After an opening night 102-98 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves in which the Memphis Grizzlies shot a shocking 11-24(!) from downtown, Grind City seems to finally be embracing at least a partial infusion of pace and space into the long-creaky, old-school offense that the team has built its success off of for years.
With James Ennis and Andrew Harrison getting the surprising start on Thursday night, Wade Baldwin turning in a top-notch first game in the blue and white, and Chandler Parsons and Tony Allen sidelined with injuries, the current Grizzlies’ rotation looks different than people thought it might look during the offseason. It also almost certainly will look different than whatever the inevitably whittled-down eight-to-10 man rotation will shape up to be toward the end of the season. Combine that with head coach David Fizdale’s plan to implement some fresh blood into the Core Four’s usual strategy, and it’s hard to tell exactly who will be playing what role once everyone is available.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Zach Randolph will be a major part of whatever long-term strategy/rotation/scheme/whatever that Fizdale comes up with.
Yes, it’s hard to get out and run with Gasol and Randolph’s behemoth bodies in the paint, but it’s not like Fizdale is looking to turn the Grizzlies in the new Seven Seconds or Less Suns. Gasol is going to be the anchor of the defense and one of the key playmakers and facilitators on offense no matter what the strategy is. Similarly, Conley is going to be the one running the show as his steadying presence can adapt to just about any playing style. And despite his move to the bench, Randolph is still the Grizzlies’ third most important player until further notice (or if Chandler Parsons can ever stay healthy and live up to his contract). Randolph will be the Grizzlies paint-based version of the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili - a veteran sixth-man extraordinaire who knows the offense and will keep bench units afloat.
Outside of those three, the rest of the main rotation is up for grabs. You can assume a healthy Parsons and Allen will step into major roles, especially Parsons as the long-awaited Shooter Memphis has so desperately needed. But, he hasn’t been fully healthy since his days as a Houston Rocket, and his scoring average has dropped each of the past two seasons. We need to see a little more before anointing him as the Grizzlies spacing savior.
The Grindfather was still an elite perimeter defender when healthy last season, but adding one more injury to his 34-year-old body could be too much damage, even for the NBA’s recently-voted toughest player.
Although it’s just been one game, Baldwin is looking more and more like a legit rotation player already in his young career. He debuted with seven points, five rebounds, six assists, three steals, and three LeBron-esque blocks.
Veteran Vince Carter looked spry at times on Thursday night, but it will impossible for the 38-year-old to play heavy minutes for a full 82-game season.
Brandan Wright is another often-injured player, who can be a potential starter if healthy.
JaMychal Green played his way into the rotation with his performance last season, and most Miami Heat fans seemed to be high on James Ennis from the limited time he spent there the past two seasons. I’ve been a fan of his for a while, so I’m hoping he becomes a regular rotational piece.
On the flip side, I do not want Andrew Harrison anywhere near the rotation. I would much rather one of the Troy’s, Williams or Daniels, earn any minutes he might get.
Even though Jarrell Martin has been here for an entire season, he still feels like a complete unknown. Deyonta Davis is definitely a project. And there is always the option of adding someone by the trade deadline or through waivers.
If I had to bet on a final rotation right now, my guess would be Conley, Ennis, Parsons, Green, and Gasol as the starters, Randolph, Allen, Baldwin, and Wright as the first options off the bench, with Carter and Daniels on spot-minute duty.