NBA season preview: Can Grizzlies finally break through in rugged West?
The Grizzlies’ regular-season success has been undeniable over the past five seasons, with only the Spurs and Thunder the only Western Conference teams to have more wins during that period than Memphis. But both of those teams have reached the Finals — San Antonio twice, including the 2013-14 title, and Oklahoma City once — while the Grizzlies have advanced past the second round one time.
The argument could be made that the game is passing Memphis by. Defined by the inside play of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, no team has hit fewer 3-pointers since 2010-11, and it’s a difference in style that was driven home last season as the Grizzlies were bounced by the eventual champion Warriors, who hit 43 treys to Memphis’ 12 over the final three games of their conference semifinal.
But the Grizzlies aren’t about to change their ways, and in fact doubled down, with their offseason centered (pun intended) around locking up All-NBA first-teamer Gasol to a five-year, max contract worth $110 million. It guaranteed Memphis will keep him for the prime of his career.
Behind arguably the league’s best frontcourt can Memphis break through and reach the Finals for the first time in franchise history?
There are a multitude of reasons why this could be the biggest steal of any free-agent signing. Memphis landed the 6-foot-10 veteran for $18 million over three years. By comparison, the Thunder spent $70 million over four years for Enes Kanter, who had a 20.3 efficiency rating to Wright’s 20.4 last year and a minus-2.3 defensive plus/minus, while Wright was at 2.4. Wright is going to prove a valuable commodity, providing depth as the Grizzlies try to keep Gasol and Randolph fresh and can provide strong production with career averages of 7.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. Durability has been an issue as the former seventh overall pick suffered through four injury-plagued seasons in Dallas, but he’s not being asked to be a foundation piece in Memphis. The deal for Matt Barnes ultimately generated more buzz, but this may end up being the smartest deal the Grizzlies made this past offseason.
17.4 — Gasol’s career-high points per game last season, which also happened to come in 33.2 minutes a night, a figure that was his lowest since 2010-11.
No. 2, No. 9 — The NBA ranking of defensive plus/minus for Tony Allen and Barnes, respectively, last season.
6 — Last season, Randolph became the sixth player to average at least 15 points and 10 rebounds in Year 14 or later. The others are Artis Gilmore, Moses Malone, Robert Parish, Charles Barkley and Pau Gasol.
There may not be a more daunting division in the NBA than the Southwest, what with the Spurs potentially getting better with the additions of LaMarcus Aldridge and David West, Anthony Davis emerging as maybe the league’s best player for the Pelicans and the Rockets still having the potent duo of Harden and Dwight Howard. All that being said, this remains one of the West’s best lineups and the addition of Barnes will only make the Grizzlies better defensively. It’s hard to imagine any scenario in which Memphis doesn’t extend its already franchise record run of five straight playoff appearances.
Gasol and Randolph go down. If by chance one of the bigs were lost, a unit comprised of Conley, Allen, Courtney Lee and Wright, with either Gasol or Randolph would probably still be strong enough to break through for an eighth seed. But lose both of them and the Grizzlies lose their entire identity. But Gasol has played in no fewer than 80 regular-season games in three of the past five years and Randolph has just one season of less than 71 since 2008-09. A playoffs without this unit just doesn’t seem likely.
PREDICITION: 58-24, 3rd seed, will reach conference finals
Follow Cory McCartney on Twitter @coryjmccartney
- Brandan Wright
- Chris Paul
- Courtney Lee
- Damian Lillard
- David West
- Dwight Howard
- Enes Kanter
- FOX Sports Tennessee
- Golden State Warriors
- Houston Rockets
- James Harden
- Jeff Teague
- Kyrie Irving
- LaMarcus Aldridge
- LeBron James
- Marc Gasol
- Matt Barnes
- Memphis Grizzlies
- Mike Conley
- Oklahoma City Thunder
- Pau Gasol
- San Antonio Spurs
- Stephen Curry
- Tony Allen
- Zach Randolph