Grizzlies upend Thunder, take Game 1

Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins (5) moves to the lane against Memphis Grizzlies’ forward Zach Randolph (50) during the first half of Game 1 of the second round of the Western Conference NBA basketball playoff in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, May 1, 2011. REUTERS/Steve Sisney (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

This Memphis team deserves a lot of credit. The Grizzlies are playing some very good basketball right now on both ends of the court. In Sunday’s Game 1, they allowed Kevin Durant (33 points) and Russell Westbrook (29 points) to get theirs, but they turned the Thunder over 18 times, which led to a +11 margin in shot attempts, and that turned out to be the difference in the game.

I’ve been harping on Russell Westbrook for a while, but the more I see him play, the more I realize that he’s simply not a point guard. He should play off guard a la Dwyane Wade. That way, he’d still be able to be a big part of the offense, but he wouldn’t be responsible for handling the ball all the time and setting his teammates up, two things that he struggles with. He had seven turnovers and 14 missed shots, so there’s 21 possessions where the Thunder didn’t score. He also gets stuck defensively on ball screens, and if he was playing more off guard, he’d be chasing screens off the ball, an area at which he excels. That said, the Thunder passed on Ricky Rubio and Stephen Curry in the ’09 draft and they don’t seem poised to move Westbrook off the ball anytime soon.

But back to the Grizzlies. Zach Randolph may be playing the best basketball in the playoffs right now. He scored 34 points and snagged 10 rebounds, while Marc Gasol went for 20-13 on 9-of-11 shooting. What’s interesting about this pair is that they wouldn’t be in Memphis if not for owner Michael Heisley’s decision to trade Pau Gasol to the Lakers a few years ago. Marc Gasol came over in the trade, but no one thought he would develop into the all-around big man that he has become. The Grizzlies were able to afford the trade for Randolph since they had the cap space left by the Pau Gasol trade.

At the time, the acquisition of Randolph didn’t look very promising considering he was overpaid and underachieving. But he has settled in nicely in Memphis and the duo have formed one of the best one-two frontcourt punches in the league. The Pau Gasol trade was still terrible on paper, but it has since worked out for both teams (albeit more so for the Lakers).

Game 2 of the series is on Tuesday night on TNT.

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Grizzlies owner: “We’ve got the best front line in basketball.”

When asked about potentially re-signing Rudy Gay, Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley made a bold statement:

Q. Will you re-sign Rudy Gay, who is a restricted free agent this summer?

A. I feel we’re going to sign him. I don’t know what else you want me to say. Rudy is an outstanding player. He fits our team well. We’ve got the best front line in basketball.

The Grizzlies’ front line consists of Rudy Gay (20-6-2), Zach Randolph (21-12-2) and Marc Gasol (15-9-2). Good? Absolutely. The best in basketball? I don’t know.

Let’s see…

Cavs? (LeBron, Jamison, Shaq)
Celtics? (Pierce, KG, Perkins)
Hawks? (J. Johnson, J. Smith, Horford)
Lakers? (Artest, Gasol, Bynum…Odom)

Would you take the Grizzlies over any of those other front lines? I’m not a big believer in Randolph, so I might be a little biased. The Cavs and C’s are older, but I’d certainly take those front lines over the Grizzlies’ for one or two seasons. And as far as young front lines go, I think the Hawks have the best in the league.

No Love?

The rosters for the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge have been announced and there are a few surprises.

The rookie roster consists of Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook, O.J. Mayo, Eric Gordon, Rudy Fernandez, Michael Beasley, Brook Lopez, Greg Oden and Marc Gasol.

The sophomore roster includes Rodney Stuckey, Aaron Brooks, Kevin Durant, Wilson Chandler, Jeff Green, Al Thornton, Luis Scola, Al Horford and Thaddeus Young.

Kevin Love isn’t on the nine-man roster for the Rookie Challenge, and it’s a big, glaring snub. ESPN’s John Hollinger agrees.

For starters, the decision to select Eric Gordon ahead of Kevin Love for the rookies was completely inexcusable.

Don’t get me wrong; Gordon is going to have a fine career, it seems, and in almost any other year he’d be a shoo-in for the team. But he made this squad mainly because the forlorn Clippers have no choice but to play him extensive minutes.

As good as he’s looked, Gordon is the only rookie team member with a Player Efficiency Rating below the league average, while Love has a better PER than every player on the rookie team except Greg Oden. Love leads the league in offensive rebound rate, as I mentioned the other day, but his prodigious work on the boards has gone largely unnoticed because he plays only 23.2 minutes a game, far less than Gordon’s 32.2.

Love’s absence is especially surprising considering how the rookie roster is loaded with four guards (Rose, Westbrook, Mayo, Gordon), one G/F (Fernandez) and only one true forward (Beasley). You’d think that if it were a tossup between Gordon and Love (which it isn’t) that they’d at least want to get another true forward on the roster to balance things out.

Hollinger goes on to rail against the sophomore roster snubs, which included Wilson Chandler over Jamario Moon, Al Thornton over Carl Landry and the worst of all (he says) — Aaron Brooks over Ramon Sessions.

Interestingly, seven of the top 11 picks of the 2007 draft — Mike Conley, Yi Jianlian, Corey Brewer, Brandan Wright, Joakim Noah, Spencer Hawes and Acie Law — did NOT make the sophomore roster. (I counted Greg Oden amongst the four since he made the rookie roster.) Conversely, six of the top 11 picks in the 2008 draft did make the rookie team.

The Top 10 NBA Rookies by PER

John Hollinger’s Player Efficiency Rating is a nice way to compare players without having to account for the number of minutes each guy gets. It’s an efficiency statistic, so just about everything is included. A PER of 15.00 is average for the position.

Let’s take a look at the top rookies. I’m only going to list guys that are getting more than 20 minutes per game…

1. Kevin Love, T-Wolves
PER: 16.39
Surprised? I am…a little. I really liked Love coming out of college, but he got off to a slow start and the trade Minnesota made (sending O.J. Mayo) to Memphis wasn’t looking too good early on. He’s not shooting the ball well (41%), but he’s rebounding like a champ (8.4 rpg in 22.7 mpg).

2. Greg Oden, Blazers
PER: 16.35
Technically, Oden is still a rookie since he missed all of last season due to injury. After Love, he has the second best rebound rate of all first-year players.

3. Brook Lopez, Nets
PER: 16.26
Rebounding is the stat that most easily translates from college to the pros, so it’s no surprise that three good rebounders top this list. In 29.5 minutes, Lopez is averaging 11.4 points and 8.2 rebounds, and he has more blocks per minute than Oden.

4. Rudy Fernandez, Blazers
PER: 16.25
Rudy has had no problem adjusting to the NBA game. His three-point shooting 39% is outstanding and he’s averaging 11.0 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists in 26.5 minutes per game. Plus, he was even voted into the Slam Dunk Contest as well.

5. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
PER: 15.40
The other Gasol is getting starters minutes (30.6) in Memphis and is averaging 11.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

6. Russell Westbrook, Thunder
PER: 15.74
In January, Westbrook is averaging 15.7 points, 6.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds in 34.9 minutes of action. He got off to a slow start, but seems to be figuring things out now.

7. O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
PER: 15.66
Of all the guys on this list, Mayo might be the guy that asked to do the most. He got off to a blistering start, but defenses are adjusting and his numbers are falling.

8. Derrick Rose, Bulls
PER: 15.45
He and Mayo play more than 37 minutes per game, which is by far tops on this list. It’s hard to argue with the 16.9 points and 6.4 assists that Rose produces every night. Point guard is arguably the toughest position in the NBA to learn as a rookie, and this guy sure looks like a keeper.

9. Michael Beasley, Heat
PER: 15.23
Beasley is getting better as the season wears on. He’s averaging 14.9 points (on 50% shooting) and 6.0 rebounds in January. He’s also as good as expected from long range (39%).

10. D.J. Augustin, Bobcats
PER: 13.75
It’s not easy being a point guard under Larry Brown, but Augustin is getting big minutes (28.4) and is producing 12.1 points and 4.1 assists per contest. His shooting (40%) is pretty suspect, though he’s very solid from long range (39%).


– Marreese Speights leads all rookies in PER (20.44) but only plays 15.9 minutes per game.

– Anthony Morrow and George Hill just missed the minutes per game cutoff. Otherwise, they would have been on the list.

– Given how tough it is to play point guard in the NBA, Derrick Rose still gets my vote for Rookie of the Year. The Bulls are asking him to play huge minutes, which is going to take its toll over the course of the season.

Marc Gasol off to strong start

Marc Gasol was a throw-in in the Lakers/Grizzlies trade that brought his brother, Pau Gasol, to Los Angeles.

But, thus far, he has been impressive in his own right. He posted 27 points, 16 rebounds and three blocks in a 90-79 win over the Golden State Warriors last night. He also had 12 points, 12 boards and two blocks against the Rockets on October 29th. He is currently averaging 13.0 points and 10.3 rebounds and I wouldn’t be surprised if he finished the season in double-double territory.

The Grizzlies are a surprising 2-2, and Gasol is a big reason why.

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