Grizzlies back to grind, look to speed up offense

The Grizzlies return the corps that led them to last season's conference finals. Will it be enough?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The Memphis Grizzlies are coming off the best season in franchise history after a trip to the Western Conference Finals. Before Memphis took off to Nashville for 2013-14 training camp, media day at FedExForum had plenty of chatter, mostly about basketball -- mostly.

Memphis’ best BBQ and music questions were not off-limits. Guard Jerryd Bayless even reversed his role, quizzing a reporter about rapper Pusha T. New additions and former Florida Gators Nick Calathes and Mike Miller confessed a combo love for rap and county. On the court, though ...

1. Memphis is building its team like the team that swept the Grizzlies out of the Western Conference Finals

Memphis majority owner Robert Pera is very open about where he wants this team to go. 

“What we’re trying to do is build kind of a culture and a system similar to like the Spurs did,” Pera said, “where you can have a great core, then plug and play pieces in that might not have been so great in the league, but they become great players. The Spurs have done that.”

San Antonio complements Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili with the likes of Danny Green, Matt Bonner and Gary Neal

Memphis, its bench production not where it needed to be, has added help -- and depth. Center Kosta Koufos traded his starting role in Denver to join Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph on the blocks. Amnestied by the Miami Heat, Miller returned to Memphis to add not only 3-point shooting, but rebounding and guard flexibility. From Europe, Calathes may be the much-desired backup point guard starter Mike Conley needs. 

Pera said there are strict professional basketball players and there are other basketball players. He knows which ones he wants here.

“Once you’re kind of inside (the NBA), you realize there’s also a lot of guys maybe playing basketball by default,” Pera said. “That’s where their talent led them, maybe for financial reasons. Maybe they don’t really love the game. They don’t approach it as true professionals. If you look at what the Spurs did, they created a culture of absolute professionals. 

“I think if you can create that culture, you can build a team that’s very cohesive, that can consistently compete for a championship for many years. We’d like to do that here. We’re starting to do it I think.”

2. Tony “Grindfather” Allen showing his new Grizzlies “Grindson” the way

There are only three players on Memphis’ preseason roster with double-digit years of experience. Tony Allen is close, with nine. One new face is trying to make sure when the old Grizzlies call it a career, one’s impact will remain.

Allen will rarely light up a scoreboard. He has averaged 8.9 points per game in his nine-year career. But he is the NBA’s most-feared defender. 

When San Diego State guard Jamaal Franklin fell into Memphis’ lap in the second round of the draft, Franklin quickly let it be known that he wants to be Allen’s understudy. 

“He’s been a big father figure,” Franklin said. “He’s been teaching me little tricks about playing defense. Tony Allen has definitely been the grindfather to his grindson so far.”

This offseason, Allen re-upped on a three-year deal to stay in Memphis. His presence has been a driving force in establishing Memphis’ grit-and-grind identity. The Grizzlies’ FedExForum home is appropriately nicknamed the Grind House.

Allen was named to his third straight All-Defensive First Team in May.

“I always encourage guys. If he wants to wear his hard hat every night like I do, then salute to him.” Allen said. “And I’m gonna help him.”


3. Grizzlies still plan to grind, just a little bit faster

New Memphis coach Dave Joerger says he plans to run things a little faster on the offensive end of the floor. 

It won’t be “vomit ball,” as Joerger likes to put it, but more of setting the offense with 20-plus seconds on the shot clock. But faster can naturally lead to less defense. Joerger doesn’t sound like he’ll get too fussy if it takes away a little bit from Memphis’ league-leading defensive numbers.

“By and large, when teams play slow, they are better defensively,” Joerger said. “I don’t expect our defense to go to (No.) 15. It may slip a couple spots, but what you’re always hoping is to have a top-10 offense and a top-10 defense.” 

Memphis led the league in points allowed (89.3) and held opponents to the third-lowest field goal percentage (.435) in the league last season. Center Marc Gasol is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. Gasol and Conley joined Allen on the NBA's All-Defensive roster, both on the second team.

But only nine teams scored fewer points than Memphis’ 93.4. Memphis wants more ... but don’t expect Oregon football.

“Uptempo doesn’t mean just to shoot fast,” Gasol said. “It means to get into your offense quicker, so you’ve got more time to find different options within that offense.”

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