The Memphis Grizzlies had won five straight games until Monday afternoon when they lost at home 95-92 to the New Orleans Pelicans. Memphis played very poorly for the majority of this game, much like they had played against the Sacramento Kings and Milwaukee Bucks. The difference is that they found a way to win those games, but could they could not bounce back from their poor play to beat New Orleans. The biggest reason why Memphis could not get the win over New Orleans was because Tyreke Evans demolished Tayshaun Prince in the fourth quarter. Yes, I said Tyreke Evans. Being outplayed at the small forward position isn’t something new for the Grizzlies. They have routinely been beaten by opposing teams’ small forwards. The biggest reason for the routine discrepancy at the three-spot is because Prince no longer has value for the Grizzlies.
Last season when Memphis traded Rudy Gay for Prince, Ed Davis and Austin Daye, the return on investment wasn’t on the offensive end. The Grizzlies’ offensive rating did improve with Prince, but only because he isn’t a black-hole. Adding Prince was supposed to solidify an already great defensive team, and it did last season. Prince was phenomenal in the playoffs for Memphis; he helped slow down the Los Angeles Clippers‘ three-point attack, and he made Kevin Durant work hard for everything he got in their series with the Oklahoma City Thunder. But Prince is not bringing the defensive value that he brought last season.
For most of the year Memphis has been without reigning Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol, so the Grizzlies’ paltry defensive rating could be attributed to lack of a rim-protector. Gasol has been back for the past four games, and the Grizzlies’ defensive rating is 92.08 in those four games. But Prince is still getting beat badly at the small forward spot. First, there was Durant scoring 37 points on 15-of-28 shooting. Then Caron Butler and Giannis Antetokounmpo combined for 16 points. After that Rudy Gay scored 19 points, and finally Evans added 15 points and seven assists off the bench.
In the fourth quarter on Monday, Prince was on Evans repeatedly down the stretch, and for some reason he kept pressing up on him even though Evans is only a 18.9 percent three-point shooter this season. Evans has a very quick first step and the build to play through contact once he gets in the lane, but for some reason Prince was trying to prevent him from hitting jumpers which is exactly what Memphis wants Evans doing. When Evans wasn’t finishing in the lane after beating Prince off the dribble, he was dropping dimes to wide open Pelicans because help had to come over and protect the rim.
When Memphis made the trade for Courtney Lee — which gave them way too many shooting guards and not enough point guards — there seemed to be more moves on the horizon. For the sake of the Grizzlies’ playoff hopes, there needs to be another move on the way, and it needs to include Prince being shipped out of Memphis. With the emergence of James Johnson, the athleticism of Lee and the expected return of Tony Allen, the Grizzlies have three very capable defenders for the small forward spot all of whom are better offensively than Prince.
After a recent five-game winning streak and Gasol being back in the lineup, the table seemed set up perfectly for Memphis to take advantage and capture one of the final playoff spots. The Grizzlies are off until Friday, but then they play their next seven games in eleven nights in six different cities. This stretch of games would have given the Grizzlies trouble no matter how good they were playing; these games are referred to as “schedule losses.”
If Memphis is going to make the playoffs their moniker of “all heart, and grit and grind” better return along with the fountain of youth for Prince. It is more likely that Prince is moved, but are the Grizzlies willing to part with a big part of their locker room and a grizzled playoff-veteran that most teams covet this time of year? Normally I would say no, but this team has made no bones about wanting to win now. If that is the case Prince needs to be moved on to his final destination which might just be the bench.