PACE #14 94.7
OFFENSE: #16 104.4
DEFENSE: #8 102.5
In the first half of last season, Memphis looked like to go for a pretty average season for them, with a 19-23 record by January 19. Even though they were showing a lot of potential, they were being incredibly inconsistent and in point in December, they lost 4 games in a row, followed by 4 wins in a row and then, 3 more losses in a row. OJ Mayo was struggling and in February, they lost Rudy Gay for the season. So, it’s quite remarkable that this very same team finished the regular season on a 27-13 run. Then, they knocked down the #1 seed San Antonio in 6 games, in a series where they were in position of winning all six games played! They followed this huge upset with a great fight in the conference semi-finals against Oklahoma City, where they eventually lost the 7th and decisive game of the series.
With or without Rudy Gay, Memphis’ offense was just average. They were a quite physical team, always ready to attack the basket and the truth is that they were 1st in the league in points in the paint per game, with 51.2 ppg. The problem was located on the outside shooting, where they were the 4th worst team in 3pts% with 33.4% and 24th in shooting from 16-23 feet with 38.4%. However, Memphis was the team that most possessions created for their offense, as not only they were the best team in the league in forcing turnovers, with an opp. TO/rate of 15.69% as consequently helped the Grizzlies in being the 4th best team in fast break points per game with 16.5 ppg, as they were also the 6th best team in offensive rebounding, with an OR/rate of 28.89%!
The solution for the struggles in the perimeter may exactly be Rudy Gay, as he was having career highs in FG% (47.1%) and 3pts% (39.6%) when he got injured last season. In order for Memphis to consolidate as a top team, they need to improve their outside shooting and they are counting on Gay for such improvement and they even realized the potential importance of OJ Mayo and they rejected Indiana’s trade proposal for him, as he can be a X factor to give Randolph and Gasol some relief from the outside.
If Memphis was an average offensive team, it’s obvious that the key for their great season was indeed their defense. Memphis wasn’t a top 10 team in terms of interior defense, as they were 13th in points in the paint allowed with 40.3 ppg and 21st in FG% allowed at the rim with 64.9%.However, Memphis decided to defend straight up the opposing big men, so they could unleash their perimeter defense! Memphis led the league in steals per game with 9.4 spg, with Tony Allen having a pivotal role in turning Memphis into one pesky defensive team. When the playoffs came, the Spurs were automatically in trouble as San Antonio was a more perimeter offensive team during the regular season and the Grizzlies simply shut down them. In the following round, OKC didn’t have any real interior offensive threat and obviously Memphis made both Durant and Westbrook work hard for seven games.
Memphis secured Marc Gasol for the future with a long term deal, but curiously the Spanish player had a down regular season when compared to the previous year: fewer points per game, worse FG% and less rebounds per game. However, his importance against the Spurs on his matchup with Tim Duncan was crucial. Gasol reminded Duncan that he is not on his prime anymore and he proved to be one of the few big men in the league who can defend anyone without any help, while he’s offensively skilled enough to create his own shot. Also his presence in the middle lifted Zach Randolph. Zbo was once again a beast. He can’t dunk, but he gets the right spots to both score and rebound and the result of that was 20.1ppg while shooting 50.3% FG – for the first time in a long time (8 seasons), he was able to shoot above the 50% FG mark! At the same time, he grabbed 12.1 rebounds per game – only Love and Howard had a better rebounding average than him! We can expect this duo to dominate once again this season all around the league, as they don’t look weaker than any other frontcourt duo in the league right now, Bynum/Gasol included. Unfortunately, Darrell Arthur suffered a bad injury and he will be out for the season, so the depth behind Gasol and Zbo will be really thin and I don’t think the Grizzlies can reach the elite level without more depth in the frontcourt.
Mike Conley might not be the next Chris Paul, but he had arguably his best season as a pro last year. He improved in almost every relevant statistic, but I highlight his jump in the assists department to 6.5 apg and steals with 1.8 spg – all career highs!
Memphis is considered one of the best teams in the West after their great performances in the playoffs last season. Rudy Gay is their best season “acquisition” and their backcourt is loaded. With more depth in the frontcourt, they have the potential of being really good this season. However, inconsistency may be a problem again. We are talking about a team who went 16-25 on the road last season, but still the Grizzlies that will surely be in the playoffs this season. I have some doubts about their high ceiling, but they are still a young team on the rise.