Road to the 2017 Playoffs: Memphis Grizzlies

Marco Benitez
Memphis Grizzlies forward Zach Randolph (50) and center Marc Gasol (33) share a laugh in the final minutes of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)

43-39, #7 in the West, 3rd place in the Southwest Division

Key transactions: The team’s major moves in the offseason were signing Chandler Parsons to a four-year, $94 million deal, and retaining Mike Conley, thanks to a five-year, $153 million contract.  

Top performers: 

Mike Conley – 20.6 ppg (40.7% 3FG), 3.5 rpg, 6.3 apg, 1.3 spg
Marc Gasol – 19.6 ppg (45.9% FG, 38.7% 3FG), 6.2 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.3 bpg  
Zach Randolph – 14.1 ppg (44.8% FG), 8.2 rpg, 1.7 apg
Tony Allen – 9.1 ppg (46.0% FG), 5.6 rpg, 1.4 apg, 1.6 spg
JaMychal Green – 9.0 ppg (50.1% FG), 7.1 rpg, 1.1 apg
Troy Daniels – 8.3 ppg (39.0% 3FG), 1.5 rpg, 0.7 apg
Vince Carter – 8.1 ppg (38.0% 3FG), 3.1 rpg, 1.8 apg

Key injuries: 

- The Grizzlies faced uncertain times back in late November when Mike Conley went down to a back injury and had to be sidelined for an indefinite time period. Thankfully, their starting point guard, whom they had just recently signed as the highest paid player in the NBA, was able to come back by mid-December after missing just nine games. 

- Memphis enters the playoffs though without versatile swingman Chandler Parsons, whom they had picked up from Dallas to provide much needed perimeter scoring. Parsons had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and will be out for the rest of the season.

- Defensive stopper Tony Allen suffered a minor lower leg injury in the team’s regular season finale, and did not return. 

Key stats:

- The Grizzlies are mediocre at best when it comes to offense. In fact, they’re second to last in points per game at 100.5, 19th of 30 in Off Rtg at 104.7, and they are among the slowest with a pace of 94.74 (28th). It is on the defensive end where they are elite, and that is why they’re known as the grit ’n grind Grizzlies. They are third in Opp Pts/game at 100.0 and seventh in Def Rtg at 104.7. There is no team harder to score against inside the paint than the Grizzlies, allowing just 37.8 Pts in the shaded lane per contest, and limiting opponents’ points off turnovers (sixth) and second-chance points (fourth) to 14.8 and 11.5 per game, respectively.

Storylines:

The Memphis Grizzlies, have been known as the antithesis of the modern-day NBA’s pace and space teams. For years they’ve relied on a deliberate half court game, predicated on their big men, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, who are in the mold of traditional back-to-the-basket NBA big men. They pound the ball inside the paint, score from mid-range, and grind your offense to a snail’s pace with their gritty half court defense. In fact, they are perennially among the slowest in the league in terms of pace, and remain in the bottom half when it comes to three-point shooting. It says something about your three-point shooting (or lack thereof) when a 40-year-old former slamdunk champ has evolved as one of your squad’s best long-range in previous years.

It is only this year where the Grizzlies have actually embraced taking more three-pointers as a strategy (9.5 3FGM/G, up 52.5% from last season), as opposed to two-point FGs (27.1 2FGM/G, down 11.8%). Credit that to first year head coach David Fizdale (formerly Erik Spoelstra’s top assistant in Miami). Mike Conley now takes around six three’s a game (career-high) at a 40.7 percent clip (also career-high), while Marc Gasol has also added the long ball to his arsenal, taking 3.6 attempts a game at a 38 percent rate (career-highs). Both players are taking more FG attempts per game this season, with Conley shooting at the highest eFG% of his career.

This, plus the emergence of a solid supporting cast led by Troy Daniels and JaMychal Green have helped the Grizzlies absorb the absence of both Conley and Gasol for stretches of the regular season, and the loss of Parsons, and still be in playoff contention in the extremely competitive Western Conference. 

Now, more than ever, the Grizzlies are probably the most dreaded 7th seed matchup in the playoffs.

Fun fact: The Grizzlies have done a good job against the upper echelon teams of the West this season – beating the Warriors twice (2-2), the Clippers three times, the Rockets twice, and the Spurs twice. Depending on their bench production, you could consider them one of the dark horses in the West.

(Stats current as of end of regular season)

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