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
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