Preview: Memphis Grizzlies

2017-18 Memphis Grizzlies


Projected Record: 40-42 (11th in West)

Over/Under: 39.5

2016: 43-39 (7th in West)


Key Additions:

  • G/F Tyreke Evans
  • G Ben McLemore
  • G Mario Chalmers
  • F Ivan Rabb
  • G Dillon Brooks

Key Subtractions:

  • G Tony Allen
  • F Zach Randolph
  • G/F Vince Carter

Summary

Strengths:

  • Gasol and Conley

Weaknesses:

  • Much of roster is inexperienced, unproven
  • Heavy burden on stars

The era is sadly changing for the Memphis Grizzlies, who have been one of the NBA’s most unique teams over the past several seasons. While the rest of the league embraced the spread offense and higher rates of three-point shooting, the Grizzlies embraced the grind, lining up behind gritty veterans like Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to wear teams down with physicality and their slower pace of play. Randolph and Allen are wearing different uniforms now, though, and this team’s identity feels much less clear than it has in the past several years.

Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are much too talented for this team to truly drop into the gutter, provided they each stay healthy – and that’s no guarantee. Beyond those two, though, exactly who on this team can contribute is unclear. I’ve always given Tyreke Evans a little more credit than most because I find his versatility valuable, but as a #3 option? I don’t know. Chandler Parsons returning to health would help quite a bit, but how can you count on that? It could work out that JaMychal Green ends up the Grizzlies third-most-valuable player this season, and while that would speak to Green’s personal growth as a player, it might also show just how thin the Grizzlies stand to be this season.

I can’t bring myself to drop Memphis too far below .500 because they have the requisite star power and David Fisdale is going to have them playing as hard as they ever have, but at some point, it’s just a matter of not having enough talent. Is their backup point guard really going to be Mario Chalmers, who hasn’t played in over a full season?

Can rookie Ivan Rabb contribute anything right away, and is 21-year-old Wade Baldwin ready to make some strides as an NBA player? I’m not willing to write off Baldwin yet, but the Grizzlies haven’t drafted a good player in the first round that they wound up keeping since Conley in 2007. At some point, striking out in the first round every year – regardless of draft position – takes its toll, and it feels like this team is really feeling that hit right now. There just aren’t enough hands on deck.

[Post-Writing Update: The Grizzlies evidently intend to waive or trade Wade Baldwin before the season. I can’t pretend to understand why. I’d rather have the 21-year-old than Mario Chalmers post-knee surgery.]

You have to ask the question of whether or not it would behoove the Grizzlies to blow this thing up and take a few years to rebuild, but it doesn’t seem like a very Memphis thing to do. I do respect that. They’re going to be a borderline playoff team this season, even in the Western Conference, and they’ll create some problems for the NBA’s top contenders at times. I just don’t think I believe the ceiling of this roster is very high, and immediate reinforcements don’t seem to be on the way for their two stars.


Most Valuable Player: Marc Gasol, Mike Conley

Perhaps no team in basketball is as dependent on two players as the Memphis Grizzlies will be on Marc Gasol and Mike Conley this season. Each of the two had career-best seasons last year in guiding the Grizzlies to a playoff berth, and they may have to be even better this year to compete in a Western Conference that has only gotten better around them. I love Conley’s calm composure running the point, and Gasol remains this team’s tone-setter – even adding a three-point shot last year, with 251 more attempts than his previous career high – but it feels like this roster may not have enough help for the pair to accomplish much… and let’s not even consider if one of them gets hurt.

X Factor: Chandler Parsons

Parsons has been a shell of himself since his return from injury last season; he was one of the worst players to take the court for significant minutes in the NBA last season. The Grizzlies simply need him. He’s making over $20 million per season over the next three years, and the scoring touch he showed with the Mavericks could really lift a roster that needs every point it can get. Is Parsons finally healthy, and if so, will he look anything like the player he used to be? Neither question is a lock right now.


Conclusion

The Grizzlies will be good enough thanks to the contributions of (when healthy) Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, but perhaps “good enough” is a little too good for a thin roster that feels like it needs to be rebuilt. The Grizzlies just haven’t drafted well in a long time, and it really reflects in a roster that could use some reinforcements. Perhaps Tyreke Evans will excel as a secondary creator alongside the two stars, and maybe Chandler Parsons returns to some level of health after what was essentially a lost season last year due to his injuries, but it doesn’t seem to be enough. The West is as good as it has ever been, and the Grizzlies lack the depth to truly compete there.

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