NBA back! To prepare for a new season, we’re breaking down one team per day, each day, until tipoff on October 17.
Team: Memphis Grizzlies
Coach: David Fizdale (second year)
Last Season: 43-39 (seventh in the Western Conference)
“Notable” Additions: Tyreke Evans (free agency), Mario Chalmers (free agency), Ivan Rabb (draft)
Notable Subtractions: Zach Randolph (free agency), Tony Allen (free agency)
Vegas Over/Under: 37.5
Best-Case Scenario: Sixth seed in the West.
Grit ’n’ Grind is dead. (Again.) Long live Grit ’n’ Grind. (Again.)
The Memphis Grizzlies has always been able to stay within reach of the rapidly evolving NBA curve. In its own unique way, the Grizzlies have long thrived within a slow-paced counterculture amid the league’s overarching push for space and speed. Their flaws and weaknesses were a part of what’s made them lovable to the basketball public, even in the face of teams like the Warriors, Spurs, and Rockets. For a while, they have made the case for the NBA’s upper middle class and the beauty of finding joy in 50-win seasons.
This season, the runway for David Fizdale has been cleared. As Zach Randolph and Tony Allen—whose number will be retired—have moved on from the franchise, Fizdale can now impose the style he brought from his time under Erik Spoelstra and the Miami Heat. Hints of such progress began showing up last season, when Marc Gasol shot 3.6 3s per game. Previously his career high was 0.2. The Grizzlies as a whole made a franchise-record 767 3s last season.
“Obviously, we have a different team now,” Fizdale said this week. “We have a team that I think has more skill and more speed, and that obviously is something that I’ve talked about that I’d like to have a team that can do that."
This season, there will be no culture shock in Memphis. Led by Mike Conley’s ball-handling abilities and anchored by Gasol’s newfound versatility, the Grizzlies can find ways to maximize their top two talents, while developing the younger, more malleable 3-and-D prospects that can break through and contribute this season.
It’s promising that there’s now room for younger guys like JaMychal Green, Wayne Selden Jr., James Ennis III, and former top-10 pick Ben McLemore (who is still waiting for his Mamba Challenge) to take leaps and stand out as possible pieces to keep moving forward.
Fizdale was an architect of the LeBron-led Miami Heat team, and he has a pulse on the way the league is trending. Much like with what Rick Carlisle has done in recent years with the Mavericks, it’s not a stretch to believe he could turn Conley, Gasol, and spare parts into a team that surprises in the West.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Grizzlies are hopelessly out of playoff range and are forced to, once and for all, kill Grit n’ Grind by trading Mike Conley and/or Marc Gasol.
The pessimistic view of the Grizzlies is a dark one. They have patched up their squad with a strange-looking team that features Selden starting at shooting guard, Green at power forward, and Chandler Parsons, who barely looked like an NBA player last season, at small forward. On paper, that reads “yikes,” not “playoffs.”
The talent drop-off after Gasol and Conley is steep. Conley was the only player on the Grizzlies last season to shoot at or above a 40-percent clip from 3, and only he, Gasol, and Ennis had positive net ratings of the returning players this season.
Despite Fizdale’s early promise that the team would play faster, Memphis’s pace was one of the three slowest in the league last year. Without Randolph and Allen, among others, there’s a chance it could pick up and allow room for better ball movement and shooting. But considering the roster, it’s all theoretical. The Grizzlies would have to bank big on Parsons returning to form. They would have to get something positive out of yet another attempt at a Tyreke Evans revival. And they will have to shore up their productivity up front through players like Brandan Wright, Deyonta Davis, and Ivan Rabb.
They may have gotten younger, but without Randolph and Allen, they might have also lost their edge. Can this roster still muck up games and grind out wins when they’re overmatched? The Grizzlies’ run as the beloved cult team that went against the grain may be coming to an end, but surprisingly, it’s not the league’s evolution that could lead to their downfall. They might just not have enough depth and talent to keep up.
TL;DR: Mike Conley and Marc Gasol make for a great duo. The only problem is that every other contender in the West has a Big Three.