A Heart to Heart on the Grizzlies Start with the Ladies of All Heart in Hoop City

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The ladies of All Heart in Hoop City will discuss the early start of the Memphis Grizzlies. We give our answers to four essential questions regarding the team. Let’s begin:
1) Have your expectations of the team changed this early in the season.
Aimee Stiegemeyer – Maybe a little, but so far they have exceeded the initial expectations that I had going into the season. This team has always been known for its defense, and will continue to be, but we are also making noise with our offense this year.
Tabitha Richard – It is nice to see that the team has found its offensive stride while still holding onto the defensive juggernaut that is the Grizzlies. I still expect us to make the playoffs. I say more quickly now that this team is built for a long playoff run. However, it is still early in the season. While we have seen incredible play from our team there is still a lot of basketball left. If we can maintain this level of play I expect the Grizzlies to be a dominate force in the Western Conference and would be a tad disappointed to not see another Western Conference appearance.
Jill Kong – Yes. With being 14-2, they only need to go 41-23 rest of the way to achieve the 55-win bar that I set in October. Now that situation in the West has clearly changed and the expected top 3 teams (Thunder, Spurs and Clippers) have shown signs of decline due to variety of reasons. Grizzlies have kept their top defense and appear to have strengthened their offense and should look to establish themselves as the best in a pact of formerly 2nd tier teams. Of course, factors such as tougher schedule, struggle on the road or decline on offensive end could easily strike Grizzlies out of their best shape in years; setting a higher goal for Grizz season seems reasonable at the moment. My new expectation for the team would be top 2 seed with 58 up to 60 wins and, hell I will say it, championship! If there’s any season that Grizz shall shoot for the final crown, it’s this one. And it’s not just because of improvement from Grizzlies side; but also, like I said, because Grizz might face the weakest competition in years along the way. OKC have created a big disadvantage for them to overcome and their nightmare isn’t even over yet as the return of KD and Westbrook awaits. It appears that age has finally caught up with Spurs and they don’t seem as sharp, though past examples tell us to never to count them out. And Clippers? I truly believe we have figured them out and as long as the two teams remain with similar structures, Grizz can match up well against them. Of course, some of currently 1st tier teams like Mavs and Raptors can create problems for Grizzlies and Spurs is never dead until cremation and reconfirmation, but still the competition along the way seems weaker compared to past seasons.
Carmen Patton – If I’m honest, before the season started I had the team with 50-52 wins this season. Seems like a low ball, but my thought was that the West was still full of contenders and even though we won 50 games last season with starters injured, 50-52 wins is about where we would fall. Fast forward to 16 games into the season and I’d say we’re easily between 56-60 wins. The team looks unstoppable right now. They’ve got a drive and determination to be great and to go all the way. We’re beyond just making it to the playoffs, or to the second round, or to the Western Conference Finals. We want it all!
Sharon Brown – My expectations for the team have not changed. It remains extremely high. This Grizzlies team is off to its best start in franchise history. It’s not about just making the playoffs this season. It’s about getting to the WCF and ultimately making it all the way to the NBA Finals. I expect them to keep winning. I know there will be losses but I expect them to continue to put up a fight, the way they did with a depleted team against the Raptors. I truly believe if the wicked stomach virus didn’t sideline almost half of the players, they would be 15-1. That loss against the Raptors should be with an asterisk (*). This is not the Grizzlies of old that will give up! The way the team fought back against the Sacramento Kings after being down by 26 is a testament to their resolve. They just don’t give up. There’s not quit in the grit!! They grind it out. I believe they will grind their way to the NBA Finals.
2) What are your thoughts on the improved bench play?
Aimee Stiegemeyer – Relieved, mostly. I mean I knew that the guys on our bench had proven talent, but for whatever reason in the first few games, it just didn’t come together. I’m really glad that Quincy Pondexter seems to be finding himself again after missing most of last season due to injury, and equally glad that Jon Leuer seems to have found some confidence, and his ability to make shots.
Tabitha Richard – I think we are starting to see the bench improve because just like with anything new, it takes a little getting used to. Our bench has changed from last year. We have new line ups, we have new plays, we have new rotations. It was truly a gift that our starters have been dominant enough that the bench was given the opportunity to take their time and learn one another. Beno has truly proved to be a unique leader on the floor. He brings a new energy to the bench, not only does he inspire his fellow players but takes time to inspire the fans as well. Now that Calathes’ ban has been lifted it is clear that the Grizzlies for once do not have the back up point guard issue that has plagued this team in past seasons. I expect our bench to only improve as they continue to play together as the season progresses. It seems that the Grizz flu seemed to clear all the not so fantastic play out of their systems.
Jill Kong – There are two sides to this argument. If you compare bench performance of the last few games with the one from the beginning of season, the bench has indeed improved. They only won 2 of first 7 matchups through efficiency numbers, but they bounced back to win 5 of past 7 matchups. One can argue that this is merely a slow start to bench play that resulted in this number difference; and if you compare the number of this young season to last season, our bench actually had a great deal of decline.
Last year, Grizzlies bench averaged +7.8 efficiency differential, and the first 14 games of this season, that number is -3.3. Even if we take in account of the poor play from bench the first few games, we still couldn’t say that bench has improved from last season.
When it comes to bench play, there are too many factors into it to distinguish what’s positive and what’s negative. Take point guard play for example, while Beno Udrih is shooting efficiently himself, he’s not as good a facilitator as Nick Calathes. So is it possible that off-ball shooters like Quincy Pondexter and Jon Leuer would perform better after Nick gains his rhythm and starts to log backup pg minutes. It’s not clear to say for sure at this point and I’m hoping to find the answer to that question.
Carmen Patton – I admittedly was frustrated with the bench at the beginning of the season. I was frustrated because we knew the potential was there, but the bench wasn’t in sync. Their shots (good shots, uncontested shots) weren’t falling, and this was causing what appeared to be a lack of confidence, which is dangerous. We should be able to expect 35-40 points from the bench every game because, they’re that good. You’ve got veteran leadership and young, athletic players that can give you those numbers. Our ability to go deep into the bench was proven to me during the Toronto game. Five players in your top ten rotation are sick, and you only lose by 4 points (and led most of the time). Our bench is good; arguably better than it has ever been and this will be huge in helping us to stay ahead in the standings and to give our starters rest as we work to get to the ultimate goal…the Finals.
Sharon Brown – The bench play was horrible around the first seven games of the season. They ranked dead last in the league in bench production. Kosta Koufos, Jon Leuer and Quincy Pondexter were in major slumps. However, despite poor bench play, the Grizzlies found a way to win. It seemed as though they didn’t have any cohesiveness; they just didn’t gel. I think part of the problem was them adapting to the play of Beno Udrih instead of Nick Calathes who was on suspension. But things started to gel for the bench and they have been outplaying their opponents and holding their own. They are now ranked 19th in the league with bench production. I expect that number to change drastically going forward this season and for them to fall somewhere in the top 10. They have confidence and believe in themselves. They know what their roles are and are adapting to them.
3) What overall improvements you think the team should make?
Aimee Stiegemeyer – Right now, I think that they need to keep doing what they are doing, because it seems to be working pretty well. I can’t think of any major improvements at this point that stand out, maybe a few tweaks at times to rotations, but overall, I am extremely pleased with what we have seen so far.
Tabitha Richard – It’s hard to find something to be critical about when it comes to a team that’s sitting at the top of the entire NBA and the Western Conference. The guys are starting to find their roles and their rhythm. If we have any room for improvement, it’s to continue to work in the mindset that we need to finish games as strong as we start them. I believe that some of that has to do with rotation and leaving ineffective line-ups in for too long. While it’s nice to take advantage of a lead to allow a different group of guys to play together; we can’t always assume we will grind out the game. The way this team is playing is a different team than we are all used to seeing. We are still early in the season, so watch for other quality teams to find ways to hinder our effectiveness in the paint. It helps that this season, that we have guys who can shoot from outside, a hole that previously wasn’t filled. Seeing Courtney Lee, Mike Conley and Vince Carter make shots means that we are no longer forced to take the tough shot in the midst of 3 defenders in the paint.
Jill Kong – Actually I would be satisfied if the Grizz can maintain the same level they’re playing right now as the season goes on and the schedule gets tougher; because right now they seem to be doing well in most categories. But there are 3 issues that they might be able to improve as we dig deep into it.
First off, it’s the defensive rebounds. For a team that really relies on inside plays and defense, they are not taking defensive rebound as their advantage. They are currently grabbing 74.9% of available rebounds on the floor which is exactly league average. Considering Grizz have to play good defense to win every game, they can’t allow too many secondary opportunities. This is partly a result of defensive strategy as they tend to put pressure on the ball, so they don’t have enough guys competing for rebounding position. But if Grizzlies want to further improve their defensive intensity, they should try to crack top 10 in this stat.
Second of all, they are still shooting a lot of long 2s, which is something they’re not good at. Long 2s take up 17.6% of their field goals and that percentage ranks middle of the pact at 17th, but their 35.3% FG% at that area is only 24th in the league. Most teams have iso scorers that take their own shots a little inside the arc and that would improve their long 2 efficiency. But as Dave Joerger pointed out, Grizz are a team that are better off passing the ball to get inside opportunities. So as the season progresses, Grizz should look to improve ball movement to avoid having to take bad shot such as long 2s.
And then there’s Vince Carter’s role. Vince is the only player on the team that’s really living off of iso plays. His USG% is 4th on the team behind the core 3, albeit low production to start the season. He’s only shooting 34.5% from the floor right now and when he’s playing, he’s not exactly in the same rhythm as other players. I would expect Joerger to come up with strategies to better utilize Vince’s ability to score himself in the flow of team play, rather than let him force bad shots all by himself. And maybe Nick’s return and his passing ability can make that happen. After all, Mike Miller was much more efficient with Nick on the floor last year.
Carmen Patton – This will sound cliche’ and maybe it is…but it ain’t broke, so right now I’m not worrying about fixing it. If I had to name one thing though, free throws. Work on the free throw percentage. Free throws can help or hinder us. Championship contender teams shoot free throws at a high level.
Sharon Brown – One problem I have with the team now is free throw shooting. You can’t leave points on the board by missing free throws. Grizzlies need to just continue to play aggressively on both ends of the floor and not take any plays off. They should continue to take it one game at a time and not look pass any team. They need to maintain that swag about them. The bench players need to be ready when their numbers are called. All the players need to continue to accept their roles for the good of the team. One team, one goal should to be the mindset for the rest of the season. There’s always room to improvement with any team. Right now, they have the best record in the league and they need to try to maintain the record for the rest of the season.
4) Who is your MVP so far this season? Why?
Aimee Stiegemeyer – Could it really be anyone other than Marc Gasol? He has improved markedly in just about every aspect of his game. He is more aggressive, more dominant, and he is more willing than ever before to take open shots. The contributions that he has made to the team have always gone far beyond what a stat line would show, but now he is putting up increased numbers in addition.
Tabitha Richard – Marc Gasol. Let’s face it, it’s his contract year and you can tell. Marc has been performing at an incredible level. He has already made and matched his career high with 32 points in 2 games and he is truly emerging as the best center in the league. Marc has stepped up and found a way to be aggressive as a leader for the Grizzlies. As a fan I am enjoying seeing him develop into the player that we have all known the potential was there to be. To call on the stat that Rob Fischer brought up in the game against the Clippers, Marc had his 7th game this season where he attempted more than 15 shots. The Grizzlies are 6-1 in those games, with our only loss being to Toronto, who has made a case for themselves as a serious contender in the East, with a flu riddled roster. Marc’s game is well rounded allowing him to be effective not just at the post, but also outside the paint. Watching him play so far this season has been highly entertaining and it isn’t going to stop. You ask me, he’s making up for some lost time last year. Oh and he wants to get paid.
Jill Kong – Marc Gasol, no doubt. And not only is he the MVP of Grizzlies so far, but also he looks like MVP of NBA in this new season. Marc has already been the core of Grizzlies offensive and defensive systems for years, but he has taken the role of top scorer of the team as well. Actually a lot of people had been saying that Marc can score if he really wanted to and his versatility on offensive end had suggested so. And this season, motivation apart, Marc has really wanted to score. Even though his jump shots weren’t falling at beginning of October, he’s got his shots back this past few games and his post-game has remained aggressive. The biggest improvement from Marc this season has been his improved ability to draw fouls resulted from his aggressiveness. I expect this trend to help Grizzlies even more in the post season.
Carmen Patton – It’s hard to say. I’m really impressed with the way Conley and Lee are looking in the back court and the way they’re shooting the 3 this season. That’s going to be huge for us as we grind towards the Finals. If I had to name one player (and that is the question), I’d go with Marc Gasol. Marc is playing at a different level this year. His slimmer build seems to have made him more athletic and that’s going to be huge for us in the front court. More importantly, Marc is being more aggressive. Marc has always been an unselfish player and quick to go for an assist rather than points. However, an aggressive Marc Gasol is unstoppable, as has been proven the last couple of games. He’s without question to me, the best center in the league right now. He does seemingly little things that bring major results because he’s got the mind of a guard in the body of a center.
Sharon Brown – The popular opinion would be Marc Gasol because of his aggressiveness and having scored 30 points or more in 3 games while averaging 20.2 points per game, which is leading the team. Marc has been a force to be reckoned with and is in even in the conversation for league wide MVP. He is the best center in the NBA!
Well I usually don’t follow the crowd and go against the popular views; my MVP is the person who I named as the Offensive Assassin, is Courtney Lee. Courtney Lee is a main reason the offense is better. He’s more comfortable in his shot and is averaging 13.5 points per game this season. He’s shooting 53% from the field and an impressive 55.6% from 3. He has the 2nd best 3 point field goal percentage in the NBA behind Tony Parker. What Marc Gasol is doing is expected, but no one expected Courtney Lee to be performing this well. And let’s not forget about one of the greatest shots in Grizzlies franchise history!

Sharon Brown
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Sharon Brown

Co Owner and Founding Editor of All Heart in Hoop City
Sharon Brown
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