What’s that you say?….The Grizzlies are good again?….Like the Memphis ones?….No sir, I wont believe that sort of hogwash. ACTUALLY, they are good, and I’ll tell you why. Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and the Grizzlies being a playoff contender is a story as old as time, but after an injury/loss riddled 2017-18 campaign in which they lost 60 games there was some skepticism around this group. The narrative was: the NBA is going away from their style, their core is old/broken up, they can’t shoot, and they won’t be able to keep up on a given night. A month into the season we can see how wrong this presumption actually is and have learned to never doubt Conley/Gasol again. They’re 8-5 and just like old times they lead the NBA in points against (101.6), hold the 3rd spot in the league in defensive rating (104.8), and are 2nd in the league in steals per game (9.7). They’ve also taken care of business at home as they sit at 5-1 when at the GrindHouse.
As I mentioned before, a red flag for how the Grizzlies would age as a team was focused on their offensive output and shooting ability. In the past, the Grizzlies basically operated as a team who shot around 18 threes per night at 33% in their prime with Conley, Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Tony Allen. The past 2 seasons they’ve made a real effort to improve on that end and become more modern to today’s style of play. In 2016-17 they shot 35.4% on 26 attempts per game and then last season they shot 35.2% on 26 attempts from deep. This season, they currently rank 12th in the NBA in 3-point percentage (36%) on about 28 attempts per game, which is also a tad above the league average of 35.2%. While this small improvement isn’t the entire story of how they’ve adapted it is certainly part of it. They’ve made the effort to change their style and it’s been paying off so far this season. Along with this they’ve made the most of their possessions as they’ve kept the turnovers down and are 4th in the league in that stat as well (13.5 TOPG). Shooting the three at a high level, limiting turnovers, and hellish defense have been the theme of this team all season.
On top of this team-wide movement to get better from the perimeter/on offense there are some individual performances that have been notable thus far. First of all, the influence of Conley and Gasol that was missed last season is so evident. Those two know how to win and nobody knows hard-nosed Grizzly basketball like them. Gasol (like he’s always been) is an automatic 16/8/4 waiting to happen while Conley is posting his second highest scoring season of his career (19.2). Both Conley and Gasol have been a huge influence on the young players as well. One of those young players, 4th overall pick Jaren Jackson, has been able to contribute right away (11.6 ppg 4.8 rebs 1.1 steals and 1.7 blocks). He’s been a beast on both sides of the ball and gives the Grizz some youth in their veteran led starting 5. A name that I did not expect to mention unless I was making a joke was Garrett Temple but he’s demanded my respect and I will shout that loudly. He’s playing the most minutes of his career (32.3) and has shot the lights out shooting 44.9/38.6/83.3 on career bests in FG%/FT% while his 3FG% is the second highest it’s been in his career. Usually an afterthought when going through rosters he has given them some elite defense at the forward position (99.6 defensive rating) while also posting 12.2 ppg (another career high) starting all 13 games for the Grizz so far.
While it is early and they very well could be just a flash in the pan early, things are looking up for Memphis. After last season’s embarrassing result, they didn’t overreact, as they believed with a top pick and their top 2 players back they’d still be a formidable squad. As someone who absolutely loves defense it’s refreshing to see them reinvent themselves in the current NBA without sacrificing who they are as a team. On the shoulders of Conley and Gasol, grit and grind is BACK and it’s cooler than it ever was before.
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