The Memphis Grizzlies were decimated by injuries last season. That isn’t being overly dramatic; over the course of the season, the Grizzlies shuffled through an NBA record 28 players. We should acknowledge what an incredible achievement it was for last season’s team to make it to the playoffs despite losing its top players to injury. Of those 28 players, 10 will return this upcoming season and the majority of them are recognizable veterans who can make a real impact.
The problem is that the Western Conference continues to be dominated by the Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Los Angeles Clippers. The Grizzlies have a team that is designed to win now, but after years of falling short in the postseason, the core is past their respective prime and is more likely to regress than make an internal leap that will bridge the gap between them and the teams at the top of the conference. The Grizzlies will likely be a tough opponent on any given night, but there is also a ceiling to what they can achieve this season.
Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 season for the Memphis Grizzlies.
FIVE GUYS THINK
Memphis opened up their wallet and invested nearly a quarter of a billion dollars this summer in free agency deals to Mile Conley and Chandler Parsons – two guys never selected to an All-Star team in 14 combined professional seasons. But don’t get it twisted: Conley and Parsons are proven veteran producers that won’t back down from a challenge. The Grizzlies have reached the playoffs for six consecutive seasons and this veteran-laden unit is built for another run in 2017.
2nd Place – Southwest Division
– Lang Greene
The Grizzlies certainly spent like they want to contend for a championship, doling out just shy of a quarter of a billion dollars to bring aboard Chandler Parsons and keep Mike Conley in town. This roster really is starting to look its age, though, and could be due for a small step backward rather than a step forward. Still, they’re huge, incredibly experienced and practically unguardable for the ever-increasing number of NBA teams looking to play small ball. These guys are still bruisers, and they’re still one of the toughest defensive teams in the league. David Fizdale should have some fun with this roster in his first year as head coach, as it looks like the Grizzlies, though built unconventionally for today’s NBA, still will be a force in the Western Conference in 2016-2017.
2nd Place – Southwest Division
– Joel Brigham
It’s much easier to rationalize the Grizzlies paying Mike Conley a maximum contract than it is Chandler Parsons. Parsons is a nice player, though, and he will likely help the Grizzlies win a few more games this season. As has been the case since the days of Lionel Hollins, the Grizzlies are a team whose collective strength exceeds the perceived value of their individual pieces. The main question for this bunch will be whether or not they are able to stay healthy. An absence from Marc Gasol or Mike Conley for any long stretch of time could doom them. It seems that the Grizzlies were a legitimate championship contender in the not so distant past, but unfortunately for them, I think the window has closed a bit. They seem to be one of the teams that are stuck in the middle the same way the Atlanta Hawks were with Joe Johnson. In the Southwest Division, the Grizzlies should be able to compete with the likes of the Dallas Mavericks for the second seed, though that’s not saying much since the two teams each finished with 42 wins last season. On paper, I think that the Mavericks have done more to improve themselves than the Grizzlies have, but if the Grizzlies can stay healthy, they’ll battle. Tough call to make but I think I’d sooner bet on Harrison Barnes thriving in Dallas than I would the Grizzlies keeping their aging bodies in good health all season long, so I’ll take the Grizzlies as my third favorite in the division.
3rd Place – Southwest Division
– Moke Hamilton
The grit-and-grind Grizzlies are still here, but are adding a new piece in Chandler Parsons. Parsons is a nice player, though I would not have given him a max contract. Parson had a “minor hybrid” microfracture operation on his knee in May of 2015, which would have made me think more than twice about offering a four-year, $94.8 million contract. Having said that, if Parsons can stay healthy and provide three-point shooting and consistent defensive effort, he should help the Grizzlies bounce back into the mix in the Western Conference. But considering the team’s collective age, their recent struggles with injuries and the fact that Dave Joerger is now in Sacramento lead me to believe they will have an up-and-down season.
4th Place – Southwest Division
– Jesse Blancarte
I wasn’t crazy about the addition of Chandler Parsons. I’m not a big fan of Parsons’ game and I don’t think he’s the kind of player who puts a team over the top and into contention. It’ll be interesting to see what impact David Fizdale has as the team’s new head coach. I was a big fan of what he did with the Miami HEAT, but there’s always an adjustment period when a guy becomes a head coach for the first time. If Memphis can stay healthy, they have a solid group that should be able to win a lot of regular season and be a tough out in the playoffs, but it’s hard to imagine this team being a legitimate contender since they’re a notch below elite squads like the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs.
3rd Place – Southwest Division
– Alex Kennedy
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Marc Gasol
Gasol suffered a broken right foot in February and has been recovering ever since. Fortunately, the 31-year-old will reportedly be cleared to play by the time training camp starts. When healthy, Gasol is one of the most well-rounded centers in the NBA. He has the size and footwork to clear space and get off his slow but accurate jumper. He can back opponents down in the post, spin either direction effectively and can lean back to get off an almost unguardable turnaround jumper. Additionally, Gasol is a very good passer and unselfish player, which means the Grizzlies can run their offense through him. Most centers these days work mostly out of the pick-and-roll, but Gasol is a throwback kind of center who can get his shot off at will and can also find open shots for his teammates.
Top Defensive Player: Mike Conley
There are a lot of good options to choose from here, but we are giving top defensive player to point guard Mike Conley. Don’t be fooled by the fact that Conley has never been selected as an All-Star and doesn’t make flashy plays. Conley is one of the most underrated points guards in the league (though he’s not being paid like that anymore), and is much better as a defender than many assume. Conley is an intelligent defender and works extremely hard to slow down his opponents. Whether fighting over screens, funneling opponents to his weak side defender or jumping a passing lane, Conley makes life difficult for opposing point guards on a nightly basis, which is very important considering how many dominant guards there are in today’s NBA.
Top Playmaker: Mike Conley
No question Conley is the Grizzlies’ best playmaker. He may not average double digits in assists each night, but he is a selfless player and a pass first point guard. Conley has continually improved over the years at playing at a pace that lulls his defenders to sleep temporarily, giving him the opportunity to blow by his defender, draw in weak side defenders and find an open teammate for a wide open shot. Conley’s game isn’t flashy, but it’s effective.
Top Clutch Player: Marc Gasol
Both Conley and Gasol have hit some game winners over their careers, and the latter gets the nod. Gasol is one of these players who can shed even the fastest, longest and most athletic defenders to get his shot off. Whether it’s DeAndre Jordan or Rudy Gobert trying to keep a hand in his face, Gasol has an array of moves to generate just enough space to get his shot off in any situation. He may not be the most clutch player in the league, but Gasol gives the Grizzlies a chance to hit a last second shot in just about any situation – especially since he can often draw double teams and has the vision and skill to find open teammates.
The Unheralded Player: Brandan Wright
Brandan Wright only managed to play in 12 games last year because of a knee injury that ultimately required season-ending surgery. However, when Wright is healthy, he is a long and active big man that can crash the boards, create extra possessions, move well on defense and partner up in the pick-and-roll effectively. Durability is obviously a concern with Wright, but if he can stay healthy this season, he should offer nice production off the bench. Oh, and he’s a great bargain as he’s set to make just $4.7 million this season and $5.9 million next season.
Top New Addition: Chandler Parsons
Parsons scored a big payday this offseason, signing a max contract with the Grizzlies to take over the starting small forward position. Parsons brings something the Grizzlies have needed more of for several seasons: shooting. He shot an impressive 41.4 percent from distance in 61 games last season with the Mavericks. Parsons is also a capable defender, so he should fit in on that end of the court as well. The big concern with Parsons is his knee injury that required surgery. If he is completely past that injury, this could be a nice signing for the Grizzlies. But if Parsons is hampered by this injury over the course of his contract, this contract will weigh the Grizzlies down and limit their ability to make moves for other players.
– Jesse Blancarte
WHO WE LIKE
1. Mike Conley
As previously stated, Conley is one of the most underrated point guards in the league. He competes on both ends of the court and is the engine that makes the Grizzlies go. Gasol and Randolph are instrumental in the post, but Conley is irreplaceable on this team. Let’s all hope we get to see a full, healthy season out of Conley in 2016-17.
2. Zach Randolph
Randolph may not be as dominant in the post as he once was, but he can still make life difficult for opposing defenses. His slow, calculated approach on offense has given opponents headaches for years, along with his physical and underrated defense. However, Randolph is getting up there in age, so while he will still be handful for opponents, we may start to see some slippage from him moving forward
3. Vince Carter
At age 39, Carter is not the player he once was. However, unlike many other former All-Star players, Carter completely embraced limiting his role and finding a niche where he could still be useful over the last few seasons. His three-point shooting can fall off the rails every so often, but he’s one of the few Grizzlies teams have had to consistently respect out to the three-point line over the last few seasons. Whether he can still make a real impact on the court or is looked to simply as a leader in the locker room, Carter has been a key figure in Memphis for some time now.
4. Marc Gasol
As stated above, Gasol is an extremely well-rounded player that makes the Grizzlies better on both sides of the court. His game isn’t flashy, but it sure is effective. He may not be the best center in the league at this point, but he’s still up there with the best of them.
5. Tony Allen
Allen isn’t the premier defender he once was, but when he is motivated, he is still a handful to deal with. At age 34, Allen is also getting up there in age. Injuries have always been a concern with him as well, so he may have to play less minutes than he has in past seasons – especially with Parsons around to help out with the perimeter defense. While Allen may not be the player he once was, he embodies the spirit of this hard-nosed team and is a key part of their collective identity.
– Jesse Blancarte
SALARY CAP 101
The Grizzlies were significant spenders this past summer, going under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap to sign Chandler Parsons to a four-year, $94.4 million contract – then going over to give Mike Conley a massive five-year, $152.6 million deal. Memphis triggered a hard cap at $117.3 million by acquiring Troy Daniels in a sign and trade from the Charlotte Hornets. With $107 million invested in 13 guaranteed players, the team isn’t close to the upper limit.
Vince Carter’s $4.3 million salary is $2 million guaranteed. Other players fighting for the Grizzlies’ two remaining open roster spots include Tony Wroten, JaMychal Green, D.J. Stephens, Troy Williams and Wayne Selden. Memphis cam get below next year’s $102 million projected salary cap, but not significantly (roughly $7 million). That assumes the team picks up the rookie-scale options on Jordan Adams and Jarell Martin. While Tony Allen’s contract is eligible to be restructured and extended, the Grizzlies don’t have the necessary cap room.
– Eric Pincus
Defense and resiliency. The Grizzlies ranked 19th in the NBA last season in defensive efficiency. That may seem like a poor rating, but considering they were without most of their key players and had to go through 28 different guys throughout the season, we can safely say last season was an aberration. In 2014-15, when the Grizzlies weren’t decimated by injuries, they had the fourth-best defense in the league. While their players are getting older, it’s fair to say this team has a shot at being one of the ten best defenses this upcoming season.
– Jesse Blancarte
Shooting. Adding Chandler Parsons should help somewhat, but the league continues to put a premium on shooting and the Grizzlies are simply a step behind most other teams in this department. The Grizzlies shot 33.1 percent on the fifth-fewest three-point attempts per game in the league last season. Unless the Grizzlies make some midseason moves to add more shooting, this will likely be another season where Memphis struggles from the three-point line.
– Jesse Blancarte
THE BURNING QUESTION
Can this core truly contend in the Western Conference under a first-year head coach?
The Grizzlies’ front office opened up the checkbook by bringing in Parsons and retaining Conley. In doing so, this team is going all in on this season to compete for a deep playoff run. However, an ongoing rift between the front office and Joerger led to his departure and the hiring of David Fizdale. Fizdale is a long-time assistant with the Miami HEAT who has drawn high praise for his impact in the LeBron James years. Fizdale is well experienced, but getting this team to the next step, which Lionel Hollins and Joerger failed to do, will be a new sort of challenge. If he can integrate Parsons and has better luck with injuries, it’s possible for this team to make some noise in the Western Conference this upcoming season.
– Jesse Blancarte
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN