NBA PM: Things are Turning Around for the Grizzlies

After a slow start to the season, the Memphis Grizzlies are climbing up the Western Conference standings.

Cody Taylor profile picture
Updated 12 months ago on
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Things are Turning Around for the Memphis Grizzlies

One of the most surprising teams of this young season has been the Memphis Grizzlies. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, their start to the season wasn’t exactly what they had in mind. After all, this was a team that felt extremely confident that they could make a run with their existing roster, opting to keep it intact over the summer, rather than making wholesale changes. 

Their biggest move of the summer was locking in center Marc Gasol for an additional five seasons. They also made a couple of smaller moves by adding Matt Barnes and Brandan Wright. Given how strong the team chemistry has been in the past, it was a bit concerning to see how they began the year after initially being projected as a contender in the Western Conference.

The team stumbled out of the gates with a 3-6 record. During that stretch, they suffered a 30-point loss on opening night to the Cleveland Cavaliers and a 50-point loss to the Golden State Warriors three games later. Of course, losing to the two teams that played for the championship last season may not be all that surprising, but it was concerning given how much they lost by.

It was about a month ago that it seemed to be all doom and gloom in Memphis. In the age of social media, the Grizzlies seemed all but written off after that disastrous 3-6 start. The team was scoring 93.4 points per 100 possessions, which was the lowest in the league during their first nine games. In addition, they were giving up 104.5 points per 100 possessions. That -11.1 net rating was second-worst in the league (only better than the Philadelphia 76ers).

However, since losing to the Warriors for the second time on November 11, the Grizzlies have won nine out of 12 games and have improved to 12-9 on the season. After defeating the Phoenix Suns last night on a last-second shot, the team has moved up to fourth place in the West and have looked much better over their last 12 games. The offense is scoring 103.6 points per 100 possessions (up 10.2 points versus the first nine games) and is posting a +2.3 net rating over their last 12 games. Their 103.6 offensive rating ranks sixth-highest in the league over this period.

The team recognized it needed a jolt of life, and opted to trade for guard Mario Chalmers from the Miami HEAT. The HEAT dealt Chalmers in an attempt to save on the luxury tax, and thus became available for Memphis. Chalmers seems to have found an important role for the Grizzlies. He’s given life to the second unit and has energized the offense. In 12 games for Memphis, Chalmers is averaging 11.4 points, 2.8 assists and 2.5 rebounds per game. In just his third game, he scored 29 points in 23 minutes off of the bench.

It seems the addition of Chalmers has had an impact on other players as well. During the team’s 3-6 start, several players, including Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, were struggling. Gasol was averaging 14.7 points during the first nine games on 41 percent shooting from the field. Since Chalmers arrived, Gasol is averaging 17.6 points on 51 percent shooting. Conley was averaging 12.7 points on 35.2 percent shoot prior to the Chalmers trade, and has since improved to 17.4 points on 45.9 percent shooting.

It’s not just those two players that have improved – it’s all across the board. It seems as though just about every player on the roster has shot better and scored more points per game with Chalmers in the lineup. While the team has been much improved as of late, they still have more work to do. The Grizzlies are still ranked 27th in the league in points per game, 25th in field goal percentage and 29th in three-point percentage. Nevertheless, the strides they’ve made in recent weeks has been a welcomed sign for fans.

This was a team that entered the 2015-16 campaign with a bit of uncertainty surrounding them. Memphis has only six players guaranteed on the roster next year as key players like Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Jeff Green and Matt Barnes are all set to become unrestricted free agents this summer. An underachieving season could have given the front office a reason to bring in a new group of players and start fresh. The slow start to the season only fueled speculation that a change could come this offseason.

Had the front office thought this roster had gone as far as it could, they may have opted to shake things up after the season. There were also rumors that head coach Dave Joerger was on the hot seat. It was thought that team ownership may not have been in love with Joerger before the season started, but those rumors seem to have cooled given the team’s recent turnaround.

While their recent hot streak has been impressive, they’re still not out of the woods yet. The season is still only roughly a quarter of the way through, which means there is still a lot of basketball to be played. While it seems the West may be struggling a bit this season, there are still a lot of good teams in the conference that will make Memphis’ road to the playoffs a challenge. The team faces a tough upcoming stretch as they’ll play eight games in 12 days against some tough opponents in Oklahoma City, Miami and Washington among others.

Each year there seems to be some early season reactions that over time prove to be overblown. Of course, everyone remembers the slow start the Big Three got off to during their first year in Miami. After a couple of months, things began to click for them and they eventually made it to the Finals. We only start to get a good feel for teams around this time of year as players are finally settling in with their teams and start to get their feet under them. The Grizzlies still face a tough road ahead, but things are certainly looking a lot better now than they were this time last month.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson Out Indefinitely

The Brooklyn Nets announced today that rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will undergo surgery sometime this week after suffering a non-displaced fracture in his right ankle. The team said a timetable for his return will be established after the procedure.

“I was stunned, I was shocked,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “It’s hurtful to be in that situation. Trying to be one of the best rookies, working really hard and then you get news like that, you don’t really know what to say. You’re at a loss for words.”

The injury happened during a team practice on Saturday.

“I was guarding [Bojan Bogdanovic],” Hollis-Jefferson said. “I mean, it just happened. It was a really bad roll.”

Hollis-Jefferson was one of the lone bright spots for a Nets team that is just 5-15 so far this season. He had appeared in every game up until yesterday’s contest against the Warriors. He had earned starts in 14 of those games and was averaging 5.2 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 1.4 steals per game.

His 1.4 steals per game rank highest among all rookies, and his 6.1 rebounds are fourth-highest in the class.

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Cody Taylor is an NBA writer in his fourth season with Basketball Insiders, covering the NBA and NCAA out of Orlando and Miami.

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