If you were able to ignore the Phil Jackson updates all day Sunday, then the top story was undoubtedly the Memphis Grizzlies blowing out the Miami Heat at home. It was vintage Memphis at the ‘Tha Grindhouse’ as they controlled the interior and then got out into the passing lanes for fastbreak run-outs. The team ended both halves of basketball on huge runs.
While it was textbook Grizzlies, there was one unexpected occurrence…the 25 points of Wayne Ellington off the bench. Of his 8 made shots, 7 were three-pointers. It was a perfect storm for head coach Lionel Hollins, and the Heat were helplessly caught up in it.
Two years ago, the Grizzlies established themselves as a legitimate playoff team in the West…though playing without Rudy Gay following shoulder surgery. One year ago, Memphis got Rudy back on the court but then had an injured Zach Randolph…his knee wasn’t right all season. This year, the team is healthy and ready to finally take that next step into being a championship contender. While health appears to be on their side (thusfar), there’s one more move that I think needs to be made.
There’s no wild trade proposal forthcoming. I actually happen to think this team has all the pieces they need right now. The next step I’m referring to is one that I predicted in the preseason…..inserting Wayne Ellington into the starting lineup for Tony Allen.
This team is built on inside-out play and is quietly desperate for a long-range threat alongside Mike Conley in the backcourt. Opposing defenses have been able to help off of Tony the past few seasons, the only way of neutralizing Randolph and Gasol inside. Wayne doesn’t have to make 7 three’s every night, he just needs to be there to help space the floor and keep defenses honest.
As much as Allen is a defensive stud, that ‘stopper’ status isn’t as necessary in the starting lineup as it used to be. Rudy Gay has evolved into a true team leader who relishes guarding the opposition’s best wing player. He checked Lebron James single coverage most of the game Sunday and it allowed the rest of the guys to stay in those passing lanes they love. Tony can still be a lockdown defender, but back in his old Sixth Man role that made him famous in Boston. Bayless, Allen, and Pondexter will have opposing benches stressed out on the perimeter.
Ask yourself this…if the Grizzlies had been able to acquire Ray Allen last season or again this past summer, would you consider them a contender today? I think most people would say yes. Well, the presence of Ellington in the starting lineup would be enough to accomplish. Forget the curling off of screens Ray is famous for, I’m just talking about being a 3-point threat out on the court.
Some are saying that Ellington was just the byproduct of Miami’s packed-in defense on Sunday. I like to think that Wayne was the difference-maker, not just a fortunate benefactor.
After that win, Ellington may have hinted at things to come. “I’m looking to really step my game up…the role for myself, a shooter, is wide open.”
This season could be a special run down in Memphis. Lionel Hollins just has to make one more move.