MILWAUKEE – By the time they arrive back in Memphis after completing a five-game trip Monday against the Bucks, the Grizzlies will have flown 6,321 miles over 11 days.
That’s a long way to go for essentially a trip back to training camp.
“It’s like a reboot with some of these guys,” Grizzlies coach David Fizdale said of reintegrating players who had been sidelined for either most or all of the regular season’s first month. “They’re trying to find their rhythm and get their wind up to a regular-season level. Overall, that obviously takes your team back a little bit because they’re trying to work with those guys who are coming back. But at the same time, we’re going to try to keep plowing away with our games. Those guys will catch up.”
Those guys Fizdale referenced are Ben McLemore, Wayne Selden and JaMychal Green, three key players returning from extended injury absences with the goal of crashing the primary rotation. Their re-acclimation process on the fly gave Sunday’s practice the feel of those two-a-day camp sessions, with players, coaches and trainers scattered throughout the court and weight rooms at Marquette University.
The NBA season doesn’t slow down for those healing to catch up easily.
But that’s the position the Grizzlies (7-5) are in. They’ll push for a win Monday over the Bucks (6-6) to finish 3-2 on the trip, then regroup for a four-game homestand that leads into Thanksgiving. While Green is on pace to return at some point within the next week, McLemore and Selden will face the Bucks on Monday looking to build on their season debuts in Saturday’s 111-96 loss to Houston.
McLemore scored four points on 2-of-5 shooting to go with two rebounds, a steal, a block an assist and three fouls in 18 minutes off the bench against the Rockets. It was his first game in a Grizzlies’ uniform after he spent the past three months recovering from offseason foot surgery. McLemore sustained the injury in a pickup game a few weeks after he signed a two-year, $10.7 million deal in July free agency.
McLemore was acquired to be the starting shooting guard alongside Mike Conley, and he’s expected to assume that role from rookie Dillon Brooks within a few games as his conditioning improves. McLemore didn’t report having any issues after his first game and said Sunday the next steps are to “stick with the routine” and continue to play through an ongoing regimen of treatment and conditioning.
“It’s about preparing myself to get back to where I was (physically) or even better,” said McLemore, a former lottery pick who spent his first four NBA seasons in Sacramento. “I was a little winded (Saturday), obviously. And that’s going to (improve) as long as I continue to get the minutes out there on the floor. But overall, it felt great. It didn’t turn out how we wanted it to be in terms of getting the win. But we’ve got the next one (Monday), and I’m excited to get back on the court.”
It’s about preparing myself to get back to where I was (physically) or even better
Selden came off the bench in the fourth quarter once the game in Houston was already out of reach. Still, the second-year swingman made two of his three shots, including a three-pointer, in four minutes. It was Selden’s first action since the second game of the preseason early last month, when he sustained a quad injury and struggled with recurring soreness for several weeks through rehab.
Prior to that injury, Selden was being groomed to open the season as the starter at shooting guard until McLemore got healthy. With both guards then sidelined, Andrew Harrison was elevated to that spot but slumped offensively as the starter and was replaced by Brooks when the trip opened two weeks ago.
Now, for the first time this season, there’s significant depth and health at the position and Fizdale has more guards than playing opportunities for them. Juggling the pecking order on a given game night remains a work in progress. But Fizdale has indicated the bulk of the available minutes in the backcourt rotation will be dispersed between Conley, Brooks, McLemore, Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers.
“I’d rather have that problem than not have enough bodies,” Fizdale said. “We’ll work out the kinks as they happen. Once we get all of our legs underneath us, they’ll figure it out for me. We’ll see what groups work better together, who helps other guys. But it’s a good problem to have. I’d rather have guys that can get it done rather than look down (the bench) and not have anyone to throw in the game.”
The moving parts have caused some disruptions along the way. The Grizzlies lost at home to Orlando on Nov. 1 when Conley sat out with a sore Achilles, but won the next game when he came back to play against the Clippers to start this five-game trip. Memphis then lost the following night to the Lakers on Nov. 5, when Chandler Parsons sat out the second game of the back-to-back set to help manage the early workload amid his healthy return from March knee surgery.
Tweaking the rotation again now to work in McLemore – and to a lesser extent, Selden – presents another set of challenges, some of which surfaced in the loss to Houston.
The combination of foot soreness, struggles with his shot and working to establish chemistry with several new players has led to a relatively sluggish start to the season for Conley. He’s been out of rhythm early in games, and has failed to make a basket in the first half of each of the past two contests. His scoring, however, has routinely picked up in the second half of games.
“It poses a little bit of a challenge,” Conley said of the evolving rotation. “You know guys coming off injuries want to try to establish themselves and get a little comfortable in the rotation. And guys that have been playing great so far have to be ready for their roles to change a little bit. So as a group, we just have to be comfortable and trust each other, and know that whoever is going to be in the game should go in and play as hard as they can and, the minutes they get, make them valuable.”
Conley wasn’t quite sure how long it might take for everyone to settle into a cohesive groove. It’s still too early in the season to be certain. Because the Grizzlies are only a month and a half beyond training camp, Fizdale believes there’s time to add foundational pieces to the mix and mesh in a meaningful way.
“Anything we do, we kind of take it game by game,” Conley added. “But obviously, the sooner the better for us as a group. We want to be able to gel as quickly as possible and have the chemistry for guys that especially are coming off injury to get their feet wet and integrate themselves into our offense, how we play. Hopefully it happens quicker than slower.”
Defensively, the Grizzlies are already operating at an elite level. Despite the tweaks, they’re leading the NBA in defensive field goal rating, holding opponents to 42.6-percent shooting and 99.1 points a game.
That unit stands to grow stronger when Green completes full rehab from the sprained foot and ankle he suffered four minutes into the Oct. 18 season opener. Green, who’ll eventually start at power forward when he returns, pushed through two extensive workouts over the weekend and hopes to be available to play later this week during the homestand.
JaMychal Green on his progress 11.13.17
JaMychal Green says he’s progressing aggressively through rehab and hopes to return to action sometime during the Grizzlies upcoming homestand.
“It’s been very tough, because I had already been out for the start of training camp,” said Green, a restricted free agent over the summer who didn’t reach terms on a new contract with Memphis until two days into training camp. “I was just getting back into the swing of things, in basketball shape and feeling good, and then this injury happened the first game. It feels like I had to start all over again.”
Green said he’s now trying to get through consecutive days of scrimmaging with minimal residual soreness while also building stamina. He knows coming back will require yet another set of adjustments for a team that, despite the injuries, got off to a 5-1 start as one of the early surprises in the league.
“They’ve done a great job of holding it down really well,” Green said of the Grizzlies, who have lost four of their last six games. “We just have to find that chemistry. We have players coming back, and it’s just tough right now. We’re still trying to get a feel for one another. Once we connect, we’ll be good to go.”
The goal is to reestablish those connections without frequently separating from the win column.
“We’re not that far removed from it,” Fizdale said of the training camp mentality as well as having a full roster available. “It won’t take long. And once we’re fully healthy, we can really get going again.”
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.