When Rudy Gay was traded last season, it looked like the Grizzlies were headed straight towards rebuilding their team. The current Grizzly roster had failed to make traction beyond the second round of the playoffs, and with all of the players aging rapidly, it didn't look like they had another quality run left in them. However, they managed to turn things around and prove the doubters wrong, getting all the way to the Western Conference Finals last year. Some might put an asterisk on that achievement because their second round win came at the expense of the Westbrookless Thunder and because they were swept by the Spurs. But it's still a great achievement no matter the circumstances, and the front office seems to have taken notice.
The off-season was spent securing the current roster and grabbing some key role players, like Mike Miller and Kosta Koufos. Those moves certainly didn't set the world on fire, but they might have been just enough to give Memphis the extra oomph that they needed to get over the hump. Sadly, the team hasn't had much time to value their new acquisitions, because they've had to deal with a slew of injuries to start the season. Marc Gasol has been out with an MCL sprain since November 23rd, and won't be back until later this month. Quincy Pondexter just got a stress fracture in his right foot, and could miss the rest of the season. Even Zach Randolph, Ed Davis, and Tony Allen have missed games, and Allen is questionable for tonight with a sprained knee.
Making things worse for the Grizzlies is their total lack of a backup point guard. Jerryd Bayless' season has blown up before his eyes, as he averages 32% from the field and 26% from three. Nick Calathes, a above-average Greek player who was signed over the off-season, is struggling with shooting issues as well. Neither of them are doing very well on the assist to turnover front, either. The issue has gotten so bad that the Grizzlies recently worked out D-Leaguers Darius Morris, Reggie Williams, and Seth Curry in the hopes of finding a solution. Yikes.
Of course, the Grizzlies' problems extend beyond injuries. As noted by WTLC and Grizzly Bear Blues writer KevinHFY, they simply don't have a lot of three point shooters. Mike Miller is virtually the only sure shooter on their roster right now, with the rest of the team struggling or simply not attempting shots. Of course, the Grizzlies have never been noted for their three point shooting, but with how weak their roster is looking right now, they have to rely on it. I mean, a freakishly good 10-17 day from three basically saved them against the Magic on Monday night, and masked a really poor 38% shooting day from two point range.
Looking at today's game specifically, it's hard to tell what might happen. Both of these teams have played against each other so much over the past three years that all perceived advantages and disadvantages that a player might have against the other team are kind of meaningless. In general, Bayless was really good against the Thunder last year since he did a great job of moving without the ball, but he petered out in the later playoff matchups. Randolph has had his way against Ibaka, Perkins, and Collison, but he's had bad days too. The most important thing for the Thunder's bigs will be to avoid foul trouble, because they've had problems with it in the past.
Why do we need the Thunder's bigs out there? Well, Kosta Koufos and Jon Leuer are nothing to sneeze at. Neither of them bring the scoring or distribution impact that Marc Gasol brings, but both of them have found a very nice niche on the team and could be big factors tonight. Koufos is a tough double-double machine, mostly working off the ball and via pick and rolls. Meanwhile, Leuer has developed his offensive game, and could use his athleticism to explode for bunches of point if he gets the right matchup. If Koufos is able to match up with Adams and Leuer is able to match up with Perkins, I could definitely see either of them becoming a factor. Adams will often trap aggressively on screens, opening the door for Koufos to sneak some easy baskets in the paint. Perk, on the other hand, isn't athletic or quick enough to deal with Leuer.
At the end of the day, the Grizzlies really have their work cut out for them tonight. Their offense is really one-dimensional, three rotation players are potentially out, and they've been killed by turnover and ball movement problems when facing faster-paced teams. With how well the Thunder have protected the rim against teams like Indiana (!!!!), I just don't see them losing tonight. But, heck, if OKC is tired on the second end of a back-to-back and Mike Miller pulls out an NBA Finals Game 5-like performance, then I could be totally wrong.
What do you think is going to happen tonight? Let us know in the poll and comments!
If you're looking for some analysis while you watch the game tonight, why not follow @WTLC on Twitter?