The Memphis Grizzlies are looking to continue their success of last season, their best season in franchise history, with a new coach, a new offense and a few new faces.
This preseason has served as an experiment for first-year head coach Dave Joerger—seeing what players work best in his new system, what players work best together and what they really need to fine-tune before their first regular season game against the San Antonio Spurs Wednesday night.
The preseason has been a learning experience for the players as well, both old and new. The Grizz have used this time to get used to their old assistant coach as a head coach and his new, fast-paced system.
This transitioning preseason has given us a lot to talk about and analyze—here are the four most critical takeaways.
Supporting Cast Looking Good
In addition to this core group Jerryd Bayless, an aggressive scorer off the bench, picked up his option to stay in Memphis, and the Grizz re-signed elite perimeter defender Tony Allen and 6’11” power forward Jon Leuer.
Bayless has looked good this preseason and will surely help the Grizzlies when their starters need some rest. He still has some iffy shot selections, but the guy is really entertaining to watch. He can shoot, he’s got some handles and he can heat up at any minute.
Check out Bayless’ move against the Atlanta Hawks on Sunday, beating the buzzer right before the half. He ended the game with 22 points, going 8-of-9 from the floor.
Jon Leuer has been impressive this preseason. The 24-year-old scored 11 points, tied for team best with Ed Davis, and grabbed five rebounds in 20 minutes of action on Wednesday’s preseason game against the Toronto Raptors. He also registered a preseason double-double, scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in 34 minutes of play against Dallas last week.
Leuer has been consistent throughout the preseason, showing his ability to score and rebound as well as run the floor and hustle. The sophomore power forward looks to earn a regular rotational spot for the Grizzlies this season.
Another power forward looking good this preseason is Ed Davis. Davis, part of the Rudy Gay trade, has had an impressive preseason thus far, scoring double digits in five out of seven games, and three of those games were double-doubles, adding double-digit rebounds.
With his impressive preseason Ed Davis has cemented himself as the backup PF for Zach Randolph.
Especially as a new coach, I’m sure Dave Joerger appreciates how well his bench has played. Knowing your bench can come in and give good minutes while your starters get some rest is a good feeling for any coach. A team’s bench is always a key to success, but with Joerger looking to play faster, his starters will inevitably need some rest, making the bench’s ability to come in and compete very crucial.
New Additions Looking Good
Although the Grizzlies have primarily the same roster as last year, they added some new pieces this offseason—including Nick Calathes, Kosta Koufos and not entirely new Mike Miller.
Nick Calathes has shown some great passing ability thus far. The 6’6” point guard had a game-high eight assists in the Grizzlies loss to the Chicago Bulls in his first NBA game ever. He has scoring ability too, adding 11 points to Memphis’ loss to the Dallas Mavericks in his second NBA game ever.
Calathes moves really well within the offense, and he keeps the tempo fast just as Coach Joerger wants it. The point guard who has been playing overseas for four seasons could use a bit of fine tuning, though. He needs to cut down on turnovers and work on his free throw shooting, but as a very shallow team at the PG position, the Grizzlies could really use him. His performance so far suggests he will do pretty well as Conley’s backup.
Btw, I like @Nick_Calathes15 : great distributor, quick, doesn't play like a rookie, pass-first... A lot to like.— Pete Pranica (@PetePranica) October 2, 2013
The Grizzlies also added another big man, 7’0” Kosta Koufos. Koufos is a rebounding machine. He averaged 6.9 rebounds per game in just 22 minutes of play, good for second on the Denver Nuggets last season.
He ranks fifth in the NBA for offensive rebounding percentage at 13.3, meaning of the available offensive rebounds while he was on the floor, the 7-footer grabbed 13.3 percent of them. He is also 19th in the NBA in total rebounds and in blocks, and he is sixth in offensive rating (a stat that measures a player’s scoring efficiency), just below some guy named Kevin Durant (stats via Basketball-reference.com).
With the addition of Koufos, the Memphis Grizzlies possibly have the deepest frontcourt in the NBA.
Last, but not least, Memphis welcomes home a former Grizz, Mike Miller. The now two-time NBA champion is shooting really well this offseason. He scored 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting, going 3-of-4 from three-point range to go along with his 11 rebounds against the Orlando Magic in last Friday’s preseason match up.
The 13-year veteran is more than just a shooter for the Grizzlies. Listen to CEO Jason Levien talk about their veteran shooter.
Lots of Movement in the Joerger System
Dave Joerger has been adamant about playing faster this year. So far this preseason, the “Joerger pace” is in place, but the new offensive system is more than just a fast pace—there is more movement all together. The new offense has a lot of cuts and lots of ball movement, listen to Head Coach Joerger describe what he wants.
Here’s a little glimpse at this system in action.
Very pretty basketball. Coach Joerger doesn't want jump shots. He wants spacing, cuts and easy layups in transition and within his sets. Perfect for a Grizzlies team that struggles to shoot the ball from the outside.
The Grizz have a very agile team, even their very deep frontcourt can get up and down the court. The system seems to fit very well in Memphis.
There’s only one issue. Turnovers.
Here is Coach Joerger talking about his offense and a few players talking about the issues of learning a new offense after their preseason loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
Still Grit and Grindin’
Although there is a new offensive system in town, the hard-nosed Memphis Grizzlies still maintain the “Grit and Grind” attitude.
They are diving after loose balls, scrapping after rebounds, fighting through screens and just all out hustling.
Pranica likes the hustle he's seeing this preseason.
Jon Leuer hustle level is off the charts. Making plays (3 assists), rebounding and playing energetic defense.— Pete Pranica (@PetePranica) October 16, 2013
This is the attitude that got the Grizzlies to the Western Conference Finals last season.
In fact, their head coach was a part of their “Grit and Grind” philosophy. As an assistant coach for the Memphis Grizzlies for six years, Dave Joerger knows exactly how important this hard-working attitude is.
A big part of the Memphis Grizzlies' identity comes from their defense, the best defense in the NBA to be exact. Joerger wants more from his defense, which he was in charge of since the 2010-11 season, according to Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN.com.
If Joerger can keep the defensive intensity from last season and add more points in transition, the Grizzlies will be really entertaining to watch. The loyal Grizz fans love to see their hard-nosed team jumping passing lanes, diving on the floor and sprinting back on defense.
Their head coach may have changed but the gritty, hard-working attitude is still driving the Grizzlies. Even in preseason games, where most players lack intensity and are generally very lax, the Grizz are hustling, maintaining their gritty defensive identity.
The Grizzlies have been a little up and down this preseason. They definitely have some bright spots in their bench players and the Joerger system looks really good when it's done right, but as the players get used to the new offense there have been quite a few turnovers.
That being said, if the players can pick up the new offense with the same intensity that they have on defense and their bench players can continue to play well, the Grizzlies look good for the upcoming season.