When Marc Gasol sprained his MCL on November 22, it seemed as if the Memphis Grizzlies season was over. Not only was Memphis going to be without their second best offensive option, but they would be missing one of the best low-post defenders in the NBA. Yet, despite playing in an ultra-competitive Western Conference, the Griz were able to tread water during Gasol’s nearly eight week absence. Thanks in large part to stellar play by Mike Conley (averaging nearly 17.9 points and 6.2 assists per game) and the ever-reliable Zach Randolph (averaging 17.3 points and 10.3 rebounds per game), the Grizzlies were able to stay within striking distance.
Now, Gasol (or as my friend Nolan calls him, Big Spanish) is back and Memphis appears poised to make a run at a playoff spot in the West. They find themselves trailing Phoenix by two games for the eighth seed and Dallas by just 2.5 games for the seventh seed. Along with the consistent play of Conley and Randolph, Memphis has relied on a ground-and-pound style to win games. Memphis plays at the slowest pace in the NBA, averaging 92.11 possessions per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. Memphis’ slow pace results from an offensive system that focuses on getting low-post touches for their bigs. In fact, both Randolph and Gasol rank in the top five in touches within 12 feet of the rim per game (Randolph 7.3, Gasol 7.9), per NBA.com. The Grizzlies are particularly effective offensively when they utilize Marc Gasol’s excellent passing skills in the low post, as you can see from this clip.
While the Griz do a good job of running their offensive through the low-post, they are abysmal from behind the arc. Their poor three-point shooting could turn out to be the reason why the Griz fall short of the playoffs. Memphis takes the fewest three-point field goal attempts per game in the NBA at 14.2 attempts and makes just 34.3% of them, the fifth worst percentage in the league, per NBA.com. These statistics make the rumors of buyout-candidate Jimmer Fredette landing with the Griz seem more likely. Not only would Jimmer provide a credible shooting threat from, but he would also fill the backup point guard role. A role that has been open since Memphis traded Jerryd Bayless to the Celtics earlier this season. Three-point shooting
Memphis will play a handful of quality opponents down the stretch, including games against Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Indiana, and two against Miami. They would likely need to at least split these six games to stay in the hunt. Moreover, in a perfect bit of NBA scheduling, Memphis closes its season with games against Phoenix and Dallas. These games could very well decide who will hold the final two seeds in the Western Conference
If the Grizzlies do make the playoffs, they will prove a difficult matchup for any of the top seeds. Largely, this stems from the unique style of basketball they play. The popular trend of playing small-ball lineups never made it to Memphis. Rather, the Griz will continue to bully opponents down low and take advantage of their size. The Grizzles have a solid rotation of four bigs (Gasol, Randolph, Koufos, Davis), that can provide quality defense and excellent rebounding. The Spurs, currently the second seed in the West, must be particularly nervous about a first round matchup with the Grizzlies. Memphis has competed well against San Antonio in the playoffs over the past decade (sans last year’s beat down) and has the opportunity to take advantage of an older, oft-injured Spurs squad.
The Griz are one of my sleepers this season. If they get in the dance, they are a team that has the potential to make a deep run. Despite currently holding a pedestrian 31-24 record, no one will want to play the Griz come playoff time. Not even these guys.
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