MikeCheck on Grizzlies: Green rebounding from rough start to snag all he can from season that’s gotten away from Grizzlies
MEMPHIS – JaMychal Green rose from the bench midway through the fourth quarter the other night in Chicago, unwrapped the large heating pads from around his knees and tossed aside the towel that had been wrapped around his neck.
This is typically the reentry process.
The Grizzlies were in a tight game against the Bulls and desperately trying to snap a 14-game losing streak, longest in the Memphis era of the franchise. Green, the fourth-year starting power forward for the Grizzlies, had another streak of his own going. With 11 points and eight rebounds entering the fourth quarter in Chicago, Green was all but certain to snag at least two more boards to extend his career-best streak to seven consecutive games with double figures in both points and rebounds.
So with around six minutes remaining, and with the spark starting to fade from a group of rookies and young backups who had made an encouraging run, Green rose to his feet in anticipation of the nod from interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff and waited.
And waited some more.
Ultimately, the call never came from Bickerstaff to insert veterans Green and Marc Gasol back into the game for the finish. And ultimately, Green’s streak of double-doubles came to an end as the Grizzlies’ losing streak stretched to 15 games entering Friday’s matchup against the Jazz at FedExForum.
In reality, the only thing that stopped Green from continuing the most productive stretch of what had largely been an injury-riddled, underwhelming season was his coaching staff’s decision to maximize a developmental teaching moment. A unit of younger prospects played the entire fourth quarter of Wednesday’s 119-110 loss to the Bulls.
In a season that’s also become about salvageable moments, there are no hard feelings from Green – only more hard work yet to be done in the opportunities that remain over the final month of games.
“That’s just my mindset going in, trying to finish the season strong,” said Green, who earlier this week was tied with Russell Westbrook and Andre Drummond for the most double-doubles since the All-Star break. “We’ve been going through a lot of adversity right now, so I’m just trying to be that spark for my team. My mindset has always been to go out there and work hard. One thing about me that ain’t going to change is my game is built off my energy and effort, so I’ve got to bring that every night.”
Nearly six weeks of unrelenting losses have overshadowed almost everything for the Grizzlies (18-46), who carry the league’s worst record and longest losing streak of any team this season into Friday’s game. Buried within the rubble of a lottery-bound season for Memphis is encouraging evidence of Green still working to build a foundation moving forward.
Green admitted his season got off to a rocky start after prolonged contract negotiations with the Grizzlies while he was a restricted free agent last summer. The sides didn’t finalize terms on a two-year, $17 million contract until a week into training camp, and conditioning issues slowed his progress during the preseason. Green then sprained his foot and ankle minutes into the regular-season opener against New Orleans and would miss the next 12 games.
More nagging injuries followed that cost Green three games in December with knee soreness and another five games in January with a second ankle sprain. In all, Green had missed 20 of the Grizzlies’ first 50 games this season before his productivity picked up at the start of February.
“Definitely it (all) kind of slowed me down,” said Green, who averaged 13.7 points and 12 rebounds in 33.2 minutes during the streak of six straight double-doubles. “I also had a slow summer coming in, and I didn’t really get a good chance to work out and play, condition and all of that. So, coming in, I was a little out of shape and then I got hurt. So that kind of set me back a little bit. But now, I’m starting to turn it around. I’m in great shape. I’ve got my legs back and I’ve got a good mindset.”
It’s Green’s recharged motor that’s impressed teammates, coaches – and opponents.
A 14-point, 15-rebound effort on Monday in San Antonio drew another round of praise and respect from coach Gregg Popovich, who has long regretted the roster numbers crunch that forced the Spurs to cut the undrafted Green from their development pipeline four years ago.
Last week, it was Green’s all-around impact with 10 points, 13 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and two blocks against Orlando that underscores his value to Memphis. Gasol, who did not travel with the Grizzlies to Orlando for the game, said Green’s determination and effort jumped off the TV screen.
“He just plays with so much energy every possession that it’s contagious,” Gasol said. “And he’s that guy for us, because we need him to do that. He sets the tone as far as everything goes for us. Obviously, when you play with him it’s one thing. But, for example the Orlando game, you get to watch him every possession and it’s overwhelming how hard he plays, how much he fights regardless of the situation.”
Fighting is nothing new for Green. It’s an essential part of his fabric. He’s been wired that way since he left the University of Alabama and methodically worked his way into a starting role for Memphis, where he was groomed the last two years behind beloved forward Zach Randolph, who departed in free agency to Sacramento last summer.
Now, as the Grizzlies focus on developing and evaluating younger rotation prospects, Green is the experienced veteran mentoring rookie Ivan Rabb, second-year big man Deyonta Davis and third-year forward Jarell Martin in the same fashion “Z-Bo” once showed him the way.
The season has hardly worked out the way Green expected, but it’s hardly stopped him from working.
Now, he’s a proven NBA player who has to be a role model for the younger guys who are now in the shoes he was in. I am seeing maturity. What he’s done is show, no matter the circumstances, he’s going to continue to fight. In tough situations and circumstances, where it’s easy for some to say, ‘to heck with it,’ he hasn’t. He’s continued to battle.-- Coach Bickerstaff
“For the longest time, he was the young guy who was scrapping and clawing his way through, trying to prove he was an NBA player,” Bickerstaff said of Green. “Now, he’s a proven NBA player who has to be a role model for the younger guys who are now in the shoes he was in. I am seeing maturity. What he’s done is show, no matter the circumstances, he’s going to continue to fight. In tough situations and circumstances, where it’s easy for some to say, ‘to heck with it,’ he hasn’t. He’s continued to battle.”
Green knows no other way. It’s impossible to lead all undrafted NBA players in rebounding average for a second straight season by giving in.
Again, rebounding isn’t simply a job responsibility for Green. It’s a way of life.
And he’s rebounded from a rough start to a difficult season.
Still, there’s more to grasp.
Marc is the leader, and I’m one of the vets now. Plus, we’ve got a young team, so we’re trying to show them you still have to come to work and go hard no matter what.-- JaMychal Green
“We’ve got to,” Green said of working alongside Gasol to maintain a professional approach and high standards. “Marc is the leader, and I’m one of the vets now. Plus, we’ve got a young team, so we’re trying to show them you still have to come to work and go hard no matter what.”
Green is no longer streaking, but still certainly striving.
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