Southwest Division Preview: Memphis Grizzlies
Through drafted talent and smart veteran additions, they’ve managed to climb out of the lottery masses and develop a team that poses a decent threat to the elite teams in their respective conference.
When Pau Gasol was shipped to the Lakers some four score and seven years ago, the internet was rife with ‘wtf are the Grizzlies doing?!’ and ‘how do the Lakers keep robbing everyone?’ – but sometimes overlooked in the seemingly daylight robbery of Pau Gasol, was the addition of the far more intimidating Marc Gasol.
A classic back to the basket banging C, the younger brother is creeping ever so closer to his older brother’s All Star level abilities.
A gifted shot-blocker and post defender, Marc’s offensive repertoire has grown in leaps and bounds, as he is becoming a complete post player worthy of the massive deal he signed in the 2011 season.
Paired up front with Gasol is the much maligned Zach Randolph, fresh of his worst season since his second season in the league.
He has turned up in great shape and has had a solid preseason, getting back into the rotation and becoming accustomed to the starting lineup after being used predominantly as the first big off the bench last season.
A motivated Randolph is a perennial double-double machine; few players are able to camp under the basket at either end and give you 20 points and 10 rebounds every night, a feat Z-Bo has done four of the past six seasons.
His inability to get off the ground with any semblance of athleticism, or run the floor with any effort on the defensive end are masked by his masterful rebounding and scoring on the block.
If he’s healthy, this team can go far.
Randolph’s co-captain Rudy Gay seems primed for a breakout year, but fans have been expecting it for the last three or four years now, ever since he became a full time starter and begun showing up nightly with his high wire dunk act.
The knock against Gay coming out (no pun intended) of UConn was that he didn’t ‘want it’ enough.
A relaxed and laid back player, everything seems to come so easily to him, so the fact that he appears to be coasting isn’t a true reflection of his playing ability.
He is as consistent as they come, averaging between 18.9 and 20.1 points and 5.5 and 6.4 rebounds per game every year for the past five seasons.
Pencil him in for the lion’s share of Grizzlies highlight plays, as well as clutch scoring, some solid defence, and leadership from the small forward spot.
The Grizzly most inclined to take the opposing team’s best offensive player is Tony Allen.
A veritable pest on the defensive end, he uses his toughness and athleticism to physically overpower most opposing shooting guards and small forwards.
With OJ Mayo gone and it being a contract year for Allen, expect him to warrant some votes for All Defensive teams, as well as have his name mentioned as a sneaky good bargain signing for a team in the offseason.
And now we come to the architect of the Grizzlies success.
Mike Conley has quietly put together a very nice start to his career, improving on something different nearly every season, including last year when his assists tied his career high at 6.5 per game, but his turnovers dropped while his steals and free throw percentage both increased.
Conley’s a pesky defender, who has underrated athleticism and he has all the makings of a player approaching a career year at just 25 years old.
His speed with the ball and familiarity with his team means coach Lionel Hollins can give Conley the freedom to set up the offense, but he must improve his mid range game and transition offense, both of which have not improved since he became a full time starter.
Memphis strengthened their bench by adding some more youth to the back-court, replacing Mayo with Jerryd Bayless and Wayne Ellington.
Josh Selby absolutely tore up the NBA Summer League to the tune of 24 points per game in just 27.4 minutes per outing.
He hit an absurd 27-42 from deep, so while he has posted video game numbers already this year, it needs to be kept in perspective that it was the summer league and he will be behind Conley, Allen, Bayless and potentially Ellington in the depth chart.
The Grizzlies always seem to have quality bigs off the bench, and this year will be no different.
They have Marreese Speights returning as the first PF/C option off the pine, and though wildly inconsistent as a starter last year, he did show enough to warrant a new two year $8.6m deal.
Speights is an ok scorer who can rebound when his mind is in the game, and most importantly he’s a big insurance body in case Z-Bo or Gasol get hurt.
Hamed Haddadi and Darrell Arthur round out the bench, and both have their nights but either player will be lucky to see more than 12-15 minutes per game.
For the Grizzlies to take the leap to the Western Conference Finals and overcome last year’s disappointing first round exit, they must first be completely healthy.
Losing Z-Bo for the majority of last season and Gay the season before, the team hasn’t yet been 100% under this current coaching staff, and if they catch a break or two they will be a legit threat that no top seed will want when the playoffs roll round in April.
Projected record: 49-33, 2nd Southwest Division
Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images