Five big questions for the Memphis Grizzlies

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports   Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports   Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports   Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports /

The Memphis Grizzlies have won five in a row. Any chance they survive Mike Conley’s absence and still sneak into the playoffs?

Bryan Toporek (@btoporek): Sure? I mean, prior to their comeback against the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, their other four victories came against the Orlando Magic, Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans and Philadelphia 76ers, so they haven’t been stacking wins against murderer’s row by any means. With an upcoming tilt against the Golden State Warriors and a back-to-back with the Cleveland Cavaliers, their schedule is about to stiffen significantly. That said, they currently have a six-game lead over the ninth-seeded (and equally injury-ravaged) Lakers, so they may have built themselves enough of a cushion to survive Conley’s absence, provided he doesn’t suffer any setbacks.

Andrew Tobolowsky (@andytobo): Definitely. As certain teams (Golden State and Cleveland especially) have gotten way, way better than your average really good team, in general the league has gotten worse. I think the top four in the West are pretty much set but anything after that is up for grabs. If Chandler Parsons does anything for them, there’s no reason they can’t finish around where the Oklahoma City Thunder or Blazers do. They’re just not one of the really GOOD teams this year.

Chris Manning (@cwmwrites): I think so. With how the West is shaping up, they’ve found themselves on the right side of winning percentage this early in the season. The West’s top-eight teams are all decently ahead of the ninth place Lakers, and it would take a really, really bad stretch of play for this to totally implode. If they can just stay healthy enough, they can totally make the playoffs and hopefully not as the No. 8 seed.

Rory Masterson (@rorymasterson): Even though they have pivoted from the Grit ‘N Grind which defined them under Dave Joerger, this team still possesses many of the traits of its erstwhile ideology. Marc Gasol is averaging nearly 20 points per game (on 44 percent shooting from 3!). Zach Randolph is clowning people off the bench to the tune of 13.5 points and over eight rebounds. Tony Allen continues to play smashmouth defense. They have a tough stretch ahead — starting tonight, they’ve got the Warriors, Cavaliers (twice), Boston Celtics (twice), Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City all remaining in the month of December — but, like a baptism, their former identity isn’t something that can simply be washed off. As long as some other major malady doesn’t hit them, the Grizzlies can withstand this storm, like all the rest.

Jason Mann (@JasonMannOhioan): Somehow, some way, every season the Grizzlies almost always seem to outperform their point differential and win the 50-50 games. They are 16-8 despite a negative SRS. Logic would dictate a regression to mean, but it’s hard to bet against them at this point, especially among a fairly middling crop of Western Conference teams beyond the top four.

Wes Goldberg (@wcgoldberg): Totally, but only if Gasol starts shooting more 3-pointers and they make Randolph point forward. JK JK. But, hey, they limped into the playoffs last season with injuries stacked as high as a plate of BBQ, so they’ve done it before.

Where should the Grizzlies be looking for point guard help in the meantime?

Toporek: At the moment, they should see how far Andrew Harrison and rookie Wade Baldwin IV can carry them. Even if they slip a bit in the playoff standings, getting those two youngsters valuable minutes could pay dividends once they move back into a complementary role upon Conley’s return. That said, Harrison is shooting 24.5 percent over the Grizzlies’ past five games, and Baldwin hasn’t been much better at 32.0 percent, so some outside help may be needed. Given head coach David Fizdale’s experience with Norris Cole during their time together in Miami, he’s the most logical option, though if Mario Chalmers can work his way back from his Achilles injury, he played well in Memphis last season and would be worth a look as well.

Manning: There’s only one man for the job, provided he’s healthy:


If not Chalmers, may I suggest Quinn Cook? He’s tearing it up in the D-League and could potentially be developed into a solid backup for Conley.

Masterson: Unless they prove to be completely unserviceable, the backups should tide them over through the next five or so weeks, which is roughly Conley’s timetable. Chalmers was decent last year, so he deserves a look, but not before giving the unproven ones a chance.

Goldberg: I’m with Chris, get Chalmers. We need Rio back in the NBA (and reunited with Fizdale!).

Mann: Like Duran Duran once said, his name is Rio, and when he shines he really shows you all he can.

Tell me why you love the Grizzlies version of Vince Carter

Toporek: He’s everything latter-day Allen Iverson refused to become. He embraced his basketball mortality and recognized he’s no longer the high-flying, 30-point-per-game threat he was in his heyday, so he refined his game to move comfortably into a lower-usage role. Sure, he hasn’t hit above 40 percent of his field goal attempts since the 2013-14 campaign, and he’s shooting a career-worst 27.9 percent from deep this year, but give the dude a break. He’s turning 40-years-old in January and is currently Memphis’ sixth-leading scorer. The moniker “Half-man, Half-amazing” has never seemed so fitting.

Tobolowsky: Y’know, I wrote about T-Mac last week and he and Vince are cousins. Of the two, Vince is probably known as more of a dunker — although T-Mac was great — and T-Mac more of a shooter. And that’s basically fair when you’re talking about degree of difficulty and ability to get hot, but Vince is going to have a much better career 3-point percentage when it’s all said and done. He’s not doing that this year, of course, but my point is Vince could always do a lot more than people thought, and he’s still doing it despite everything. Guy finds a way.

Manning: The best part of Old Man Vince is that he probably shouldn’t exist. Guys that are as athletic as him, as good as he was and as famous as he was almost never become these really useful role players late in their career. We’ve seen so many other greats — Iverson, Kobe, T-Mac, etc. — not become this along what is their natural decline that he’s one in a million now for both his dunking ability and his ability to stay useful after his athleticism has faded to a level well below his peak.

Masterson: At 39, and turning 40 in a month, Carter seems to truly be out here living Vinsanity. Like Chris said, it can sometimes be tough to watch a ball-dominant, presumably ego-driven scorer age; far too often, the league realizes they aren’t useful before they do (or, they’re the Lakers). Watching Carter go from a 20-per-game guy in 2009 with the New Jersey Nets to a strictly situational role player has been nothing short of all-man, full-amazing. He still possesses enough skill and competitive edge to stare down a defender literally half his age and knock down a game-winner, but he also has the wisdom of that age to realize when that isn’t necessary.

Goldberg: He’s kind of like Robert De Niro in that he still sort of looks like his former, explosive self, but he’s like super old now. Everything De Niro does now isn’t awesome or even good (see: The Intern) but he can still get up every once in a while for a “okay, kid, let me show you something” type performance. Vince Carter totally has that.

Mann: Carter, like quite a few of the Grizzlies, show that we all have the capacity to change in the right situation. Carter was a quitter. Z-Bo was a locker-room problem. Gasol didn’t have an NBA body. Conley was a reach. And yet they’ve formed one of the most remarkable consistently very good teams in NBA history.

Where does Gasol rank among the best clutch 3-point shooters in the league right now?

Toporek: According to, he’s currently tied for fourth in clutch 3-point attempts with 14, and he’s hit six such shots, tied for the league lead with Conley and Kemba Walker heading into Friday’s action. Seeing as he and Frank Kaminsky are the only 7-footers among the top 15 in made clutch 3-pointers and he is ahead of Kaminsky, the only appropriate answer is “he is the best and all your base are belong to us.”

Tobolowsky: My hot take on Gasol is that he is very boring. Whenever I hear about Gasol, it makes me very tired and cranky. So, anything he does that’s a little unusual is not just great but saves my whole afternoon. Thanks, Marc, for having one interesting thing about your game. It’s a big improvement on nothing.

Manning: There is only one man who hit a game-winning 3-pointer, did the Billionaire strut à la Conor McGregor and then tweeted about it while quoting McGregor. That man is Gasol and, regardless of what the #fancystats say, he’s No. 1 in my heart.

Masterson: I can’t argue with the stats Bryan presented. Gasol is 5-14 from distance in clutch situations, good for just under 43 percent, the highest of anyone in the top eight. He has the natural height advantage, as well as the distinct advantage of being Gasol. As much as I want to say Kristaps Porzingis, sitting down there tied for 27th, it has to be Gasol right now.

Goldberg: Okay, I love this game. Alright. My team has time for one play and we’re down and we need a 3-pointer to save the world from a zombie apocalypse or Hayden Christensen being cast in the next Star Wars or something unimaginably horrifying like that. Here is my list of players, in ranked order, I want taking that shot: Damian Lillard, Nick Young, Gasol, Steph Curry/Klay Thompson. So, third.

Mann: He’s second, behind Kobe Bryant … Wait, Kobe retired?

A little SAT prep, ________ : television shows as knees : Chandler Parsons

Toporek: Undeclared. Much like Parsons’ knees, Undeclared was a beautiful thing that met its maker far too prematurely. Honorable mention goes to The Walking Dead for being a show that, like Parsons’ knees, draws you back in every time only to find a new, even more frustrating way to make you swear it off again. (Who fake-died this week? Oh, everyone? I’M TOTALLY SHOCKED.) Can’t wait until Season 8 when they reveal (SPOILER ALERT!) Negan and Lucille were responsible for Parsons’ ongoing knee woes.

Tobolowsky: Community. Parsons somehow went from an underrated third guy for the Harden-Howard Rockets to a max player without ever having done anything impactful in between merely on the strength of Mark Cuban believing in him, and then not believing in him. I loved Community when it had limited exposure to the world, but it was impelled forwards largely on the strength of the “Six Seasons and a Movie” tagline which became weirdly popular in and of itself. I don’t know anyone who watched it when it went to Yahoo to fulfill the dream and I don’t know anyone who has watched Parsons of late — you could call hopping to exclusively digital streaming on an unusual channel a knee injury of sorts.

Manning: The Flash. Where Parsons has recurring issues with time travel and Barry Allen resetting the timeline by running through the speed force. (Related: comics are the best because only they would allow me to write that sentence and have it actually be a real reference.) Right now, the show is still bogged down by Barry’s latest change (and him *SPOILER* accidentally seeing his future) in the way that Parsons is defined by his knee injuries. This is to say both the show and player need to get past their biggest flaw before we can fully get excited about them again.

Masterson: House of Cards. I found the Netflix political thriller to be engaging, whimsical and, at times, fascinating. Between his play in Houston and Dallas and the tweet that sparked the arguably most ridiculous day in the history of NBA Twitter, I found Parsons to be the same. Alas, House of Cards jumped the shark relatively quickly, and Parson should apparently never try to jump anything, lest his knees of glass shatter.

Goldberg: Wait, did Bryan just call Parsons’ knees “a beautiful thing?” I’ve never seen his knees up close and in person, but I can see from Instagram that he’s already got plenty of beautiful body parts. Some guys just have all the luck.

Mann: Heroes. Parsons was thrilling and exciting at first, and you thought perhaps he had a hidden depth, but soon you realized that he was working on a shaky foundation. He gave you a few fun moments afterward while you were waiting for him to get back on track, but he never could quite put it back together again.