Grizzlies Winning 'Big'
The Memphis Grizzlies are out to an NBA-best 11-2 start behind a big frontcourt, steady point guard play and quality coaching. The Grizzlies have reached the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, but can we now consider them a legitimate title threat?
Mike Conley Jr. is quietly one of the more steady point guards in the league and a key to the Memphis offense. He missed the game versus Cleveland this past week and the drop in offensive production was noticeable. While he has always been a threat to get into the defense for looks at the rim and mid-range game, Conley has improved as a three-point shooter at 43 percent this season. He is averaging almost 15 points and six assists with two steals per game, but needs to lower his three turnovers per outing too.
His running mate in the backcourt, Tony Allen, is one of the top perimeter defenders in the league. He doesn’t bring much offensively with eight points per game at 38 percent shooting.
Jerryd Bayless has provided good backup point guard minutes. He isn’t outstanding in one area, but is averaging seven points and three assists in 17 minutes.
Wayne Ellington had a big game early in the season against Miami, but hasn’t been much of a factor the rest of the year. Josh Selby has been a non-factor. Backcourt depth could be a weakness for the Grizzlies.
Many were critical of the five-year deal Memphis agreed to with Rudy Gay during the 2010 offseason, but he fills the perimeter scoring threat for the club. He is averaging 19 points with five rebounds per game. He has averaged between 18 and 20 points every year since he was a rookie. He has improved his three-point shooting to 42 percent this year and is on pace to attempt the second most threes in his career. He doesn’t impact the game defensively though.
Zach Randolph has been Mr. Double-Double with 12 double-doubles in 13 games. He has bounced back from a injury last season, averaging 16 points and 13 rebounds while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field. He is a crafty offensive player who can work from the low or mid block and pull the defense away from the basket with a mid-range jumper. He is the key for Memphis making a deep run.
The 6-foot-6 Quincy Pondexter gets the most minutes off the bench at 22 per game. He is at a career high in minutes and points through the early season and provides a versatile option off the bench.
Marreese Speights is running out of time to show the potential many felt he had coming out of Florida. He has rebounded well at five boards in 17 minutes, but is shooting 41 percent. That number should be higher as he is best suited to work closer to the basket.
Darrell Arthur has missed the last year-plus due to injuries, but recently came back in the past three games. He has been a non-factor thus far, but could eventually take minutes away from Speights.
The 27-year-old Marc Gasol is among the best centers in the game and certainly near the top for best passing posts. He is averaging 15 points, six rebounds, four assists and shooting 50 percent from the field. He is a perfect complement to Randolph and allows Memphis to overpower most teams with its size. His assist numbers have improved every year of his career. Hamed Haddadi is the listed back-up, but is a non-factor.
While most of the basketball world is going to small ball, Memphis employs a big frontcourt that can pound teams for points in the paint and rebounds. They are 10th in rebounding differential and offensive rebounding. It is also an active defensive team in forcing the fourth most turnovers in the league. The Grizzlies own the league’s best record at 11-2, but is this team a title contender? The big question which looms is depth in general, especially in the backcourt. In a fairly balanced Western Conference, Memphis likely slots in the top three or four with San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the Clippers.