Has Mario Chalmers Really Fixed the Memphis Grizzlies?
Simply put, the Memphis Grizzlies looked terrible to start the 2015-16 season.
Back when they were 3-3, we explored exactly what was going wrong with the team (to summarize: everything). They then went on to lose three more games to the Utah Jazz, Los Angeles Clippers, and Golden State Warriors by a combined 28 points.
Those teams are all in the top eight of our power rankings, so no one should've been ready to indict Memphis over those losses alone. But, with a 3-6 record in a competitive Western Conference, questions were certainly starting to come up regarding the Grizzlies and whether or not the once contenders had missed their championship (and perhaps playoff) window.
Chalmers comes from a championship winning culture with the Heat, of course, but he's more well-known for being yelled at than almost anything he's done on the basketball court. Still, he's an able defender and shooter, joining a team that values hard-nosed defense and desperately needed spacing.
Couldn't hurt, right?
Well, the trade has awoken something in the Grizzlies, as they've won all three games that Chalmers has played with the team by a combined 17 points. Those wins came against the Portland Trail Blazers, Minnesota Timberwolves, and the Kevin Durant-less Oklahoma City Thunder: teams that don't seem that impressive at first glance but that at least rank in the top two-thirds of our power rankings.
To say that the team has looked completely different in those three Chalmers games compared to the nine that preceded it would be an understatement:
|Pre Chalmers||9||-10.4 (29th)||93.4 (30th)||104.5 (21st)||-11.1 (29th)||25.8% (30th)|
|Post Chalmers||3||5.7 (7th)||117.0 (1st)||110.5 (30th)||6.6 (7th)||54.0% (1st)|
The Grizz were coming in 30th in both three-point percentage and Offensive Rating prior to the trade but have been the best team in the Association in both in the games played since.
It's troubling that their once dominant Defensive Rating went from being way below expectations (21st) to even worse in that time (30th), but three games is admittedly an ultra-small sample size. Of course, the 12-game mark of 106.0 (27th) is indeed troubling, but Chalmers wasn't going to fix that overnight.
With Chalmers, though, the Grizzlies might finally have the floor spacing they've needed for a long time. In his three contests with Memphis, Chalmers has averaged 18.7 points, 2.3 triples, 1.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.7 steals, 0.3 blocks, and 1.7 turnovers in 20.3 minutes per game, while shooting 52.2% from the field, 58.3% from deep, and 92.6% from the line (a shooting split that is downright Stephen Curry-ian).
So, is Chalmers the answer to all of Memphis' problems?
Well, no. The floor spacing is certainly nice, but the 80.3% True Shooting Percentage (weighted twos, threes, and free throws) that Chalmers has posted during his short tenure as a Grizzly is bound to regress to something resembling his 55.0% career mark before long. Believe it or not, his 39.8 Player Efficiency Rating and .469 rate of Win Shares Per 48 Minutes are likely to come back down near his 12.5 and .094 career marks respectively as well.
That's not to say that Chalmers won't help the Grizzlies. It certainly looks like he will offer a decent scoring punch off the bench behind Mike Conley, and the two have even played alongside each other for a total of 14 minutes over the three games. He might not continue to produce at this scorching hot level, but it looks like he'll definitely galvanize a Grizzlies offense that desperately needed it.
The big concern going forward in Memphis, however, is going to be trying to figure out what exactly happened to the grit-and-grind defense that was once their calling card. Thanks to the huge drop-off on that end of the floor, the Grizzlies still only come in at 28th on our power rankings, despite the fact that they've dragged their record back up to .500 at 6-6.
Their playoff chances are dwindling, now down to 63.0% after starting the season at 82.5%. Their championship chances have plummeted as well, down from 4.9% in the preseason to a near-negligible 0.4% as of today. Their 23.4 nERD means they're playing like a team that would win 23.4% of its games. Over an 82-game season, that would equate to a 19-63 record.
There is still reason for concern in Memphis, even after a positive showing over their last three games. There's plenty of season left to play, but the sample size is getting just big enough to think that what we've seen from the Grizzlies so far this season -- particularly in terms of their defense -- might be who they really are now.
And not even Mario Chalmers can save them from that.