Tag:Michael Heisley
Posted on: May 7, 2011 9:41 pm
Edited on: May 7, 2011 10:02 pm
 

NBA Playoffs Grizzlies-Thunder: The collapsers



Posted by Matt Moore

If a team falls apart multiple times, they have a reputation as choke artists, collapsers, mentally weak. If a team creates those implosions on a regular basis, the onus is always put on the other team for failing to close. Welcome to the life of the Memphis Grizzlies after a drive past the Oklahoma City Thunder's 16-point lead into overtime, and on to a victory, gave them a 2-1 advantage in the series. Memphis won't get the credit for it. Sure, OKC will get the blame, but the reality is that there may be no better demolition team in the NBA right now than the Memphis Grizzlies. 

The Thunder were the better team for the vast majority of Game 3. That's not home cookin'. It was a product of smart, crisp basketball on offense from the Thunder. And it came through brilliant shooting and ball movement, and physical, bordering on brutal, defense, especially inside. Zach Randolph was scoring, but needing a shot for every point, racking up turnovers, and was extremely frustrated. Marc Gasol couldn't get any of his touch shots to fall. Russell Westbrook's mid-range was falling. It was doom for the Grizzlies, who looked outclassed. 

Then, after building a solid structure of basketball for 3.5 quarters, the Grizzlies swept the legs of the structure out from within, and the Thunder collapsed under their own weight. Those legs were based on the play of Russell Westbrook, and what took them out was most surprising of all, O.J. Mayo

Mayo didn't have a great game. He couldn't get the runner to fall, wasn't hot from the perimeter. He shot just 30 percent from the field. Mayo's known as a pure scorer. Yet when called on to stop Westbrook and provide a spark, he brought the effort. That effort is what carried Memphis into the playoffs and it sparked the Grizzlies on Saturday. But Mayo couldn't do it alone. No, in coming back from 16 down, Mayo and the Grizzlies got a great contribution from... Russell Westbrook. 

Westbrook has the speed to blow by Mayo. He has the strength to back him down. Mayo too often gambles on the perimeter pass and hedges too hard on the screen-and-roll. Westbrook elected to dribble right into Mayo, and force mid-range contested jumper after mid-range contested jumper. Kevin Durant, who had been totally en fuego, was ignored just long enough for the fire to die out. The result was Durant's miss on a last-possession pull-up jumper, and Durant being unable to rediscover his shot.

Durant's last made field goal came with 7:43 to go in the fourth. He had three shots in the remainder of regulation, including the last possession... another Scott Brooks' special. Durant was 10-18 at 7:43. He would finish on an 0-6 run, thanks to the best defense Tony Allen has played all series. He played the passing lane hard, snatched steals, and on the other end, got out in transition. Allen drew fouls, but didn't hit layups. He missed free throws, but got one of two each time. The same kind of grind that got Memphis here. 

The Thunder will look at their defense, at their offense, at their composure. Scott Brooks needs to examine why James Harden, who may honestly be the best distributor OKC has with Westbrook playing as he is, isn't getting time in key situations. He may also question why Westbrook isn't getting the off-ball movement from other Thunder players to get him away from his poor decisions on pull-ups. The Grizzlies played terribly for most of the game. Zach Randolph was inefficient and frustrated. They shot 38 percent from the field, and allowed Serge Ibaka to score 14 points. And they won. 

So OKC goes back to the drawing board, having given up a 16-point lead to go down 2-1 with a scary Game 4 up next. The Thunder were minutes away from cementing themselves as the team in control of the series, possibly on their way to the Western Conference Finals. Instead, the house that Presti built imploded in on itself, another victim of the same thing that left the Spurs Palace in ruins: the other team just wanted it more. 
Posted on: April 30, 2011 4:00 pm
Edited on: April 30, 2011 5:40 pm
 

Series Preview Grizzlies-Thunder: Lightning flash

Posted by Matt Moore




I. Intro

Well, that was exciting, wasn't it? The 8th seed without a single playoff win coming in knocking off the 1 seed with championship history? Great drama. But that's over with. And now the Grizzlies have to turn around and face a Thunder team that took care of its first-round opponent in impressive fashion and has had plenty of time to rest. And by "turn around," I mean literally turn around and head for the airport. After what was likely a pretty raucous celebration on Beale Street Friday night, the Grizzlies will head to Oklahoma City Saturday in advance of a noon tip Sunday. The Thunder will be the heavy favorites. They have the recognized names. They have more experience (slightly). And they're supposed to contend for a title. Basically, everything is stacked against the Grizzlies. 

What else is new?

II. What happened? A Look at the Season Series

Believe it or not, the Grizzlies went 3-1 against the Thunder this year. That's right, the Grizzlies beat the Thunder three to one this season, with a win coming even after the Kendrick Perkins' trade. Most notable was a February tilt where the Grizzlies had played in Memphis against the Lakers and lost the night before. On the second night of a back to back, Memphis went into OKC, in their first game without Rudy Gay (after suffering the shoulder injury vs. L.A. the night before, and beat the Thunder. Tony Allen scored 27 points in that game. Weird things happen.

The consistent themes in the season series were what you'd expect. Zach Randolph and Kevin Durant went off. For two teams that stress defense so much, this wasn't a slugfest. It was a moderate-pace series with high offensive production.  The Grizzlies had a 111.6 offensive efficiency against the Thunder in the four games. That's high. The Thunder haven't been a great defensive team this season and the Grizzlies took advantage of it. The one Grizzlies loss? Kevin Durant dropped 40. 

III. The Easy Stuff: Kevin Durant Will Get His

Kevin Durant is the NBA's scoring leader. So yeah, he's pretty good. And he's going to get his in this series. The Grizzlies will have a similar approach against him as they had against Manu Ginobili. Tony Allen and Shane Battier will both spend time on him. And it won't really matter.  Durant averaged 28.9 points against Allen, shooting 49 percent.  But against Battier, he scored "only" 23.4 points per game, still on 49 percent shooting. Durant is going to draw fouls on Tony Allen, he's going to blow past Shane Battier. He's the best pure scorer in the NBA right now, and he is relentless. The Grizzlies don't have the help defense to shut him down.  He'll get looks from the perimeter. He'll get to the line. He'll get buckets. The question will be if he can go off for 30+ consistently against tough individual defense, which will force the Grizzlies to bring help, opening up opportunities for his teammates. It's not a matter of whether Durant will dominate, it's how and how much. 

IV. Secret of the Series: Just How Good is Kendrick Perkins?

Very good, is the answer to that question. But Perkins is still coming back from serious knee surgery. And he's going to be facing an extremely tough matchup along with Serge Ibaka. Perkins will likely spend the most time against Marc Gasol. Perkins is known as the guy who stopped Dwight Howard, but Gasol is a different type player. Not as athletic or explosive, obviously, but a legit seven-footer with good touch inside and most importantly, a big, burly body that can hammer in the post. 

Serge Ibaka versus Zach Randolph is all sorts of interesting. Randolph struggles against extremely long defenders, which Ibaka definitely fits the bill. But Ibaka can get worked by good post moves, which Z-Bo has, oh, about a billion of. Randolph hooked-and-shook Antonio McDyess, Tim Duncan, and DeJuan Blair, but Ibaka's going to be a younger, tougher matchup. On the other end of it, though, Ibaka's amped-up, emotion-fueled play is going to get frustrated because Randolph? He just scores. By hook or by crook, the guy gets it done, and leaves you wondering how he did it. 

V. The Dinosaur Narrative: Memphis Can't Handle the Pressure

Are you kidding me? The Grizzlies just faced down the 1 seed Spurs. They walked into San Antonio, took Game 1, and haven't lost a home game yet. The only thing that made it a six-game series was a shot even Manu Ginobili deemed "lucky." This team isn't going to be intimidated by any environment, any stakes. After winning their first playoff game ever, then their first playoff game in Memphis? Shane Battier said they're playing with house money. There's zero pressure on the Grizzlies. But how they respond to that is by attacking. 

We're going to be seeing something in this series that should give the NBA and its Board of Governors pause. The crowds will be insane in both houses in this series, in small-market cities that many say don't deserve teams. That insanity is going to fuel cash registers through merchandise, concessions, and season ticket packages. Maybe take a look at how good teams with great fanbases can be instead of teams in high-cost-of-living areas. 

VI. The Line-Item Veto:

PG: Mike Conley held his own against a discombobulated Tony Parker. Russell Westbrook has a chip on his shoulder after a frustrating and disappointing series against the Nuggets. Westbrook will likely see Tony Allen quite a bit, while Conley will have Westbrook attack his dribble to create turnovers. This is a huge advantage for the Thunder... if  Westbrook gets his decision making right. 

SG: Tony Allen thinks he can do too much on offense. But he can produce, and did against the Thunder this year with his season high. Thabo Sefolosha isn't asked to do too much, and he doesn't. But he's a capable defender who will neutralize a lot of the Grizzlies' perimeter opportunities. James Harden and O.J. Mayo is a matchup of two USC guys who can score and who can disappear. That matchup is going to be way bigger than people think. A big swing-vote player in this series? Sam Young, who is really a G/F who can attack at times and then get lost in ISO offense (a more polished Tony Allen, really). 

SF: Durant. Durant Durant. Durant Durant Durant Durant. Kevin Durant. 

PF: Hey, Ibaka is a really fun player. Z-Bo is an All-Star worthy player who just took out the Spurs nearly on his own. Gotta give Z-Bo the nod here. 

C: Call it a wash. Perkins' technique and toughness versus Gasol's size and muscle. 

Bench: The Grizzlies, all of a sudden, have a pretty good bench. Nick Collison versus Darrell Arthur is going to be a fun one to watch, with Nazr Mohammed in there for good measure. Mayo is dangerous but has yet to really go off, though he's been more of a playmaker in the playoffs. The Thunder have a solid bench, but not enough to make this a clear advantage. It's close. 

Coaching: No one expected either of these interim coaches to make it this far, nor to be this good. They both get their teams, and connect with their players. They've both made impressive adjustments in the playoffs. They're both former players with the respect of their organizations, players, and fans. This will be a great matchup. 

VII. Conclusion

Everything points towards a long, tough series. The matchups are actually pretty even. The Thunder have some holes no one is focusing on, and the Grizzlies are really good at exploiting those. The Grizz are over their heads, but playing without pressure. They have some legit stars, but not like OKC does. It looks like it'll be a great series. 

But Memphis... can't possibly... do it again... can they? 

We're going Thunder in five, because of the first game being Sunday at noon, a little over 36 hours from the Grizzlies' biggest game in franchise history. That sets a tone for the series. But as to whether we feel good about it? Well, ask the Spurs. 
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: March 10, 2011 7:08 pm
 

Memphis has a Zach Randolph situation

Zach Randolph wants his money. Is Memphis in a position to provide him his next contract, and more importantly, should they?
Posted by Matt Moore

It's not like Memphis didn't see this coming. When they gave Rudy Gay a max deal worth $80 million, then followed it up four months later with a $40 million deal for Mike Conley (which looks like a steal right now compared to the garbage assessment I gave it), they knew they were going to be setting themselves up to not get back the core. The starting five from last season of Conley, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol was something management and ownership had both asserted needed to be kept together. They continually spoke to keeping that core together to let it develop. But for that to happen, with a combination of talented young players on the rise and veterans looking for substantial investments, people were going to have to take paycuts. Two of the five took about as much as they were going to get on the open market. Something's got to give. 

Mayo is gone, even if he's not gone. That fact is a combination of decisions from both Mayo and the Grizzlies. Mayo struggled to take over more ball-handling duties over the summer, then wilted under criticism from his coach resulting in a prolonged shooting slump, then go into a fight with teammate Tony Allen on the team plane, during which he was KO'd, then was busted for a performance enhancing drug due to a supplement he claims was in a gas stations refreshment. Mayo's had his hand in this. But the Grizzlies committed a cardinal sin of management, be it a corporate office, a movie rental store (when those existed), or a basketball team. They set Mayo up for failure. They pushed him to be something he's not, a point guard, and when he struggled in a handful of games in Summer League, publicly criticized him for it. They gave Conley the money when he had contributed less to the team than Mayo at that point, moved him to the bench (even if they did need bench scoring, they knew the effect it would have on his confidence), and continuously told him they weren't moving him, then shopped him on the trade market. The final straw was the failed deal with the Pacers that nearly moved him at the deadline. That's not a situation that can be repaired. Be it this summer or worst-case scenario in restricted free agency in the summer of 2012, Mayo's gone. 

Which leaves Gasol and Randolph. One is going to have as many suitors as he can shake his beard at, the other has not been quiet about making it clear he wants his final payday. Alan Hahn of Newday reported Thursday on both Gasol and Randolph's free agency situations. Specifically, just about every New York media outlet has spun that the Knicks are intent on landing Gasol to be their center of the future, which they badly need. Gasol, true to the form he's held throughout the conversations about his upcoming restricted free agency, said he's not concerned with it, not worried about it. He's said the same to every outlet, but there's one differential. Gasol went to high school in Memphis. He's been there off and on for close to a decade. Whatever problems his brother had with management probably do affect his thinking, but this is also restricted free agency. If the Grizzlies are willing to match, which there is every indication they are, Gasol won't make it hard on them, or buck at the idea of staying in Memphis through another contract. Odds are very strong that Gasol will be in Memphis for the future. 

Randolph, on the other hand, is a stickier situation. From Newsday
Former Knick Zach Randolph will also be looking for a new contract this offseason as an unrestricted free agent and he sounded annoyed that the Grizzlies decided not to sign him to an extension. "I thought it shouldve been done," he said. "But its a business, nothing personal. Ive just got to come out and do my job every day and let everything else take care of itself."
via Gasol would fit in nicely with Knicks- Newsday.

Randolph's been pretty annoyed this entire time he hasn't gotten the extension. Randolph turns 30 this summer, and this is likely his last really lucrative NBA contract. He's got something good in Memphis, and wants to be rewarded for it. But Randolph has learned that this is a business (having been traded multiple times, largely on account of his off-court behavior and leadership issues, both of which have vanished in Memphis), and will pursue whatever angle he can to get the best deal he can. 

And that's where things get bothersome for the Grizzlies. How do you put the right price on Randolph? He's going to be 30. He doesn't have a history of winning. His defense is not great. (He's not a sieve or anything, but put him up against a long athletic guy who's as relentless as he is and he gets overmatched, quickly, and his weakside rotation leaves a lot to be desired.) He succeeds mostly by being savvier, more gifted, and working harder than the other guy. But isn't that who you want on your team? The leadership mentioned earlier could not have been better in Memphis. Randolph is the first guy to help Gasol up, and Randolph told me over Christmas that he just loves playing next to the big Spaniard, despite what should be a culture gap. He's the first to applaud a teammate, first to stand up for him in a tussle, first to help Darrel Arthur learn what he needs to be doing. And all of that is before you factor he was the Grizzlies first All-Star since Pau Gasol, he leads the team in scoring, is a double-double machine, and is arguably their best overall player. How do you not reward a player for doing everything you've asked of him and more? 

The trick is going to be for the two sides to find a compromise. If Randolph's looking for the standard deal with considerable increases as the contract progresses, the Grizzlies will balk. Randolph at 34 isn't going to be nearly the same player he is now. Front-loading the contract is the best-case scenario, but relies more on Randolph's ability to manage his money. The real issue in all this is the CBA. The Grizzlies are probably looking to see how the new cap situation shakes out before evaluating how much fair market value is for Randolph in the new universe being created in the boardrooms. Would it have been right for the Grizzlies to cave and give Randolph is fair share this season? Sure. But that's not how you build for the future. You do it carefully, and shrewdly, and emotions aren't part of the process. 

Just ask Danny Ainge. 

So the Grizzlies try to push for the playoffs, a must with the kind of improvements they've made, and hope for the best. If they fall short (check their schedule for the rest of the month, it's a gauntlet wrapped in barbed wire on fire), ownership could hit the roof and pull the plug on everything but what they've committed to. Which also might spell the end of professional basketball in Memphis. 

As is the case seemingly everywhere this season, there's a lot going on in Memphis on and off the court. 
Posted on: December 1, 2010 2:51 am
 

The Mike Conley apology post

Matt Moore does some self-criticism in light of Mike Conley's emergence as a legit point guard following the Grizzlies' win over the Lakers Tuesday night.
Posted by Matt Moore


I.... overreacted .

This is a tricky subject, but starting off with that makes it sound like I'm trying to get around the subject. I'm not. I will be telling you, in pain-staking, crow-eating, I-screwed-up fashion why and how I was wrong in my outright evisceration of Mike Conley, at least through the first month of the season. But I also can't approach this as simply a "Mike Conley has made the leap and everything I said was wrong" instance. I wasn't, about some things. This also isn't meant to be an outright capitulation of my opinion. But unlike a lot of sportswriters, who are justified in their approach, I don't believe it hurts me to admit when I'm wrong. My job is to try and entertain you and occasionally give you some level of insight into the league. To say that I'm never wrong is to buy into a culture which abhors the idea that we all have more to learn about the game, or that these players we watch and nitpick over can't surprise us. And they can. Mike Conley has.

Here's what I got right, still, at this point.

The 5-year, $40 million extension to Mike Conley was foolhardy, penny wise and pound foolish. In committing the money to Conley before he had played more than five games, the Grizzlies denied themselves the opportunity to see what the market would bear out for Conley in restricted free agency this summer. They bid against themselves and still managed to lose. They still likely overpaid in the  long run considering his importance in the long-term success of the team. Furthermost, it's still hard to see, despite assurances from Heisley himself to some of his favorite media outlets, how he's going to justify spending the money necessary to keep the core of this team together, the same core which took down the Lakers in impressive fashion Tuesday night despite a near-loss.

Doing so would require likely overspending on Zach Randolph, which is a much more justifiable over-expense than Mike Conley was back in the first week of November. It means finding a reasonable value for Marc Gasol, who is arguably the most important and second best overall player on the team behind Rudy Gay. And then it means still finding enough left to invest in O.J. Mayo, who despite his struggles, still has the capacity to light up teams for 35 on any given night, and whose clutch play down the stretch against the Lakers, particularly in his defense of Kobe Bryant's pull-up to tie (which forced a jump-pass to Ron Artest which was blocked) was an example of the performance he can give. Re-signing all those players seems unlikely, especially with a second overall pick used on Hasheem Thabeet and another first rounder taken on now-starter Xavier Henry.

I can't say that the money invested in Conley was wise at the time, or in the context of building towards the future in Memphis, no matter how relatively painless the extension may be to swallow . It was yet another example of Michael Heisley's misguided leadership and meddling in the affairs of a relatively shrewd talent evaluator in Chris Wallace.

And that about sums up what I got right. Wrong? I'm going to FJM myself now, if you don't mind (which I'm sure is nicer than some of the other things Grizzlies fans want me to do myself).

In the long history of terrible moves by the Memphis Grizzlies, mark my words, this one will reign supreme.

Worse than drafting Hasheem Thabeet .

Okay, stop, right there. Two sentences in, just stop. This was not nearly as bad as drafting Hasheem Thabeet. Know how I know? Tyreke Evans, Brandon Jennings, Stephen Curry, Darren Collison. Thanks.

Mike Conley is the worst starting point guard in the NBA. That's including Derek Fisher , who is at this point both a defensive signpost and a superior point guard.

Given the improvements Conley's made to his game (which we'll get to, don't worry), it would be ludicrous to assess him as the 30th worst point guard in the NBA. He's not a top 10. He is solidly in the 18-12 range, depending on the night and the matchup. He's still obliterated by the elite point guards in the NBA, but blaming him for that would be like blaming a cow moose for not outrunning a gazelle from the cheetah. It still has a better chance than the heifer grazing blissfully. Also, if you wanted evidence of Conley's superiority over Fisher, look no further than Tuesday's matchup where it wasn't just the numbers Conley put together (28 points, 3 assists), it was the vast array of ways he destroyed Fisher's "defense."

Conley's biggest problems involve things which are extremely hard to identify in the box score. His turnover margin is acceptable, if not stellar. He was 24th in the league last year in assist rate among point guards who played 25 minutes or more. That's not good, at all, but it's not horrific.
Okay, so he's only up to 23rd (going into Tuesday night's games). Considering his usage is at a career high, we can live with that.
Every point guard in the National Basketball Association is able to probe the defense. It involves stepping inside the arc, towards defenders, and maintaining your dribble to see how the defense reacts to penetration. It allows the point guard to evaluate spacing and set up the correct set of decisions. Mike Conley cannot. He will routinely turn his back to a post maneuver, just to avoid losing the ball. This is because he has tremendous difficulty in splitting defenders.
Yeah, all this is gone. While I know Conley read the piece I wrote about him, he no doubt didn't care or adjust his game based on my analysis. Players don't do that, because a. what do we know? And b. you can drive yourself nuts doing that. That said, it sure seems like he's almost deliberately showing off this ability with every game. His probe-dribble has become deadly, with a hesitation just inside the arc forcing defenders to close before bursting through and to the rim. It's gone from a massive struggle for him to a significant advantage against slow or inexperienced guards.
He struggles in the pick and roll according to Synergy Sports, averaging just a .79 PPP in the pick and roll and shooting 44% which is a great Field Goal %, but not in pick and roll.
He's raised his Points Per Possession to .812, shooting 46%. It's not worlds better, but it's an improvement from "bad." Likewise, his spot-up shooting has become brilliant with an adjusted field goal percentage (factoring 3-pointers) of 53%.

Conley surrenders a .96 PPP in Isolation, giving up free throws over 16% of the time. In pick and roll, a .82. It's not horrific. It's just miserably average-to-subpar. This at the most important position on the floor. Bear in mind that Conley plays in a high-octane, weapon-loaded offense that allows him to get out in transition and get easy buckets. Yet he turned the ball over in transition 16.7% of the time.

Okay, so not everything's improved. He's still turning the ball over 16.2% of the time in transition and is now surrendering a .95 PPP in the pick and roll. Rome wasn't built in a day.

Advanced stats don't look much better. Conley has never posted a +15 PER, the benchmark of an average player in the league.
Conley entered the night with a 15.70 PER . And that's after a mini-slump. And it's likely to rise after a high-efficiency, high-usage night against LA.


But none of these things can encapsulate the real improvements in Conley. He's made the jump to being a legit starting point guard who you can rely on to set the offense, make the right decision, and execute the play. He's no longer overwhelmed with pressure. On the Grizzlies' last possession, he navigated the Marc Gasol pick, and swung short to drive. His move was to lob the pass to Marc Gasol. Pau Gasol raised his boat-oar arms and snatched it away. Upon first watch, it looked like your run-of-the-mill Conley turnover. But his decision was sharp, it was correct, the move precise, the pass on target. Pau Gasol just made a great defensive play. Considering the disaster the Lakers ran in their final possession, it looks like a dream.

Mike Conley is not an elite point guard, but he's also not paid like one . But for a player who was decimated by fans and media, and most especially by me, after his extension, he's made good on it. He's become a starting-caliber point guard, and has been a huge part of why the Grizzlies find themselves... well, 8-10. The bench is still terrible. But point guard is no longer a position of need, at least right now, for the Memphis Grizzlies.  This can surely change as the months stretch on to become a season, but it's in our best interest for me to tell you, that provided he does not regress:

I was wrong about Mike Conley.
Posted on: November 2, 2010 2:46 am
Edited on: November 2, 2010 9:41 am
 

Grizzlies commit franchise suicide, extend Conley

Grizzlies point guard granted 5-year, $45-million extension for mediocrity, continued inconsistency.Posted by Matt Moore

In the long history of terrible moves by the Memphis Grizzlies, mark my words, this one will reign supreme.

Worse than drafting Hasheem Thabeet.

Worse than trading Pau Gasol for Marc Gasol, Kwame Brown, and cash.

Worse than re-signing Rudy Gay for $80 million.

This, this right here, is not just the worst move in the history of the Grizzlies, but it is the shining golden cap on the mountain of terrible moves made by NBA owners over the past 2 years. It is this, exact move, that nullifies any argument the owners can possibly make that they spend their money responsibly inside the current CBA. It is this contract that overshadows Joe Johnson's contract, Amir Johnson's contract, Darko Milicic's contract as the single worst contract handed out in 2010.

ESPN's Chris Broussard and the Memphis Commercial-Appeal reports that the Memphis Grizzlies have agreed to a 5-year, $40-million-plus extension for Mike Conley.

There is really nothing more to say. But here's something anyway.

Mike Conley is the worst starting point guard in the NBA. That's including Derek Fisher, who is at this point both a defensive signpost and a superior point guard. People often wonder why it is I consider this to be so. The reasons are numerous. It's not that Mike Conley is not a good basketball player. He is. He's a career 44% shooter, and 38% from the arc, which isn't bad at all. As a spot-up back-up combo guard, he wouldn't be bad at all. Mike Conley is not a bad NBA player. But there are three things this contract supposes that he is not. He is not a starting caliber point guard. He is not worth $45 million dollars over 5 years. And he is not worth the longterm damage this contract does to the Memphis Grizzlies franchise.

Conley's biggest problems involve things which are extremely hard to identify in the box score. His turnover margin is acceptable, if not stellar. He was 24th in the league last year in assist rate among point guards who played 25 minutes or more. That's not good, at all, but it's not horrific. But if you watched as many Grizzlies games as I have, you'd know certain things. Like, for instance, his dribble probe ability.

Every point guard in the National Basketball Association is able to probe the defense. It involves stepping inside the arc, towards defenders, and maintaining your dribble to see how the defense reacts to penetration. It allows the point guard to evaluate spacing and set up the correct set of decisions. Mike Conley cannot. He will routinely turn his back to a post maneuver, just to avoid losing the ball. This is because he has tremendous difficulty in splitting defenders. This is just one example. He struggles in the pick and roll according to Synergy Sports, averaging just a .79 PPP in the pick and roll and shooting 44% which is a great Field Goal %, but not in pick and roll. Defensively? It's even worse.

Conley surrenders a .96 PPP in Isolation, giving up free throws over 16% of the time. In pick and roll, a .82. It's not horrific. It's just miserably average-to-subpar. This at the most important position on the floor. Bear in mind that Conley plays in a high-octane, weapon-loaded offense that allows him to get out in transition and get easy buckets. Yet he turned the ball over in transition 16.7% of the time.

Advanced stats don't look much better. Conley has never posted a +15 PER, the benchmark of an average player in the league. Conley is only 23, but it would require a monumental improvement in several categories for him to reach the point of actually deserving this kind of contract.

As a comparison? Rajon Rondo makes only $10 million more for his extension than Mike Conley. Rajon Rondo. The guy that just dropped 24 assists in one game for a title contender. That guy makes $2 million more per year, that's it.

But the real problem with this contract?

The damage it does to the future.

Alongside Conley, the Grizzlies needed to extend Marc Gasol, the only real asset they acquired in the Pau Gasol trade. Marc Gasol is arguably the most important player on the team. He is an excellent passer out of both the high and low post. He has a reliable mid-range jumper, is tremendous on the offensive glass, and works his face off on the defensive end. He shows hard and recovers on the pick and roll, maintains low-post position and is active, and continually makes hustle plays. This in a league that is painfully thin on centers. And the Grizzlies have just opened the door for Gasol to walk away in restricted free agency. Zach Randolph has to be re-signed after his contract expires this year, and given the affection the Grizzlies organization has shown Randolph, there's no sign they won't overpay for Z-Bo as well. Which would mean making room for Marc Gasol would be incredibly difficult.

Then next season, you have O.J. Mayo in a similar boat. Looking for an extension. But after the owners' hardline CBA renegotiations get through, how much cap space will they have left? Plus they'll have Hasheem Thabeet coming up soon and a need to justify their drafting of him by waiting for him to develop over the next decade.

So what you're looking at with this extension is the rare combination of a move that's bad in and of itself, and mortgages your ability to win later by most likely expending two of your three best players. You now have $120 million committed to Rudy Gay and Mike Conley over the next six years. That's bad enough, but you'll most likely be losing better players in order to form around that core. It damages you in the short term. This is a player who you have tried to improve upon with Jamal Tinsley, moving O.J. Mayo to point, Greivis Vasquez, Allen Iverson, and I'm pretty sure a clone of John Stockton. But this is the player you have chosen to give $40 million-plus to.

The owners have held the high ground in negotiations regarding the CBA. Even with moves like Darko, Johnson, and the stellar history of Isiah Thomas, the ownership has been able to justify the moves they've made. But this is more damaging than others. This is a clearly B-Level player getting close to $9 million a year.

The Commercial-Appeal reports the decision was largely made upon Conley's strong start to this season. Three games. In a contract year. Featuring a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. This, apparently, is what sets the market in Memphis.

When Ken Berger reported last month that the NBA was considering contraction as a possible solution to its economic woes, I spoke out passionately against it. Small-market fans shouldn't be punished and the overall health of the league nationwide shouldn't be harmed in an attempt by larger market teams to make life easier on them. But after this deal, the question must be raised. Would the Grizzlies be better off if they were simply erased from existence? Is a fan base better off existing in a constant and continual cycle of disappointment and failure, or simply not existing at all?

Mike Conley made $45 million without a single impressive season. And the bizarre, cruel, laughable reign of Michael Heisley continues.



Posted on: October 25, 2010 12:33 pm
Edited on: August 14, 2011 8:03 pm
 

Memphis owner: fans shouldn't worry about future

Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley tells fans they shouldn't worry about the team's future in Memphis. Posted by Ben Golliveroj-mayo The word of the week in the NBA has been contraction. Once Ken Berger broke the news that reducing the number of teams in the NBA from 30 was an option that will be considered during upcoming rounds of Collective Bargaining between owners and players, the spotlight started shining on the league's struggling franchises, with an apparent gap developing between rich and poor.  Small-market Sacramento Kings co-owner Gavin Maloof came out quickly to state unequivocally that the Kings wouldn't be contracted or sold, while big-market former Los Angeles Lakers co-owner Magic Johnson came out in favor of contraction. Over the weekend, another small-market owner, Michael Heisley of the Memphis Grizzlies, was interviewed by Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal about the future of the Grizzlies, who are celebrating their 10th anniversary season in Memphis but are struggling to fill their stadium. Calkins asks Heisley whether the Grizzles can survive another 10 years.
"I don't know if I'll make it to a 20th year!" he says.
Heisley laughs. Even at 4 a.m., the man has a point. Who knows what will happen over the course of the next decade? Who knows if the Grizzlies will still be here in 2020? Who knows if Heisley -- now 77 -- will even be around to own the team? "I don't think it's something for people to worry about," Heisley says.
Making promises you can't keep is a cardinal sin for a professional sports team owner, so Heisley plays this one correctly, re-assuring the team's fans without committing to something he can't certainly deliver.  Calkins goes on to paint a morbid picture -- a half-empty FedEx Forum, talk of relocation at the team's 10th birthday party -- but he also points out that the team's arena deal and the depressed national economic state work against a Grizzlies relocation plan. The Grizzlies almost always make the short list for teams that might be contracted, given their attendance, struggles to make the post-season, and the fact that the team is in Memphis after relocating from Vancouver, in probably the best case of an expansion going wrong for the NBA.  One thing's for sure: no team that has been included in the contraction discussion has more talent than the Grizzlies. Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol, OJ Mayo, Mike Conley and Hasheem Thabeet would make for one heck of a dispersal draft.  Thanks to Heisley, however, that fantasy doesn't sound like it's in play any time soon.
Posted on: August 26, 2010 8:41 am
Edited on: August 26, 2010 9:19 am
 

Shootaround 8.26.10: Heat defense and Boom fat

More on Heisley's train wreck, Chinese investor deal falls through for the Cavs, the Heat defense, and Baron Davis' fat.
Posted by Matt Moore


Earlier in the week we told you about Michael Heisley's train wreck on Memphis radio . Now, Chris Herrington writing for the Memphis Flyer has gone through the interview quote by quote to outline just how off Heisley is in his logic and assertions. It's so bad that Herrington had to break it into two parts . That's a fairly impressive crash and burn for the owner of a major sports league franchise.

How good are the Heat going to be on defense? That's the question John Krolik walks us through on Pro Basketball Talk. Krolik asserts that Wade and James are not only terrific perimeter defenders, but their weaknesses should be covered by the other's strengths (ex. Wade's weak post-defense can be managed by James' strength there). The big questions, predictably, surround their low-post defense and it's likely going to be up to Bosh to step up for the Heat to be dominant defensively. Bosh is going to have to be the player he was treated as and paid to be in free agency, with a complete game to go alongside those pretty jumpers and rebounds.

Former NBA player Jay Vincent has been indicted in an internet scam fraud.

The deal to bring in Chinese investors to the Cavaliers fell apart months ago , via the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. The investment was partially targeted by Cavs ownership to help woo LeBron James. It represents just another in a long series of events that likely did not help the Cavs in retaining James, despite a feeling from most people that his relocation was planned out months or maybe even years ago. If there was any chance of him changing his mind, front-office moves and things like this deal falling apart likely didn't help instill confidence from him in the franchise or its future.

Danny Ferry has rejoined the Spurs and will oversee their D-League affiliate among other duties. The Spurs take the operation of their affiliate very seriously and Ferry is a prime candidate for this kind of job. It's likely a welcome relief to be working with players that want a job again after his recent experiences.

Long story short: fouling or not fouling when up three will pretty much net you the same win percentage. Go figure. No, seriously, go figure, because the math behind this stuff is fairly complicated.

Baron Davis refutes a report that he's gone tubbo. No word on if he's also going to refute the assertion that he's lazy, injury-prone and inefficient.

Scottie Pippen's getting his own statue , which is pretty neat for him. Of course the best pose of him won't make it: him standing over Patrick Ewing.

A Stern Warning reports that Patty Mills will remain a Blazer this season .

Some really great news for Mikhail Torrance, who suffered a heart attack in a work-out, collapsed, and slipped into a coma. He's breathing on his own again .





 
 
 
 
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