The Grizz have a had a very impressive three-year run, to say the least. In each of the last three seasons, Memphis’ winning percentages have increased between 6-8 percent. Last year would have been a great year for Memphis to capture a spot in the NBA Finals. The Grizz looked like a favorite to get there until they met the Spurs, who effortlessly swept them, getting revenge from the 2011 first round upset. Will the Grizz be able to bounce back from that tough playoff exit and remain a top-notch regular season team? Here’s my take on Memphis’ 2013-14 season:
Guards (B): Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Jerryd Bayless, Mike Miller, Jamaal Franklin
Memphis returns this year with a similar backcourt. Mike Conley is coming off an excellent postseason in which he did a great job keeping up with Chris Paul. Conley spent his first few years in the league referred to as just a solid point guard at best. Last year, he really made a statement with his constant hustle plays and surprisingly clutch shots in the 4th quarter of games. Now, it is well known Conley cannot be taken lightly by opposing point guards. He may not be as tall, strong, or athletic as many of the great point guards, but his quick footwork and willingness to do what’s best for his team makes him a special player. The Grizzlies have yet to find a good reason for replacing Tony Allen as starting shooting guard. Although his offense is almost a non-factor, his man-to-man defense is truly irreplaceable. Allen has been a huge reason for Memphis’ success in the last three years. Jerryd Bayless is a talented bench player with a high upside. Bayless usually comes into the game to provide the Grizz with another scoring threat as he’s capable of playing both guard positions. Mike Miller has reunited with the Grizzlies after playing an extensive role in two consecutive NBA Finals.
Forwards (B): Tayshaun Prince, Zach Randolph, Quincy Pondexter, Ed Davis, Jon Leuer
Tayshaun Prince has had a very respectable career and he has always been a winner. But once he joined the Grizzlies, Tay didn’t provide near the value he did in his best days. The great length and wingspan aren’t going away but the energy and motor are showing signs of running low. Zach Randolph has really been something else for this Grizzly team. Over the past few seasons, he’s probably been the one player who’s kept this group up and running. When things are going wrong, Randolph motivates the team with his intense and physical play as well as his emotion on the court. Randolph has consistently been dominant on the glass, especially offensive, his whole career. Last year, Z-Bo averaged just under five offensive rebounds per 40 minutes. Quincy Pondexter looks to be lined up to soon take the starting small forward gig as Tayshaun continues to wear down. Pondexter, in my opinion, is one of the most underrated players in the league as he provides the team with chunks of everything (defense, spot-up perimeter shooting, etc.) There’s also Ed Davis, who the Grizz hope to make a key piece to their future after acquiring him as part of the Rudy Gay deal. The potential is there for Davis but his game still has a lot of improvements to be made.
Centers (A): Marc Gasol, Kosta Koufos
Marc Gasol earned his first Defensive Player of the Year award last season. Usually, players who win that award are in the running every single year. Gasol pretty much emerged as a candidate last season as his game has just gotten progressively better from season to season. Marc is an outstanding all-around center, much like his brother Pau was. With the championships on his pedigree, Marc has the tools to be just as good. I really like the addition of Kosta Koufos. He isn’t going to come in and significantly increase this team’s value. However, he provides flexibility off the bench with his underrated offensive skills.
Defense (A): The Grizz finished just shy of the Indiana Pacers in defensive efficiency last season. Obviously, the defense is propelled by DPOY Marc Gasol, who’s always focused on his job as a basket protector. Gasol is also very mobile. He can step out and contest shots, he can deflect balls, and really do it all on defense. As I said before, Tony Allen is the other top-notch defensive weapon on this Grizzly team. As long as these two fellows are logging good playing time, Memphis will remain a first-class defensive team.
Shooting (C+): At some point in the playoffs, if you aren’t a great shooting team, it’s going to show. It did just that when the Grizz met the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals. Pop and the Spurs gave Memphis all kinds of space from the outside because the Spurs were well-aware that was Memphis’ weak point. The only shooter the Grizz added is Mike Miller and he isn’t likely to get a whole lot of playing time.
Experience (A-): The impressive three-year run I mentioned at the beginning has given Memphis the necessary experience to make another deep run in the playoffs. Gasol and Conley are still young and Randolph and Allen are aging players who don’t give a step to their opponents.
Standing – 6th West: With the other Western Conference contenders getting stronger and stronger, Memphis is at risk to slip down the conference. There’s no doubt they’ll still be highly competitive. However, there are new and improved teams who arguably bring more to the table.