In his brief time in the NBA, Quincy Pondexter has never witnessed a gallery of reporters standing in front of his locker after a game.
That wasn’t the case after the Memphis Grizzlies’ 103-94 win in their home-opener against the Utah Jazz Monday night in FedExForum.
As Pondexter slowly got dressed, a dozen or so reporters surrounded his locker, waiting patiently for him to assess what he deemed his best performance since he entered the NBA out of the University of Washington two years ago.
“He’s a young guy with a lot of energy,” Grizzlies veteran power forward Zach Randolph said of Pondexter. “And he wants to win.”
Whether Randolph and Grizzlies leading scorer Rudy Gay were experiencing opening-night hangovers — both were held scoreless in the opening quarter — after an eventful Monday afternoon that was highlighted by new majority owner Robert Pera addressing fans and the media for the first time since the league approved the sale of the franchise remains unclear. Regardless, Pondexter’s assertiveness proved to be the difference-maker for a Memphis team that got off to a lethargic start against the Jazz.
The Grizzlies (2-1) travel to play at the Milwaukee Bucks (2-0) Wednesday night at 7 (CST).
In 22-plus minutes versus Utah, the most among Grizzlies reserves, Pondexter registered 14 points on 5 of 8 field goals as the Grizzlies erased a 12-point first-half deficit to seize a franchise record 12th consecutive regular season home win dating back to last season.
Among the biggest questions for the Grizzlies heading into this season was which players would step up and help fill the void left by ex-Memphis and current Dallas Mavericks guard O. J. Mayo. The 24-year-old Pondexter, less than a week removed from having his fourth-year option exercised through the 2013-14 season, provided the team with some much-needed answers Monday.
After replacing starter Tony Allen in the lineup at the 7:05 mark of the opening quarter, Pondexter exhibited what Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins hopes are signs of things to come. He knocked down midrange and three-point shots. He was aggressive defensively and in attacking the boards.
And, occasionally, he demonstrated his athleticism, converting a couple of fast-break dunks, one of which he executed during a key 5-0 spurt in the early in the second quarter that trimmed Memphis’ deficit to 27-25. Pondexter, sprinting down court, fielded an outlet pass from fellow reserve Jerryd Bayless then threw down a thunderous one-handed slam over Utah’s Jeremy Evans that drew rave reviews among the announced 17,401 specators in attendance.
Acquired by Memphis from New Orleans for Greivis Vasquez one day before the start of the condensed 66-game regular season last year, Pondexter managed eight of his 14 points (three shy of his career high) while converting each of his three field goal attempts in the pivotal third for the Grizzlies, who limited the Jazz to 31.8 percent shooting and outscored Utah, 27-18, in the frame. By game’s end, much of the talk was centered not just on the franchise’s new owner and a visit to the Bluff City by commissioner David Stern, but also the Grizzlies’ second-half surge that eventually translated into another grind-it-out win after a sluggish start.
“We started the game really slow,” Hollins said. We weren’t cutting (offensively). We were taking too many jump shots. When we got in the other unit, everybody started doing what they were supposed to do.”
Especially Pondexter who, given his solid basketball roots — his father, Roscoe Pondexter, was a third-round pick by the Boston Celtics in 1974 and played professionally overseas for 10 seasons — is wasting little time filling in for the departed Mayo.
Much of his early success, Pondexter said, is attributed to the fact that he spent a majority of the offseason conditioning intensely in Los Angeles. And, unlike last year, when NBA teams did not engage in a full-fledge training camp because of the 149-day lockout, Pondexter had the luxury of upgrading his mechanics with the help of Gay, a seven-year veteran whom he admittedly has anointed his mentor.
“Rudy worked with me a lot,” Pondexter said. “He’s really helped me to become a better player. He should have been an All-Star (last year). He always tells me to be aggressive, to be myself, and everything else will fall into place.”
The biggest concern now, at least for Pondexter, is whether he can have an immediate impact as Mayo enjoyed in three seasons in Memphis. That the Grizzlies are only three games into the season, Hollins said placing such lofty expectations on the second-year pro would be premature. Conversely, he is pleased the Fresno, Calif. native is adjusting comfortably to Memphis and, most of all, his system.
“I thought Quincy always understood his role,” Hollins said. “I mean, last year, he was just a player who was new to this team, in a new city, and trying to figure out his role.”
Given his stellar display in Monday’s home-opener, Pondexter, to his credit, has shown he could very well emerge as a fan-favorite, much like Mayo did during his stint with the Grizzlies.
“I hope so,” Pondexter said. “I’m pretty good guy to get to know.”
Something even reporters are starting to discover. How else to explain the gallery in front of his locker Monday night?