Into the Bears’ Den: The most ‘Grit ‘n’ Grind’ non-Grizzlies in the NBA

May 25, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Golden State Warriors guard Andre Iguodala (9) drives to the basket as Houston Rockets guard Pablo Prigioni (9) defends during the second half in game four of the Western Conference Finals of the NBA Playoffs. at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies have been known for their ‘Grit ‘n’ Grind style of play, so we took a look at the most gritty players in the NBA to have never played for Memphis for this weeks ‘Into the Bears’ Den.’

Size and fame doesn’t define one’s ability to display their grit and grind on a basketball court, so our selections for the grittiest non-Grizzlies in the NBA range from the likes of the low-key Pablo Prigioni to a former NBA Finals MVP. Check out our selections from Parker Fleming, Ian Pierno, Mike Parrott, Taylor Buckley and Jacob Collins for this week’s “Into the Bears’ Den” Memphis Grizzlies roundtable.

Wesley Matthews

Dec 18, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Wesley Matthews (23) dribbles past Memphis Grizzlies forward Jeff Green (32) during the second half at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

By Parker Fleming (@PAKA_FLOCKA)

Wes Matthews may be the only player that fits both the “Modern NBA” and “Grit and Grind” models. At 6’5” and 220 pounds, Matthews is a brute 2-guard who can defend positions 1-3 at a high enough level to be considered a “3-and-D” guard. While his career steals average don’t scream “elite,” Matthews uses his strength and build to harass opponents on the perimeter.

In addition to his stellar perimeter defense, he uses his sheer strength to bully smaller defenders in the post.

How does all this relate to the Memphis Grizzlies’ mantra of ‘Grit ‘n’ Grind’? Well, Wesley Matthews is a bully. The Grizzlies’ core of Tony Allen, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph bully their opponents through hard-nosed defense and old-school post games. Therefore, Wesley Matthews would be a hand-in-glove fit with the Grizzlies. Heck, the Grizzlies probably would have pursued him heavier had he not ruptured his achilles in the 2014-2015 season.

Aside from ‘Grit ‘n Grind,’ Matthews would also cure the Memphis Grizzlies’ weakness: perimeter shooting. His career 3-point percentage of 38.7 is impressive; what’s even more impressive is that he has shot 5.4 3s a game in his career. Because of his prolific perimeter shooting, he would provide space for a clustered offense.

Matthews would be the perfect shooting guard to transition from Tony Allen. While it looks unlikely, one could dream of him doing his amazing 3-point celebration while sporting Beale Street blue.

Pablo Prigioni

Jan 7, 2015; Washington, DC, USA; New York Knicks guard Pablo Prigioni (9) dribbles past Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal (3) during the third quarter at Verizon Center. Washington Wizards defeated New York Knicks 101-91. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

By Ian Pierno (@IanPierno)

As a lifelong fan of the New York Knicks, finding out that Pablo Prigioni was leaving the team via a trade to the Houston Rockets was one of the saddest days of my fandom. During his first year with the Knicks, Prigioni lacked what most rookies had to their advantage: athleticism. Making his NBA debut as a 35-year-old from Argentina, Prigioni made up for everything he lacked in speed, size and talent in heart, intelligence and drive. He never averaged over 20 minutes per game with New York (though, he did start in 48 games), but his pest-like annoyance and nose for the ball provided a spark to whoever else was with him on the court.

No inbounds pass was ever safe with Prigioni on the floor. No walk up to the offensive end was a leisurely stroll when Prigioni was marking you. The way this one role player could swing the momentum of a game is like no other I’ve seen. Harassing his opponents to dislodge the ball, Prigioni’s vision with the ball allowed him to quickly dish passes with only one touch to finish off the play.

Sure, there were times Prigioni was crossed up, times he was blown past by younger, quicker and more agile players, but his feet were never flat on the ground. If there was ever a player who defined ‘Grit ‘n’ Grind’ basketball, it was this guy.

Numbers can’t define what Prigioni brings to the court, but his career steals per 36 minutes of 2.1 is barely lower than Tony Allen’s, one of the top pure defenders of this generation of basketball, mark of 2.3.

Prigioni is suiting back up with Houston after a stint in Los Angeles, and despite closing in on his 40th birthday, the man has still got it.

Luol Deng

Feb 20, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat forward Luol Deng (9) looks to pass the ball as Washington Wizards forward Otto Porter Jr. (22) defends during the second half at American Airlines Arena. The Heat won 114-94. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

By Mike Parrott (@MikeParrott_)

This is more based on the Luol Deng of the Chicago Bulls and Tom Thibodeau, not the versions that have featured on the likes of the Heat and Cavaliers. Deng was a huge player for the contending Chicago Bulls 3-6 years ago, mostly known for his ability to play off the ball, and his ability to shut down opposing teams’ top player. He was an All-Star for two years, 2012 and 2013, however that was due to his iron-man abilities and defense, never his offense.

Deng fits the Memphis Grizzlies’ ‘Grit ‘n’ Grind’ style due to him relying on his sheer will rather than natural basketball talent. He was never a good shooter shown with his a .344 3-point percentage for his career and has been known for shooting the inefficient long 2 (30.3 percent of his shots were between 16 feet and the 3-point line). 

In the 2011-12 season, Deng was named to the All-Defensive 2nd team and was always known to guard the best opposing player on the court. This is also shown with his defensive win shares. In his All-D year, he was 13th in the NBA with DWS (defensive win-shares), and 4th amongst forwards. In 2010-11, when the Bulls made the Eastern Conference Finals, Deng was 4th in the NBA in DWS, only trailing Dwight Howard, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James.

His iron-man abilities are some of the best we’ve seen in the NBA since Allen Iverson retired (averaged 41 MPG for his career).  Known for being Thibodeau’s favourite player, He played a huge amount of minutes per game, 39.1 MPG in three full seasons under Thibs.

Besides being the reason I got into basketball, Deng is the embodiment of grit and grind. He’s the embodiment of Memphis Grizzlies basketball.

J.J. Redick

Apr 25, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4) looks towards the bench for direction against the Portland Trail Blazers in game four of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at Moda Center at the Rose Quarter. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

By Taylor Buckley (@sctaylor94)

I know what you’re thinking, “J.J. is too flashy to be ‘Grit n Grind’ material,” well you’re wrong. J.J. is of course known for his flashy shooting and his good looks, which you normally wouldn’t use to describe ‘Grit ‘n’ Grind’ players. You’d normally think of scrappy, more edgy players like Tony Allen and Zach Randolph. But Redick fits probably better than you think.

He does whatever it takes to win. Whether it’s diving after loose balls to save possessions to stepping up on defense when he draws the opponent’s best player. One example that comes to mind is James Harden, Redick takes Harden out of his game by playing tough, hard-nosed defense without fouling. He always does his part to help his team win, he always puts the team first, whether or not he is recognized for it.

While his flashy offensive style does necessary fit right now, it’s exactly what the Memphis Grizzlies should want. A premier perimeter threat to go along with the ‘Grit ‘n’ Grind’ attitude of hard-nosed basketball, Redick will always get the job done. He puts aside personal gain for betterment of the team, sure sounds like ‘Grit ‘n’ Grind’ to me.

Andre Iguodala

June 2, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala (9) controls the ball against Cleveland Cavaliers guard Iman Shumpert (4) during the second half in game two of the NBA Finals at Oracle Arena. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

By Jacob Collins (@jacobcollins34)

Elite perimeter defender? Check. Hard nosed and edgy attitude? Check. Sketchy history of perimeter shooting? DING DING DING! Iggy would make for a perfect ‘Grit ‘n’ Grind Memphis Grizzlies player. Slide him in at the wing with Tony Allen and this team would have been able to downright strangle ball movement of opposing perimeter players.

That piece of Iggy being a sketchy perimeter shooter is valid but I was surprised to check out some of his splits (shoutout to the guys at For Denver in the 12-13 season (the year the Grizzlies made the Western Conference Finals) Iguodala averaged 13/5/5 on 51/31/57 splits. The number that stands out is how poor of a free throw shooting season he had and in that specific season he had one of his career worst 3-point shooting seasons.

Could he have been that missing piece? It is incredibly unlikely that Memphis would have been able to acquired Iguodala. He was traded from Philadelphia in the failed Andrew Bynum trade. Memphis wouldn’t have been able to get him without breaking up their core…or could they have? This was the same season that saw the Grizz give the boot to Rudy Gay. Interesting what they may have been able to do with a full season of Iggy beside Tony Allen and Mike Conley in the backcourt.

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