The Memphis Grizzlies are coming to town to face the Denver Nuggets tonight in an important contest for both teams. At 7-10 and on a six game losing streak, the Grizzlies are reeling. Injuries have affected their season heavily, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol have shown some regression, and Tyreke Evans has been the best performer at times. The Nuggets are 10-8; however, the schedule has been easier to start, and Paul Millsap was just lost for around the next 30+ games. Both teams would love to leave Denver with a win, as Memphis is close to kicking off a tough stretch and Denver doesn’t play again until Tuesday night.
Both teams figure to play into the back half of the Western Conference playoff race at the end of the year. Because of this, SB Nation’s Grizzly Bear Blues and Denver Stiffs have collaborated to create more content. Brandon Conner of GBB was kind enough to answer some questions about the Grizzlies short and long term prospects.
1. Mike Conley started slow this season and has been out with an Achilles injury. After signing a large (and justifiable) contract, how concerned are Grizzlies fans about him potentially beginning the downside of his career?
I don’t know if it’s his size or just bad luck, but Conley just seems to be dinged up every single season. Last year it was the back injury. The year before that he was shut down with Achilles soreness. I think, if you had to list Grizzlies fans’ concerns with Conley, the injuries are at the top.
As for him being past his prime, I think that’s a concern, but he had his greatest season last year, and I don’t know how well he’d be playing this year if his foot wasn’t bothering him. I’d like to see him fully healthy before I’m ready to say he’s truly started declining, but with three years left on that massive deal, it’s definitely something fans worry about.
2. Tyreke Evans has been a monster to begin the year. Can he keep up this incredible play all season?
I’m going to delude myself into believing that he can, but the reality is that he probably can’t. His true shooting percentage right now is at .606, which is well above even his best season (.558). I think you’re hopeful that he could be more effective at the rim, which would maybe offset some of the regression that’s going to come from his outside shooting. I also think he’ll be better set up when the Grizzlies get healthy. If he’s playing around better players (moving Parsons back to the second unit, Mario Chalmers replacing Andrew Harrison) that will go a long way to keeping his effectiveness up. I also think Grizzlies fans worry that if Memphis doesn’t think they can keep him around next season, and things are going down the tubes, they may try to ship him off at the trade deadline.
3. Which Grizzlies player not named Conley, Gasol, or Evans is most important?
You could probably make a case for Chandler Parsons, considering the size of his contract and the fact that, when he’s healthy, he provides the mix of skills —shooting and creation off the dribble—that the Grizzlies have lacked for the majority of the last decade outside of Mike and Marc. But the Grizzlies managed alright even without him last season, so I’m going to go a different route and say JaMychal Green.
Green is an underrated player for what he provides. He can knock down three-point shots from the corner, and his defensive versatility is key to what the Grizzlies want to do. JaMychal can switch onto wing players and not be a complete liability, and his absence was readily apparent when he went down and Jarell Martin was repeatedly exploited in pick and rolls. JaMychal isn’t the biggest name or the highest paid player, but he does so many of the little things that make him invaluable to this team.
4. Other than injuries, what are the biggest concerns for the rest of the year?
Injuries are certainly the biggest issue with this team (seriously, can no one stay healthy?) but outside of that I think it’s their role players. The Grizzlies came into the season dependent on a lot of young, unproven players either in the first or second season, or who hadn’t shown much of anything in their prior stops (a la Ben McLemore).
Right now, I think there’s still a lot to worry about there. Players like Dillon Brooks and Tyreke Evans (who still comes with injury worries of his own) have shown ability, but McLemore has struggled after returning from injury, Mario Chalmers has been inconsistent in his return from an Achilles injury. Andrew Harrison and Jarell Martin have shown major flaws. If these sort of inconsistencies from role players continue, Mike and Marc may not be enough to carry this team for 82 games.
5. Year after year, the Grizzlies fight off the haters and find themselves in the playoffs in April. Are Grizzlies fans more excited or concerned about this team's chances of accomplishing that goal?
If you’d asked me after the first two weeks of the season, I’d definitely have said the playoffs were more likely than not, but based on how things have gone lately, especially with Mike Conley expected to miss at least two weeks, missing the playoffs feels much more likely now.
The only consolation for the Grizzlies is the fact that many of the teams that they expected to compete with for those final playoff spots in the West have suffered injuries of their own. The Nuggets (as I’m sure you know) lost Millsap, the Jazz are without Gobert, and the Clippers will be without Beverley for the rest of the season. That levels the playing field a bit. But if the Grizzlies can’t put together something to keep their heads above water without Conley, I’d expect you to hear the Grizzlies brought up a lot in trade rumors, though I’m not quite ready to say trading Gasol is on the table yet.
*Thanks again to Brandon Conner and Grizzly Bear Blues for taking the time to answer some questions! Make sure to check out their site for more Grizzlies content and some answers about the Nuggets.