Associated Press

Mario Chalmers, after bitter end with Heat, loving big role with Grizzlies

3 Comments

Mario Chalmers came up in trade rumor after trade rumor after trade rumor last summer.

It wasn’t difficult to see why the Heat would want to deal him. Goran Dragic had supplanted Chalmers in the starting lineup. Without LeBron James around to create open looks for him, Chalmers had slumped in his role as a spot-up shooter. And Chalmers’ $4.3 million salary was a huge liability to a team facing the first luxury-tax repeater rate in NBA history.

But when an early November report said the Grizzlies were interested in Chalmers, he said he spoke with someone from the Miami organization. (The guard declined to name the person.)

“That really made me feel like I was going to be there for a while,” Chalmers said, meaning the rest of the season.

A week later, the Heat traded him to Memphis.

Chalmers said he found out through Twitter.

“For me being there so long, and nobody had the respect to tell me that I was about to get traded, that’s how it went down,” Chalmers said.

His head spun. He had spent his entire eight-year career in Miami, and he let his guard down after getting the impression he’d finish the season there.

A phone call from Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger helped ease his mind. Chalmers heard a simple message: “We need  you to score.”

That he has.

Chalmers  is pouring in points for Memphis, which has turned around its season since empowering Chalmers as a high-usage backup point guard.

He scored 29 points in 23 minutes in his third game with the Grizzlies, tied for the third-highest mark of his career and his top output in nearly three years. And he barely knew the offense at that point.

“It’s basically playing in the summer time,” Chalmers said.

Chalmers is scoring 11.5 points per game with Memphis, which would be a career high over a full season. And he’s doing it in just 19.5 minutes per game, which would be a career low.

His 21.2 points per 36 minutes dwarf previous marks:

image

Showing his ability to handle an instant-offense-off-the-bench role should only increase Chalmers’ stock this summer, when his contract expires.

He had already proven he can be an adequate spot-up shooter next to a major star (and that he can’t do it without one). Since his rookie year – the last time Chalmers felt so entrusted to make plays – he shot 39% on 3-pointers with LeBron on the court as a teammate and 31% without LeBron. Teams who need someone to fill that role should consider Chalmers.

Apparently, so should teams who need more of an offensive punch. Chalmers has comfortable with the ball in his hands in Memphis.

The two roles should widen the pool of suitors this offseason. That versatility might be the boost Chalmers needs as he crosses age 30 before entering free agency.

But Chalmers didn’t come to Memphis just establish his scoring bona fides. He has quickly proven a fit in the Grizzlies’ “Grit and Grind” ethos.

“He’s a pest,” Mike Conley said. “He gets up and into you.”

“He’s gritty,” Marc Gasol said.

“He’s very feisty,” Joerger said, “and he’ll get after you.”

Memphis was 3-6 when Chalmers arrived and has gone 10-4 since.

It’s an oversimplification to say he turned around the Grizzlies, but his work off the bench has been instrumental. Memphis’ starters were outscored by 0.6 points per game pre-Chalmers, and they’ve been outscored by 1.7 points per game since his arrival. The difference has been other lineups – many of the best ones being led by Chalmers.

The Grizzlies have scored 105.1 points per 100 possessions with Chalmers on the court (equivalent to third in the NBA) and 99.0 without him (equivalent to 23rd). And it’s not just his offense that has shined. Even when his shot isn’t falling, Chalmers gets playing time due to his defense. Memphis allows just 97.8 points per 100 possessions with him playing (fifth), down from 106.0 (28th) without him.

The Heat also quietly played very well with Chalmers on the court before trading him. That makes Chalmers the only player whose teams have outscored opponents by at least 12.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the court not on the Warriors, Spurs or Thunder (minimum: 300 minutes):

image

All this is without Chalmers feeling fully comfortable in the system, which delights Joerger.

“I think the best of Mario Chalmers is yet to come for our team,” the coach said.

Chalmers probably wouldn’t mind if it came Sunday, when the Grizzlies visit Miami. He said he’s “definitely” looking forward to that game.

Of course, Memphis fans have already seen Chalmers at his best. At Kansas, he made a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the 2008 NCAA championship game against the Memphis Tigers to force overtime:

Memphis lost in the extra period, and Chalmers said local fans have brought up the shot “all the time” since he came to town.

“But they kind of forgive me now, so it’s cool,” Chalmers said.

They have?

“That’s what they say.”

You believe that?

“No, not really.”

A little less trusting and a lot more productive, Chalmers is finding his groove with the Grizzlies.

Somehow, Ja Morant highlights keep getting better (video)

Ja Morant
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ja Morant is special.

He has already produced a few amazing plays during his rookie year. He has even taken over full games with his flashy play.

But the performance he put on during the Grizzlies’ win over the Cavaliers last night was something else.

Thrice, Morant elevated for show-stopping dunks. He scored only once. But each time, something incredible happened.

First, Morant way up to catch a lob from Jae Crowder, adjusted mid-air and found Jaren Jackson Jr. for a dunk:

Then, less than a minute later, Morant finished a lob from Crowder with a beautiful one-handed slam:

Finally, Morant leaped to posterize Larry Nance Jr., realized that wouldn’t work then threw a spinning behind-the-back pass to Jackson. Though Alfonzo McKinnie blocked Jackson, Morant’s move was dazzling:

If Morant is going to keep putting on shows like this during games, maybe we can forgive him for skipping the dunk contest.

Trae Young gets ankles absolutely destroyed by Dejounte Murray (video)

Leave a comment

The Hawks got Trae Young his desired help, trading for Jeff Teague.

Maybe Young will do his part and step up on defense.

That didn’t happen on this possession against Spurs guard Dejounte Murry.

At least Young continued his breakout season on the other end, scoring 31 points and dishing nine assists in Atlanta’s rare victory in San Antonio.

Tristan Thompson slaps Jae Crowder’s rear end, gets ejected (video)

Leave a comment

What is it about Cleveland athletes slapping butts and getting in trouble?

Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. faces a simple battery charge for slapping a police officer’s backside in LSU’s locker room after the College Football Playoff National Championship.

Last night, Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson got ejected for slapping Grizzlies forward Jae Crowder‘s behind.

Thompson and Crowder got double technical fouls earlier in the game. So, Thompson got ejected with a tech for this incident between free throws.

Though the two are former Cleveland teammates, Crowder didn’t look amused. Crowder doesn’t play.

The Cavs rallied without Thompson, but Memphis won, 113-109.

Kyle Lowry flings in wild 3-pointer (video)

Leave a comment

Kyle Lowry had the ball in his left hand when he felt contact. Not only did he try to sell a foul by flailing his arms, the right-hander tried to draw a shooting foul by hurling an off-balance 31-footer toward the basket.

No continuation. No whistle at all.

But Lowry made the shot, anyway.

Lowry and the Raptors will take it, but they didn’t need a break like that against the Wizards’ dismal defense last night. Toronto won, 140-111.