The Thunder and the Grizzlies have developed quite a rivalry over these past two seasons. OKC has come out on top more often than not, but I can't think of a tougher team to play, both mentally and physically, than Memphis. In preparation for tonight's big Western Conference match-up between the Thunder and Grizzlies, we turn to Tom Lorenzo of Straight Outta Vancouver to get his take on Memphis' strong start to the season.
To see my answers to Tom's questions, GO HERE.
1. The Grizzlies had a very disappointing end to last season, losing to the Clippers in the first round. How has the team recovered from that series and what is the team's renewed outlook going forward?
Well, I was a little worried about the carry over from last year's disappointing showing in the playoffs, and really, it didn't help when the Grizzlies opened the season with a loss to the Clippers. The Grizzlies were looking to make a statement on opening night, but unfortunately they were once again silenced. Since then, however, the team has played a stretch of basketball that could arguably be described as their best basketball in well over a year.
When we started the season there were concerns about our offense. Currently, we're 6th in the league in points per game, 8th in Pace and 5th in Off Rtg. Couple that with our constant -- our strong defensive play, in which we are 2nd in the league in Def Rtg -- and it's a formula that has "title contender" written all over it. Now, sure, I expect our offense to regress slightly, but we are, as a team, better than we were last year, and a lot of that has to do with our overall health. If we can keep all our major parts healthy, this team looks to me like one who should be in the conversation as a title contender.
2. The Grizz are receiving some notice for a vastly improved offense this season. How would you describe what is different, what has been the key, and is it sustainable?
Funny you should ask... I think, first and foremost, we're healthy. It's been almost two years, really, since we've had a team in which our starting five was 100 percent healthy. Even last year in the playoffs, Zach Randolph was closer to 75 percent than he was 100 percent. Now, we have a system where we can run the ball through four high-level options -- Rudy Gay, Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. We have, arguably, the best passing big in the entire NBA (Gasol) and one of the top low-post scorers in the league (Randolph), which plays well into our high-low post, baseline cutting, style of play. Our 3-point shooting has improved from last season, thanks in big part to the additions of Wayne Ellington and Jerryd Bayless, plus Conley's vastly improved stroke from long range. All of these things, when working, make us a dangerous team.
Again, I think we'll see some slight regression, but, not much. When you hang 104 points on the Miami Heat and your team's third leading scorer (Gasol) only contributes two points, well, that shows what kind of balanced attack the Grizzlies are capable of.
3. With OKC now missing James Harden, do you think the Grizzlies have a matchup advantage against the Thunder? How do you see the teams squaring off now?
You know, I like Kevin Martin. He's always given the Grizzlies fits in the past. I'm not sure he's the same matchup problem as Harden is --- who, by the way, we shut down this past week, holding him to 4-of-18 shooting from the floor -- but he can stretch the floor enough to where the Grizzlies can't play their patented "cheat" defense, in which they use Conley and Tony Allen to cheat off the ball and pick steals.
That said, I mean, when you're talking about having to deal with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook as well, the James Harden conversation changes a little. For as much as I like what the Rockets have done, it was much "easier" for us to shut down Harden because he was our main focus and we could keep Allen glued to him, as opposed to playing a help defensive role, doubling on either Durant or Westbrook. In that sense, do I think we have a matchup advantage? Eh. Maybe. But, like I said, Martin can hurt us in just as many ways -- albeit different ways -- as James Harden can.
4. The Grizz recently dominated the defending champs. As a fan of the team that Miami defeated in the Finals, what was the secret to figuring out the Heat?
Really, it was simple -- ask of Wayne Ellington to play the best game of his career! That's all it took. Ask him to go out there and hit seven 3-pointers. It was that easy. I'm not sure why you guys didn't think of that in the Finals... Honestly, though, the key was to stretch the floor. Against Miami, if you can pull the defense away from the middle, where they have no "real" bigs, you can limit their excellent athletic defensive presence.
Look, we're still not a very good 3-point shooting team, and Twitter had a nice laugh (myself included) with the idea that the Grizzlies used up their monthly allotment of 3-pointers in one single game, but it wouldn't be funny if it wasn't true. We have some help, but we hit 14 threes against the Heat and a grand total of 17 threes in the three games prior. So, I'll admit, it was one of those game.
Also, Dwyane Wade was awful. So, that seems to help.
5. Wayne Ellington. Newcomer to the Memphis jazz band circuit or potential 6th man of the year candidate?
Wayne Ellington is jazz. Or, wait, is it "basketball is jazz"? Or, basketball isn't jazz? I don't remember. But what I can say of Ellington is that he's a much needed commodity. Again, his 3-point shooting is a huge help for our team -- especially after we lost O.J. Mayo in the offseason. I don't think he's a 6th man of the year candidate, but I do think that he's going to be an integral part in taking us to the next level. We lost to the Clippers in the playoffs because we couldn't stretch the floor. And we'd lose to them (and the Thunder) in a playoff series again if we can't start knocking down threes. So, that's what makes Ellington so important. It would be nice for him to play his way into the 6th Man discussion, but I just worry about his consistency. His game can at times be like jazz music; it can quickly turn from being rhythmic to being erratic.
Many thanks to Tom for his insightful answers, and be sure to check out Straight Outta Vancouver when you have the chance.