Memphis Grizzlies guard Andrew Harrison has yet to touch the court in the early stages of the 2018-19 NBA season and I would like an explanation, please.
Harrison has been the backup point guard of the Grizzlies for roughly two seasons now, steadily improving as a floor general-esque type backup guard. There’s never been an expectation that Harrison would be a prominent starting point guard in the league, but for him to not play one single minute this season is interesting, to say the least. He’s been on the inactive list since the before the first game.
The Grizzlies star point guard, Mike Conley, has been with the team since they drafted him fourth overall in the 2007 NBA Draft. An Achilles injury last season cost him all but 12 games of his 11th season as a pro and, in his absence, Harrison was thrown into the fire of being the starting point guard. There were no expectations of making a playoff run at that point and Harrison was given a loose leash in order to develop.
At the end of the season, the Grizzlies were rewarded with a point guard they could rely on to run the offense if things got sticky (or if Conley went down again). Going into the new season, there was optimism that Harrison might be their backup for the future.
Through four games, that has been anything but the case. Lexington native and Bryan Station graduate, Shelvin Mack, replaced Harrison. Mack, who is nearly five years older than Harrison, has earned enough respect from the team and coaching staff to completely take over Harrison’s minutes.
Mack signed as a free agent with the Grizzlies in early August – almost a month after they traded for another guard, Garrett Temple, who was a member of the Sacramento Kings – for the league’s veteran minimum. The Grizzlies are his sixth team in eight years in the NBA. Up until the season began, Mack had never played in the type of role he is in now. He’s never been a starting caliber point guard and has only shown shades of being a consistent backup. Last season with the Orlando Magic, he couldn’t manage to separate himself from either of D.J. Augustin or Elfrid Payton.
So it’s difficult to understand why Harrison has been wiped off the grid. The Grizzlies have a culture that is built on “grit and grind”, the same motto used by their wildly successful teams in the early to mid-2000s. While that era may technically be over with, it doesn’t mean the franchise still doesn’t embrace that mantra.
Perhaps Mack played harder in training camp or showed more commitment in this time with the Grizzlies. But he’s been with the team for not even three months. The Memphis organization has watched Harrison improve with their very own eyes for two seasons now.
In his first four games, Mack has scored three, nine, 12, and seven points, respectively. He’s played over 20 minutes in every single game and has finished with a positive plus/minus exactly zero times.
Sitting at 2-2 on the season with early injuries to Marc Gasol, Chandler Parsons, and JaMychal Green, the original goal of making a surprise run to the playoffs seems more like a pipe dream at this point for the Grizz. It’s only four games, but Memphis couldn’t have asked for a more complicated start to the season.
I’m beginning to wonder what direction they’re trying to take. They understandably forfeited last season after early injuries, electing to develop the young guys and tank for a high pick.
Which worked. They discovered they drafted a hidden gem in Dillon Brooks – who averaged over 28 minutes per game last year as the 45th overall pick but is averaging only 14.5 minutes this season. They drafted Jaren Jackson Jr. with the fourth overall pick and he’s averaging 27.8 minutes per game, so they obviously care about some development, still.
But what I don’t understand is trading for Temple and adding Mack. I get that the playoffs are the goal, but they’re in a Western Conference that is expecting 10 teams to fight for eight spots (and the Grizz are not included as one of those 10). Temple is a highly underrated player and it’s great he’s getting some deserved run and exposure in Memphis, but they’re sacrificing valuable playing time for Brooks, an excellent defender with real 3-and-D potential. Mack’s overall underwhelming play through four games just makes things more complicated. Marshon Brooks – who is 30 years old and hasn’t had a legit role in the NBA aside from his rookie season in 2011 – has played in three of the Grizzlies’ games, including one game where he was on the court for 22 minutes.
How is playing Brooks more valuable than Harrison? Did Harrison do so poorly in the offseason that the coaches decided to remove him from the rotation entirely? Do they see more in Mack than we do?
(Spoiler: Mack is already as good as he’s gonna get.)
Even if Mack was added in case of another injury to Conley, there should have never been a reasonable expectation that he could take over the starting role, especially over Harrison.
The Grizzlies have four players under the age of 25 right now and all four either play limited minutes (Wayne Selden and Brooks) or none at all (Harrison, Ivan Rabb, and Jevon Carter, who was recently assigned to the G League). If things continue to slip away from their control (i.e. injuries) then I’d expect them to do something similar to what they did last season and give all the playing time in the world to the young guys. But there’s no way to justify that Harrison can’t help the team win right now. He’s proven he can play in the NBA. He averaged 9.5 points and 3.2 assists last season. His 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked 68th amongst every player in the league, no matter position.
The only explanation I can reasonably come to is that the Grizzlies are simply going with experience over talent. And if their embarrassing loss to the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night – in which they only scored 92 points and were completely outrun – is any indication of how this team is going to play the rest of the season, then they’re gonna need Harrison a lot more than he’ll need them.