VOL. 130 | NO. 241 | Friday, December 11, 2015
The Press Box
So Far, Grizzlies Fail the Eye Test
By Don Wade
In this day and time we hear a lot about statistics and analytics vs. the eye test.
It’s a discussion we have throughout the season when debating the College Football Playoff rankings, and when arguing about the seeding that sets our brackets for March Madness.
But it’s also a conversation held about the NBA. And in Memphis, almost constantly about the Grizzlies.
For the purposes of this conversation, however, there will be no analytics and no statistics. That’s right, no specific numbers at all.
There just comes a point where the numbers are no more than props and, depending on how you use them, dishonest ones at that.
Reaching back to a specific year, for example, to find a period in time when a specific player shot a certain percentage from a particular distance and angle within a specific combination of players to make the case that, well, the shots are gonna fall and everything’s going to be just fine.
Truth is, it’s really not that early in the NBA season anymore. More like semi-early. And the Grizzlies have shown they cannot compete with the league’s top teams.
Despite hanging around in the playoffs for a while last season, there was actually foreshadowing if you wanted to face it.
Go back to the Western Conference series with Golden State. The Grizzlies forged a nominal lead – sorry, can’t use specific numbers in this discussion – but it quickly evaporated and the Warriors did not need the maximum amount of games to send the Grizzlies home.
The Warriors went on to win the NBA title and now the Warriors are shattering various records in their great start to this season, have smashed the Grizzlies in spectacular fashion, and if you have eyes in your head you know that no one has ever shot a basketball the way Stephen Curry shoots it.
Quite simply, the Warriors have Curry and other young, supreme talents who do things individually that no one on the Grizzlies can. There is no one in Memphis capable of carrying a team for the long haul – or going and getting a winning basket at game’s end – quite the way a Russell Westbrook or a Kevin Durant can for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
There is no one on the Grizzlies with the offensive-defensive skill set of the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard, who is surrounded by a demanding genius coach (Gregg Popovich) and virtual Einstein players who defy time (Tim Duncan, looking at you) and have their own brand of un-athletic athletic ability (yes, Manu Ginobili, that would be you).
Even the despised Los Angeles Clippers have “talents” in Blake Griffin and Chris Paul that surpass what the Grizzlies possess.
OK, we already knew that. But do we really understand it? How those truths now intersect with the way the body’s natural de-evolution and all the hard work that led to all those previous playoff appearances now conspire against the Grizzlies?
These aging Grizzlies are still capable of shining moments, no question. But sustained shining moments? The head-hanging images from this season when it’s all they can do to stay on the court with the NBA’s best would suggest not.
The same players that, under the right circumstances, won playoff series from the Spurs, Clippers and Thunder at various points now seem grossly overmatched even in a micro competition.
I asked Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley – in the nicest way that I could – if it wasn’t a little discouraging to see how wide the gap appears to be from the elite teams to where they are. He said they are still confident. And also aware that dynamics change and injuries happen.
In other words, come April and May, the Grizz might not be who they are right now and those other teams might be different, too.
“We haven’t scratched the surface of what this team is capable of,” Conley said. “That’s the bright side.”
And maybe it is. We all hope that it is. But at some point, only seeing is believing.
So far, we’re still waiting to see.
Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.