The Memphis Grizzlies opened their regular season on the road Wednesday night, a 83-111 whipping by the Indiana Pacers. The home opener is set for Friday night against the Atlanta Hawks.
But as eye-popping as that final score is, try these numbers: 28-57.
That was the rebounding differential. As in the Pacers gobbled up TWICE as many boards as your Memphis Grizzlies.
In many ways, the team is trying to move forward and backwards at the same time. Even as the team rolled out snazzy new uniforms and a literally “against-the-grain” basketball court, the franchise is also doubling down on it’s “Grit and Grind” identity: Tough defense, hard work and hopefully enough offense to keep up with the run-and-gun NBA.
It’s understandable then, that by embracing GNG 2.0, the Grizzlies open themselves up to comparisons to the original Grind Squad, which including Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and the now-departed Zach Randolph and Tony Allen. And while the Grizzlies might have the pieces to be a good defensive team – might – there’s a gaping hole on the box score that must be addressed first:
This first hit me on Oct. 12, as I was watching the first quarter of the Grizzlies preseason finale against the Houston Rockets. Both teams started slowly on offense, which is normal for Memphis, not so much for the Rockets. I kept thinking that the Grizz had better take advantage and score, because the Rockets won’t keep missing shots. Indeed, they warmed up: Despite going scoreless for the first three minutes, they finished the first quarter with a 31-21 lead. By halftime, the score was 63-47.
So I’m sitting there at halftime, looking at the box score when I notice: Memphis went the entire first half without an offensive rebound. It didn’t get better either, with Houston dominating the offensive glass, 14-3 and winning the rebounding battle overall 45-37.
“It’s something we’ve talked about,” said Grizzlies Coach J.B. Bickerstaff. “We’ve got to do a better job. It’s all of us. We can’t just expect one guy to go out there and get eight more rebounds. Everyone that’s on the floor, they’ve got to go get one more.”
That didn’t happen Wednesday night in Indiana. The Girzzlies got murdered on the offensive glass, snatching only seven boards to Indy’s 13. No wonder the Pacers turned those rebounds into 19 second-chance points.
Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace’s offseason talking points focused on acquiring “versatile players with a high basketball IQ.” We’ve also heard about shooting and playmaking. Nothing wrong with that.
But just like you want a guy who’s known for shooting (Stephen Curry) or being able to create off the dribble (Kyrie Irving), you want a guy known for rebounding. And who’s that gonna be for the Grizzlies this season?
I know what you’re thinking: Marc Gasol. He’s playing center, and centers get rebounds, right? Except that Gasol has never been a dominant rebounder, averaging about eight per game. In fairness, Gasol often ceded the paint and the rebound to Z-Bo, playing further away from the basket. But in his first full season without Randolph, Gasol averaged 8.1 boards. That’s not bad, but it’s not dominant.
Actually, JaMychal Green led the Grizz in rebounding last season, with 8.4 boards per game, and he has incentive to perform. Not only is he playing for his next NBA contract, the Grizzlies sooner or later will need to see what kind of player they have in No. 4 overall pick Jackson.
Jackson averaged a shade under six boards in his lone season at Michigan State – and he’s admittedly up against faster, stronger, better players now.
“I have to do that better,” said Jackson, who had ZERO rebounds in the Houston loss. “I have to be more of a presence. I can’t let balls that hit my hands go out of bounds. I can’t let that happen.”
Conley admitted that he hasn’t paid much attention to the glass before – and that he has to adapt his game.
“I know I’m guilty of it. I’ve played my whole career without having to rebound,” Conley said. “Between Z-Bo, Marc, all the guys who have been here, I’d just run out. So it’s new for me, too. All of us guards have to adjust our mindset to get in there and get the extra possession.”
Bickerstaff is tempering expectations for his team, saying it will take time for the many pieces of his roster to come together into a good team. But he believes they will get there.
“We’re gonna be a good basketball team,” Bickerstaff said. “Guys just need to get reps with one another. But we are a work in progress. Dec. 15, we’ll be a much better basketball team. But I believe in that group in the locker room.”
I hope he’s right. Because if the Grizzlies can’t tighten up their rebounding soon, their playoff hopes might be dead by then.