The Grizzlies enter this game 16-4, tied with Houston for first in the division. A big part of that hot start has been having a healthy Marc Gasol in the lineup. But how has his game evolved this season to make him even more effective as the go to guy for Memphis?
Marc is not only healthy, he's lost a considerable amount of weight since last time our two teams met. A slimmer, fitter Gasol is now able to physically pull off moves that he's only been able to dream about doing since he first picked up a basketball. He's also found an aggressive nature along with this physical transformation that has him averaging career highs in FG and FT attempts while also shooting his best percentage (.496) in several years.
The Mavs had a pretty solid offseason but one of the biggest disappointments--if not the biggest--was losing Vince Carter to Memphis via free agency. So far though, he's struggled to make an impact for the Grizzlies. What's behind those early struggles and are you confident he can turn it around this season?
Vince had some bone spurs removed during the offseason (prior to signing with Memphis) and from what I've been told he's having to make significant changes to his running gait as a result. One would figure that the Grizzlies were aware of the adjustment period that would ensue after such surgery, but I can't say that Vince has been showing many signs of recovering from that surgery so far. There are some of us who are becoming legitimately concerned about Vince's health, but I'm not quite there myself.
Dave Joerger was on the hot seat for much of last season and at one point in the offseason looked like he was close to leaving the team. Do you think the players have bought into his vision more this year and how has he been able to put his stamp on the team in his second season?
Joerger's confidence this season has definitely played a role in the Grizzlies hot start. He's doing a better job of managing his relationship with the players, and I believe the ownership's heavy endorsement and extension of him this summer has both players and coaches feeling more comfortable in their working environment. It's allowed Joerger to implement one of the changes he wanted to make last season, and that's getting the Grizzlies into offensive sets with more urgency.
Spacing is really en vogue across the league right now, partly because of the success of the Spurs and the Heat with LeBron. But Memphis doesn't necessarily have a ton of highly regarded outside shooters beyond Mike Conley, Courtney Lee and (the struggling) Carter. Is this just a non-issue for a team that's so strong in the paint or do the Grizzlies have more potential there than we've seen so far?
The shooting for Memphis has definitely gotten better this season, but it's still not exactly where I'd like it to be. One of the key players in this conversation, stretch 4 Jon Leuer, has finally come on in the past couple of weeks after struggling to hit anything in the first 10 or so games. But the reality is that the Grizzlies are hitting just enough from outside to keep things open for their post game that is often their bread and butter. The overall 3-point numbers aren't going to impress anyone, but the timing of those makes has done a lot to help out spacing. Additionally, Memphis has a nice array of mid-range shooters (Lee, Udrih, Gasol, Conley) that draw at least a few defenders out of the paint. Most of us are still banking on a Vince Carter resurgence to be the difference maker.
Speaking of Conley, is this a season where he finally starts to get some recognition as one of the west's top point guards? Or do you think the conference is still too stacked for the guy to get some all-star love or recognition in postseason awards?
I think Conley's recognition will likely go as far as the Grizzlies record, if that makes sense. He had a lot working against him last season: so many good teams with really good PGs running successful campaigns, an injury that kept him out for 7 games right at the crucial point of All-Star voting, and the fact that Memphis started really finding their stride later as opposed to early on in the season. I would like to think Conley is a shoe-in for an All-Star spot, but there's still a lot of big names in the West. When you combine that with the notion that Marc Gasol is very likely to get a nod and Memphis has never had multiple All-Stars, another Conley snub wouldn't surprise me. But it would be an awful, awful snub. The guy is playing brilliant basketball right now.
Thanks Chris! You can find him on Twitter @FaulknerMemphis, and for the opponent's view, be sure to visit Grizzly Bear Blues!