The Memphis Grizzlies enter the 2018 NBA season with something they were sorely lacking last year: health. The Grit-n-Grind squad returns Mike Conley, among others, to a team that won just 21 games last season.
But that’s not all.
Memphis has been busy this offseason, preparing for a Western Conference that has improved from top-to-bottom. After letting go of David Fizdale midseason the Grizzlies brought in J.B. Bickerstaff as the interim head coach and have since retained his services. Then, in June, Memphis made Jaren Jackson Jr., one of the more intriguing prospects in this year’s rookie class, the No. 4 overall pick. Since then, they have brought in veterans such as Kyle Anderson and Garret Temple to fill out the roster and hopefully add some depth should the injury bug strike them again next season.
So, how will the team look next season? Let’s take a look.
FIVE GUYS THINK…
After finally missing the playoffs for the first time all decade, the Grizzlies will be looking to turn things around quickly. That starts with the return of Mike Conley, who missed all but 12 games last season – health from Conley and Marc Gasol will obviously be vital for Memphis. They quietly did very well around the margins over the summer as well, drafting potential franchise defender Jaren Jackson Jr. and nabbing underrated Garrett Temple in a deal with the Kings. They also pried Kyle Anderson away from the Spurs with a restricted free agent offer, and suddenly you’re looking at a roster with a little depth. If they can get even small bits of strong performance from Chandler Parsons and some decent health for some of their main pieces, the Grizzlies could be a dark horse threat in the West. That’s a lot of if’s, though, and this conference didn’t get any easier.
4th Place – Southwest Division
The good news for Memphis: They had one of the all-around savvier off-seasons this summer. Memphis made smart additions as their new players should fit in perfectly. The bad news for Memphis: They’re in the tough-as-nails Western Conference. Even tougher, they have to play in the NBA’s tightest division — the Southwest. The Grizzlies, however, are not to be taken lightly. Mike Conley will presumably be back at 100 percent health this season, and Marc Gasol hasn’t shown signs of slowing down. Now that the team has depth to surround those two, the Grizzlies should firmly be back in the playoff conversation.
5th Place – Southwest Division
– Matt John
Last season’s version of the Grizzlies was a discombobulated mess. There was a controversial coach firing, a slew of injuries and a roster reminiscent of a revolving door. Luckily this time around, their leader will be present and playing. Mike Conley Jr. was sorely missed for nearly the entirety of the 2017-18 campaign with injury, leaving Marc Gasol with the burden of carrying an inconsistent team alongside Tyreke Evans. Now that Conley and Gasol can get back to playing again, it will be intriguing to see how highly touted rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. fits into the mix. While Memphis likely won’t finish last for the second straight year, it’s going to be difficult to break into the postseason—especially being in the Western Conference.
4th Place – Southwest Division
– Spencer Davies
The Grizzlies are easy to dismiss, mainly because injuries have ravaged the roster for the better part of the last two years. However, what gets lost in the injury report is the Grizzlies have two elite level players when healthy in Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, and if both can return to their all-star’ish form, the Grizz have enough talent to compete for the eighth seed in the West. The Grizzlies are facing a tough question as to when to blow things up and start over, but it doesn’t seem like this will be that season, unless the injury bug sets in for a third year, then all bets are off.
3rd Place – Southwest Division
– Steve Kyler
The Memphis Grizzlies had a solid offseason, adding Jaren Jackson Jr., Kyle Anderson, Garrett Temple and Omri Casspi to the roster. However, this team’s ability to keep pace in the Western Conference this season will come down to the health and play of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. When healthy, Conley and Gasol are two of the better two-way players in the league and set the tone for the rest of the team. If everything breaks right for the Grizzlies, I believe they can make it back to the playoffs this season. But, should the Grizzlies lose pace in the playoff race, the front office should keep an open mind toward moving on from its top veterans if the right deals come along. Jackson Jr. appears to be the future of the franchise and I would start molding the roster around him if it becomes clear that Conley and Gasol are no longer able to guide this team comfortably into the postseason.
4th Place – Southwest Division
– Jesse Blancarte
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Mike Conley
There were obvious problems with the Grizzlies last season, Mike Conley’s absence paramount among them.
Conley played in just 12 games last season and, after he went down with a serious heel injury, the offense went into a permanent funk. Without a high-level guard or ballhandler behind him on the depth chart, Memphis struggled to create offense and ultimately, it played a major role in their 22-60 record.
Conley’s return should work wonders for the Grizzlies; not only will he force defenses to focus on more than just Marc Gasol, but Conley’s ability to generate his own offense should open things up for others both inside and outside the three-point line.
Conley averaged 20.5 points and shot 40.8 percent from three in 2016, his last healthy season. Health permitting, Conley is capable of producing similar numbers.
Top Defensive Player: Marc Gasol
The former Defensive Player of the Year was the Grizzlies’ best defender last season, and, going into his age 33 season, Gasol figures to hold that title once again in 2018.
The Spanish big man was tops in defensive rating among Grizzlies who played in more than 30 contests. Gasol led the team in blocks (101) and was fourth on the team in steals (54). Gasol ranked 12th in the NBA in blocks per game (1.4), 14th in total blocks (101) and 15th in block percentage (3.9 percent) as well.
Top Playmaker: Mike Conley
For his career, Mike Conley has averaged 5.7 assists per game and 6.3 per 36 minutes. In his last healthy season, he averaged 6.3 per game.
While that number may seem low, Conley had actually led the Grizzlies in assists per game every season dating back to 2007, his rookie season. He managed to average 4.1 per game last season, which would’ve ranked fourth on the team, despite playing in just 12 games.
Conley, with his career 28.5 assist percentage, is still the best passer on the roster. Assuming his injury hasn’t zapped his passing skills, Conley is a good bet to lead the team in assists per game once again.
Top Clutch Player: Mike Conley
As much as I’d like to talk about a non-Conley player, no one else on the Grizzlies roster fits the bill like Conley does. Still, Conley’s repeated appearances on this list should make it easy to see why the Grizzlies did so poorly last season without him.
Especially in the clutch.
In 2016, Conley led the team in the clutch, shooting 41.9 percent during the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime and the game within five points. Vacating those possessions obviously hurt the Grizzlies in close game situations and, ultimately, led to many more loses than there may have been with Conley on the floor.
Also, while Conley may not have the flash and handles of certain players like Kyrie Irving or Steph Curry, he has one of the NBA’s signature moves; his right-handed floater. Conley’s floater is almost a guaranteed bucket, and its return to the Memphis repertoire could have a major impact on the team next season.
The Unheralded Player: Dillon Brooks
Brooks was one of the more impressive second-tier rookies last season – as a second-round pick (45th overall), that success is even more impressive.
In 82 games (74 starts), Brooks averaged 11 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists while shooting 44 percent from the field and 35.6 percent from three. The 6-foot-6 forward can guard multiple positions and can be a serious asset on both sides of the floor.
If the Grizzlies are able to rebound next season, Brooks’ progression as a player could be a major reason as to why.
Best New Addition: Jaren Jackson Jr.
The Grizzlies made Jaren Jackson Jr. the fourth overall pick back in June, and for good reason.
The former Michigan State Spartan was one of the most versatile players in the draft class. His sheer size (6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan) coupled with his ability to somewhat handle the ball made him one of the more intriguing prospects as well.
Jackson averaged 10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds and three blocks per game while shooting 39.6 percent on 2.7 three-pointers per game. The Grizzlies are hoping he can bring that play and some major energy to their squad next season.
– Shane Rhodes
WHO WE LIKE
1. Mike Conley
Conley’s return to the lineup will be big for Memphis on both sides of the ball. With the Western Conference expected to be even tougher this season, the Grizzlies will need all the help they can get if they want to return to the postseason.
2. Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jackson is an athletic freak and he could potentially flourish under the tutelage of Gasol, one of the better, more consistent big men over the last decade. And, as the heir apparent to the 33-year-old Gasol, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the coaching staff give Jackson a sizeable number of minutes from the get-go to get him accustomed to the NBA.
3. J.B. Bickerstaff
The David Fizdale train had run its course in Memphis; after a spat with Gasol, the face of the franchise, and a poor start to last season, the Grizzlies let Fizdale go in November.
Enter J.B. Bickerstaff. Bickerstaff led the injury-riddled Grizz to a 15-48 record for the remainder of the season, but Memphis saw enough to warrant a three-year deal. Bickerstaff has NBA experience – he had worked as an assistant coach from 2004 to 2015 and was the head coach of the Houston Rockets in 2015 before latching on in Memphis in 2016.
It was time for a change in Memphis, and Bickerstaff may just be the man the Grizzlies need at the helm in order to bounce back.
4. Kyle Anderson
The Grizzlies brought in Kyle Anderson this offseason to the tune of a 4-year, $37.2 million contract.
Anderson not only adds more size to the team, but can handle the ball in a pinch should Conley need a break or be dealing with an injury. Last season with the San Antonio Spurs, Anderson averaged 7.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game while shooting 52.7 percent from the floor.
5. Dillon Brooks
Brooks impressed as a rookie and can be a major player on the wing for Memphis. With his unique blend of size and athleticism, Brooks can keep up with smaller wings while still keeping heavier forwards in front of him down low.
Another plus for Brooks is his efficiency; he shot well both inside and beyond the three-point line last season and has done so dating back to his time at Oregon. Any extra offense he can provide behind Conley and Gasol will be welcome after the team struggled to produce on that end of the floor last season.
– Shane Rhodes
Between Gasol, Jackson, Anderson, JaMychal Green and others, the Grizzlies have the size to smother the paint on both offense and defense. The team has more than nine players 6-foot-9 or taller.
With the addition of Jackson and the return of Conley, the Grizzlies have a good number of shooters. Gasol and Anderson are capable from beyond the arc – that, along with expected improvements from the likes of Green and Brooks as well as the additions of Garrett Temple and others should boost the Grizzlies three-point percentage that ranked just 25th in the NBA last season.
– Shane Rhodes
Despite the additions of Brooks and Jackson in back-to-back seasons, the majority of the Grizzlies’ core is up there in age. Gasol, 33, Conley, 30, have both been in the league for more than a decade. A large portion of Memphis’ cap space is tied up in those players as well as Temple, 30, Chandler Parsons, 29, and JaMychal Green, 28.
The Grizzlies dealt with plenty of health-related issues last season. While Conley was the team’s biggest loss, role players and backups lost to injury only complicated things. The Grizzlies will go into next season hoping the likes of Ben McLemore, Kobi Simmons and others aren’t forced to start games.
– Shane Rhodes
The Burning Question
Can Memphis Make a Playoff Push?
The Western Conference has improved tremendously with the addition of LeBron James as well as others over the course of the offseason. With at least ten teams, not including Memphis, vying for just eight playoff spots, are the Grizzlies capable of making a playoff push?
It will be difficult, but, if Mike Conley and the Grizzlies’ major role players can stay healthy, the Grizzlies are still capable of being a top eight team out West. While they don’t have some of the high-end talent other rosters possess, they are consistent – the Grizzlies had made the postseason for seven straight years before 2017 – and, while the likes of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are no longer on the roster, Memphis’ patented grit-and-grind playstyle can still carry the day when it matters most. They may not have a shot at a top seed, but sneaking into the playoffs could be in the cards for Memphis.
– Shane Rhodes
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