Did anybody else see Rudy Gay last night? Wow, wow, wow. I didn’t watch the entire game (Why would I, when Lebron and Kevin Durant were going head-to-head at the same time, and the Grizzlies were winning by 30?), but every time I switched the channel it seemed like Rudy was throwing down a monster dunk. There was a Dominique-esque bring-the-ball-to-your-knees dunk. There was a tomahawk on the fast break. An alley-oop Jamaal Tinsley floated from behind half-court. Almost literally, Gay, on his way to 41 points, was in the midst of slamming one home every time I checked out the game.
But besides realizing Rudy Gay can dunk a basketball, watching the Grizzlies this season has let me in on another secret: The Memphis Grizzlies are a very talented ballclub.
Memphis has talent at every position. Players all over the court who can make plays. Big guys inside who can rebound the basketball and finish buckets, and shooters outside who can make it rain. But with such a talented team, why is Memphis three games under .500?
Defense, defense, defense.
You know the old adage, defense wins championships? Well, defense wins games too. The Grizz are the second-worst defensive team in the league, with a defensive efficiency of 111.5 points/ 100 possessions (According to KnickerBlogger). They have two big men, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, who might as well be big pieces of Swiss cheese. Or, at least, walking targets for opposing big men looking for a bucket. They have guards who focus on scoring and, well, not much else. The person on their team who has been the best NBA defender over his career wears a suit and tie to games; he’s their coach, Lionel Hollins.
They have Jamaal Tinsley, who has only been listed in the same sentence with “defense” while in court “defending” himself against criminal charges. There’s Zach Ranolph, and no, that wasn’t a typo… he just doesn’t have any “D”. Marc Gasol doesn’t seem to have a defensive-minded bone in his body, and Rudy Gay sure doesn’t seem to focus on anything but scoring.
O.J. Mayo is the only Grizzly with any defensive inclination whatsoever, and even his is fleeting and certainly not omnipresent. Actually, I was wrong about him being the only Grizzly with defensive focus: They have Hasheem Thabeet, too. You know, the 7’3” shot-blocking specialist who was drafted second in the draft, yet still manages to play only 10 minutes per game. He’s so fundamental Lionel Hollins said about him, “We’re teaching him how to play the game of basketball, like you would a seventh or eighth grader.”
So their one truly defensive-minded player reads basketball at a seventh- or eighth-grade level. Their guards don’t keep the other team from penetrating, and really don’t seem to care to, and their big men couldn’t guard my 12-year old brother in the post.
Still, the Memphis Grizzlies have the offensive firepower and the skill to be a major threat on any given night. They have inside scoring, outside scoring, and slashers who can fill it up. They’re athletic, talented, and balanced.
It’s just too bad they only give a damn on one end of the court.