and steals. He finishes with 18 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 steals and 1 block. It's consistent, across the board, and the real foundation for the Grizzlies success. I ask Gay if he thinks the team has turned a corner. 
"I do. We learned something from the Nets loss, but these wins are starting to feel different." 
Much like Gay's season, which is starting to look every bit the part of what the Grizzlies paid for. 

*


Two nights later the Grizzlies will drop a heartbreaker in Sacramento, losing on a desperation half-court heave by Tyreke Evans. Gay will struggle with 6-17 shooting, just 16 points, 4 rebounds, and 1 assist. The Grizzlies for a night have gone back to playing down to their competition. But Gay's body of work has already shown itself. 

It's a new year, and while the Grizzlies' future this year and beyond seems very uncertain, every indication is that Gay has reached that next step. Gay says he's ready, able, and willing to be the star player on a playoff team.

"I always want to be on that stage. I love that stage.  My career has shown that I love to be the type of player that's depended on, and I'm going to continue to do that. "


Posted on: December 22, 2010 6:50 pm
Edited on: December 22, 2010 8:03 pm
 

Lionel Hollins tells some kids to shut the F up

Posted by Royce Young

Strange days in Memphis right now. So strange in fact that the Grizzlies head coach, Lionel Hollins, took to yelling at some fans during last night's game.

Via Chris Vernon's Twitter, Hollins apparently told a group of 17-year-olds to "shut the f*** up" after the kids made a bunch of noise about putting Zach Randolph back in the game for Hasheem Thabeet. Yep, Hollins evidently freaked out over a pefectly logical demand from some fans that obviously should be the ones coaching the Grizzlies.

Hollins said that it was a bunch of "drunk unruly fans" yelling at him after the game and that he told them to pipe down, but apparently, he was a little off. But in Hollins' defense, sometimes it is a little difficult to tell the difference between drunk loud-mouths and 17-year-olds.

The bad news for Memphis is, these were season ticket holders since the Grizzlies moved to Memphis. They have six (six!) season tickets and even plan family vacations around road games. So yeah, I'm thinking the organization isn't going to be psyched about this whole thing.

Vernon says that the Grizzlies had a representative go over to the kids and ask for the phone numbers so the Grizz could send some gear and tickets to them because they felt bad about Hollins' reaction.

General manager Chris Wallace has a weekly radio program and the dad of the kids that Hollins yelled at called in to ask about the situation. The dad, who isn't holding grudges, said he's not mad at the Grizzlies and just said that Hollins needs to be more professional. Um, duh dad.

Realistically, it's unlikely the Grizzlies punish Hollins publicly for this situation, but I'm sure owner Michael Heisley called him into the principle's office to talk about it. Memphis is struggling to bring fans to games and here is the coach yelling at the children of a season ticket holder that doesn't hold two seats, but six. I'm thinking that's not something ownership is going to be psyched about.
Category: NBA
Posted on: December 9, 2010 8:01 pm
Edited on: December 9, 2010 10:17 pm
 

The problem with Memphis

Why the downturn on Beale Street? We try and get a handle on the Memphis problem. Posted by Matt Moore



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 .

Player PER TS% eFG% TRB% AST% TOV% USG% ORtg DRtg
Marc Gasol -1 0.043 0.034 -1.8 1.9 3.7 -2.1 2 -1
Rudy Gay 2.9 0.034 0.036 0.4 2.8 1.3 1 2 -1
Mike Conley 3.8 0.025 0.016 0.6 5.2 0.9 2.3 1 -3
Zach Randolph -1.7 -0.009 0.01 1.1 -1 0.8 -1.8 -5 -1
Darrell Arthur 4.3 0.102 0.089 -0.8 -1.2 0.7 1.8 10 -1
O.J. Mayo -3.6 -0.06 -0.054 -0.4 -3.2 -0.8 0.1 -12 -1
Sam Young -1.5 -0.04 -0.039 -0.9 0.1 -2 -3.3 -8 -8
Hasheem Thabeet -8.3 -0.109 -0.121 -6.8 -0.8 7.4 -2.1 -27 3
DeMarre Carroll 5.9 0.01 -0.063 6.6 1.2 -8.9 0.6 17 -2
Hamed Haddadi -2.5 -0.267 -0.387 13.1 2.4 3.7 -4.9 -34 -11


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?
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com