NBA Season Preview: Memphis Grizzlies

Marc Gasol
A trimmer Marc Gasol holds down Memphis's frontcourt. (AP)

Projected Record: 47-35 (8th in West)

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Marc Gasol
A trimmer Marc Gasol holds down Memphis’s frontcourt. (AP)

Head coach: Dave Joerger
Projected record: 47-35 (8th)
2013-14 record: 50-32
2013-14 ORtg: 103.3 (T-16th)
2013-14 DRtg: 102.1 (T-7th)
Players in: Jordan Adams, Vince Carter, Patrick Christopher, rights to Jarnell Stokes
Players out: James Johnson, Mike Miller, Ed Davis
Projected Starting Lineup: Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol

They didn’t make headlines this offseason, their key players are all returning and, to this point, are healthy.

The Memphis Grizzlies won 50 games in ‘13-’14 with last season’s reigning DPOY, Marc Gasol, missing 23 games due to a knee injury. Oh, and they did it playing in the West.

Understand this: they’re an exceptional team. Yet, for some reason, they continue to compile some fairly mediocre offseason projections.

Their style of play is outdated and boring. The Grizzlies were the slowest-paced team during the regular season last year, with just 92.25 possessions per 48 minutes. They may not be your open-court, 2006 Steve Nash-led Phoenix Suns, but they’ll compete in an ultra-competitive Western Conference with their stout defense and interior play. Bank on it.

This team’s identity is simple: defense and rebounding. Gasol, a top 3 rim protector in basketball, is their anchor, and the Grizzlies feature two excellent perimeter defenders in Tony Allen and Mike Conley. When Conley is able to keep the opposing PG out of the paint, it prevents breakdowns and helps maintain defensive positioning for Conley’s teammates behind him. Because he’s often successful, teams are often forced into taking difficult shots from outside the paint.

The numbers reflect this: from Gasol’s first game back from injury on 1/14/14 to the end of the regular season, Memphis held opponents to 44.1% shooting from the field, good for fourth-best in the NBA during that stretch. Teams aren’t held to such a percentage by getting quality looks inside 10 feet. Allen is often put on the opposing team’s best offensive threat (such as Kevin Durant in last year’s playoff matchup). It’s a luxury most teams do not have.

Their key move in a quiet offseason was re-signing the 33 year-old Zach Randolph to a 2-year, $20 million extension – a solid price considering his role on the team. Ex-Net Vince Carter was also inked during the offseason, replacing Mike Miller — subtracting defense and adding three years of age.

Carter’s game has evolved over the last couple of seasons with the Mavericks. He’s extended his NBA career by becoming a long-ball specialist, shooting the three at a 40 percent clip over the last two seasons. That’s exactly what this team needs – guards and wings to spread the floor while the bigs (Gasol, Randolph, and.. Kosta Koufos?!) work in the paint. Carter fills that need perfectly.

Coincidentally (or not?), after the midseason acquisition of Courtney Lee from the Boston Celtics last season, Memphis played some very sound basketball, rounding out their season with the third-best record in the league from the start of the calendar year following their 10-15 record prior to January. Lee and Carter could prove to be invaluable as opposing defenses will have to respect their shooting abilities. This will open up some room for Gasol and Randolph to operate down low.

The Grizzlies are one of the premier rebounding teams in the league. Their rebounding percentage ranked third-best in the regular season last year. Crisp and quick ball movement is key to moving defenses and finding open shots/driving lanes. But if your offense isn’t clicking, this team will give you one look, and it won’t be a good one.

For a team to take the Oklahoma City Thunder, a top 3 team in the West, to an epic 7 games in last year’s first round matchup – is there really a need for major changes?

A second season under HC Dave Joerger and a healthy Big Three could be enough for the Grizzlies to fulfill their potential and seriously content for a Western Conference Finals appearance.

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