by Fox Doucette
The Memphis Grizzlies have finally, sort of, not really, blown up a squad that might singlehandedly have demolished the idea that sportswriters ought to be in NBA front offices. Since John Hollinger gave Lionel Hollins his walking papers for being half of the namesake of one of this site’s coinages for eye-test dinosaurs (as in Scott-Hollins Syndrome), the team has gone from 56-26 to 50-32, 55-27, 42-40, and 43-39, as Mike Conley’s $33 Million Salary has been good for an 87 rating in NBA 2K18, Zach Randolph’s been shipped out of town and his pumpkin turned back into a police car, and the team employs and gives minutes to the likes of Mario Chalmers while paying $23 million a year to Chandler Parsons.
This is a team that can’t stay healthy, a team that’s notorious for fast starts with terrible point differentials that are the very definition of regression to the mean, a team that has an analytics guy who runs his squad like a fantasy team.
You start to wonder after awhile if Chris Wallace couldn’t have done better by just keeping Hollins and running out nothing but eye test guys while telling the chrome-domed nerd whose biggest contribution to the NBA landscape is the single least informative of all the advanced stats, the overwrought and defense-blind PER, to take a hike.
Yeah, shots fired on the PER thing. Deal with it.
So our annual “why do you hate Memphis, Fox?” (I don’t, the music is great, the food is fantastic, and if you go in the winter, so’s the weather) bottle of Haterade gets poured out. Spoiler alert, or something.
2016-17 record: 43-39.
2018 over/under: 37.5.
The Stars Who Ain’t
Look, I like Mike Conley. He’s the $5 milkshake from Pulp Fiction. He’s pretty fuckin’ good. But he’s not $33 million good.
Conley turns 30 on October 11, and he is what he is at this point; an injury-plagued guy who’s not going to give you 82 games, and when he does play, he’s a fantastic and efficient scorer (.605 True Shooting last year) who can’t play a lick of defense (-2.5 DBPM.) The guy managed 10 Win Shares (.208 per 48 minutes) despite being unable to guard the door of a nursery without letting the babies out.
His 23.2 PER was the highest of his career last year (see? Defense-blind, like I said.) He gets assists when the rest of his team is kind enough to actually make a shot once in awhile. He’s taking (41.5 percent of his overall shot output) and making (a career-high 40.8 percent) more three-pointers, which gave him a by-far-career-high .545 eFG%.
I mean, nobody’s saying Conley’s not good. He’s just not $33 million good. He makes more than Kevin Durant with enough left over for a midlevel and two veteran exceptions.
Oh, there’s one other thing Conley hasn’t done: make an All-Star team. Hard to do that when Steph Curry, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook have you on lockdown in the discussion.
Marc Gasol doesn’t have that problem, earning his $22.6 million this year by having a Defensive Player of the Year award (in 2013) on his resume, along with three trips to the All-Star Game, fantastic touch around the rim (67.3 percent on shots three feet and in), stretch-the-floor range (38.8 percent from three as he started shooting them in earnest last year for the first time in his career), and a genuine sense that he’d be a superstar if he played in a bigger market.
Gasol is the very model of our modern big man basketball. Too bad he needs to take off his blue suede shoes and board a plane…out of town. The Grizz say he’s untouchable. Poor guy. Free Big Spain!
You Put Your Left Foot In, You Take Your Left Foot Out…
Consider this wacky series of transactions from last year:
Dec. 5: Signed Toney Douglas.
Dec. 15: Waived Toney Douglas.
Jan. 30: Signed Toney Douglas to a 10-day contract.
Feb. 9: Signed Toney Douglas to a second 10-day contract.
Feb. 23: Signed Toney Douglas to a multi-year contract.
Mar. 18: Waived Toney Douglas.
(yeah, that has nothing to do with this year’s team, but still.)
Who? And Who?
Tyreke Evans continues to find NBA work despite being a shooting guard who can’t shoot. He hit a career-low 40.5 percent of his tries between New Orleans and Sacramento last year while simultaneously posting a please-don’t-do-that 35.8 percent clip from three and being a 0.2 VORP guy who made almost $11 million.
Memphis got Reek (and boy does he ever out there) for $3 million this year. That still might be more than he’s worth.
Meanwhile, Mario Chalmers returns to Memphis after having missed an entire season due to a tragic case of Washed Up And Was Never Very Good In The First Place he contracted in Miami when LeBron skipped town. When last on an NBA court, Super Nintendo Chalmers put up a .410/.309/.832 slash line while grabbing an utterly inexplicable .132 WS/48 and career-high 110 Offensive Rating.
I’m a stats guy. Please stop breaking advanced stats, Mario.
So Wait, They Pay How Much? For What, Exactly?
If you’re keeping score at home, the Grizz pay a combined $80 million to Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and…Chandler Parsons. In a small market. Anyone else getting a 2005 Knicks vibe off that? One badly timed injury and this team couldn’t beat a G-League team.
Mmmm, sweet, delicious haterade. Count me among those who think the Grizz will play like a 15-win team when either Gasol or Conley goes down. Gasol and Conley will both go down. They’ll play like a 45-win team when they’re both healthy, which will be about half the time.
So 45, 15, split the difference, that smells like 30-52 to me. And may John Hollinger find a cushy home in the broadcast booth somewhere. He and Mark Jackson might just kill each other if you stuck them on a show and gave Jeff Van Gundy the night off. Sorry, Mike Breen. I don’t mean to wish malice on you like that, but, y’know, comedy’s sake.
Is this team any good? Go home, you’re drunk. Busted.