MikeCheck on Grizzlies: Harrison, Selden balance growth spurt and growing pains amid Grizzlies’ backcourt void
ATLANTA – Sometimes, encouraging breakthroughs come on the heels of demoralizing setbacks.
It’s the ebb and flow of growing pains.
To that end, second-year guards Andrew Harrison and Wayne Selden are quietly experiencing a relative growth spurt as the Grizzlies (18-34) seek a victory Tuesday night against the Hawks (16-37) to snap a six-game road losing streak and avoid a winless, four-game trip.
Sure, a few victories would be nice. But at this stage of the season, with an eighth consecutive trip to the playoffs realistically out of reach and uncertainly looming in the offseason, interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff is focusing on pivotal growth opportunities these final months.
Another one emerged three games ago, when Harrison committed a season-high six of his team’s 18 turnovers that were converted into 22 Indiana points in a 105-101 loss to the Pacers. For Harrison, that was a low-point in an uneven season for the backup point guard thrust into a starting role because of Mike Conley’s season-ending surgery and the team’s move to sideline Tyreke Evans amid trade talks.
But it was actually after last Wednesday’s loss to start the road trip that some light emerged.
For young guys, the first thing and the hardest part of growth is understanding that you need to grow, and accepting responsibility for your faults. You can’t grow if you don’t do those things, and Andrew is willing to do it and has taken steps in the right direction.-- Coach Bickerstaff
“There were some moments in that Indiana game where ‘Drew (Harrison) made some mistakes, but after the game, he owned the mistakes and hasn’t made those same mistakes again,” Bickerstaff said. “For young guys, the first thing and the hardest part of growth is understanding that you need to grow, and accepting responsibility for your faults. You can’t grow if you don’t do those things, and Andrew is willing to do it and has taken steps in the right direction.”
Harrison hopes to continue along that more positive path as the Grizzlies wrap up the trip in the first game of a back-to-back set that follows with Wednesday’s matchup against the Jazz at FedExForum.
Since meeting with coaches after that sloppy outing in Indiana, Harrison matched his career high with eight assists the next night in Detroit and then played 31 minutes without a turnover in Sunday’s game at Toronto. The Grizzlies have struggled to find victories in this recent stretch against playoff-caliber teams. But Harrison has discovered renewed levels of confidence and production while averaging 14 points, 5.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 29.2 minutes while shooting 47.2 percent the last five games.
“I got with the coaches and they just told me to relax and play my game,” Harrison said of his approach since the first game of the trip. “Just make the easy play and make the right play. And this is the outcome of it. I have the ball in my hands a lot more now, and my confidence has continued to grow. I’m trying to be maybe the second leader behind Marc (Gasol) since Mike’s out. That’s all I’m trying to do.”
If nothing else, this season has been a series of difficult adjustments for the Grizzlies. And that’s especially been the case with Harrison and Selden. Although both had contract guarantees through at least this season, they entered training camp fighting to maintain roster spots each ultimately secured after 2016 first-round pick Wade Baldwin was released.
Both Harrison and Selden then battled to stay in the rotation in the face of injuries and adversity. Now, the two guards are the biggest beneficiaries of the immense playing time created by the absences of Conley and Evans. Conley was limited to only 12 games this season and hasn’t played since Nov. 13, so the Grizzlies had grown accustomed to being without the franchise catalyst.
But it was Evans’ abrupt departure from the rotation – which came when he was pulled from pregame warmups in Indiana and sent back to Memphis as trade discussions apparently intensified – that created bigger roles for Harrison and Selden on the trip. For the second time this season, the Grizzlies were forced to adjust on the fly without their top playmaker. This time it was Evans, the team’s leading scorer who took over at point guard for Conley and averaged 19.5 points, five assists and five rebounds.
While Harrison struggled with turnovers during that game against the Pacers, it was Selden’s temper that contributed to the team’s unraveling in the final seconds. Selden scored a game-high 24 points in 31 minutes, but was ejected with 0.7 seconds left for arguing with officials when a foul wasn’t called as he missed a potential game-winning shot on a drive to the basket.
Since then, Selden has shot a combined 5-for-21 from the field and committed seven turnovers in the losses to Detroit and Toronto. He’s had his own series of meetings with the coaching staff on improvement areas, but was listed questionable for Tuesday’s game in Atlanta with knee soreness.
The concentration with him is, what happens when the shots aren’t going in? His growth is understanding how he can impact the game without making a shot. We’ve seen that these past couple of games.-- Coach Bickerstaff
“Wayne is a dynamic player for us on that wing,” Bickerstaff said of Selden, who was signed out of the NBA G League late last season and also led the Grizzlies’ summer league team in scoring. “The concentration with him is, what happens when the shots aren’t going in? His growth is understanding how he can impact the game without making a shot. We’ve seen that these past couple of games.”
The Grizzlies have a team option on Harrison’s contract for next season, and Selden has another season remaining on his two-year deal. Under the current circumstances, with 30 games left, they’re essentially on extended auditions for backcourt roles for the 2018-19 season. Their performances in these growth opportunities could factor in how the front-office sets offseason priorities in the draft and free agency.
“That’s a big thing - being able to play through mistakes and get comfortable,” said Selden, who is shooting 40 percent on threes and averaging 12 points in 31.6 minutes his last five games. “This is my second year, but I still have one of the lowest amounts of games on the team. I’m still trying to figure it all out. We’re not going to figure it all out in one day or one trip. But we’re still trying to figure it all out.”
Gasol has seen progress from the younger players around him on the trip. The Grizzlies played well enough to literally give themselves shots in the final seconds to win games in Indiana and Detroit. They also were competitive against Toronto until midway through the fourth quarter. All three teams are playoff contenders in the East, and the Raptors have the NBA’s best home record.
But close is not always enough – even in the developmental stages.
“We did some things right obviously but to win these game we have to do a lot more, especially in crucial times,” Gasol said of the message he repeats in the locker room. “We have been right there for a couple games now, and now we have to learn how to win – not just be in the game. We have to learn how to make those plays as a team. I think that we have to understand how to be tighter together.”
Bickerstaff shares that view as the Grizzlies continue to find purpose in a painful season.
“In these moments, you tend not to look big picture,” Bickerstaff said. “You try to find the small things. From this point forward, until April 11 (final regular-season game), you want to find the small things to get better at. Hopefully, as a team you’ll get better, and as a player you can get better.”
That message is getting through.
“It’s all about learning,” Harrison said. “You take that for what it is from one game into the next.”
For the Grizzlies’ revised backcourt, that makes every minute meaningful the rest of the way.
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.