2017-18 Preview: Memphis Grizzlies

By Darryl Howerton #21

The Grit-‘n-Grind Grizzlies lost some grey this year—not to mention a couple of O.G. GnG’ers when aging free agents Zach Randolph, Tony Allen as well as Vince Carter left Tennessee to pursue mentorship roles on younger franchises in Sacramento (Randolph and Carter) and New Orleans (Allen). With that transformation in place—and with a couple Kings added to the Grizzlies’ remix (Tyreke Evans and Ben McLemore)—highly respected head coach David Fizdale now has his second go-round at coaching up these Grizzlies his way after injuries to his key free-agent forward Chandler Parsons, threw a monkey wrench into the new-look Grizzlies’ plans last season. Parsons—the 29-year-old vet who Fizdale often described as a Swiss Army Knife for his ability to adapt to any situation—was limited to 20 minutes per game and forced to miss 48 contests in 2016-17 due to his third straight year of season-ending knee surgeries. Last March, after arthroscopic surgery to his left knee—the good knee—Parsons once again was focused on the rehab and is said to be in the best health since the 2014-15 season, where he posted an impressive +2.56 Real Plus-Minus score. Chandler’s weight is now down from 245 to a svelte 228, and hopes are up that he can be the third big-time catalyst on a team that features underrated quarterback Mike Conley and unsung defender Marc Gasol.

Grizzlies 2017-18 Ballhandlers Wings Bigs
Returners Mike Conley, Wade Baldwin, Andrew Harrison Chandler Parsons, James Ennis, Wayne Selden Marc Gasol, JaMychal Green, Brandan Wright, Jarell Martin, Deyonta Davis
Newcomers Mario Chalmers Ben McLemore, Tyreke Evans, Rade Zagorac
Gone Tony Allen, Vince Carter, Troy Daniels Zach Randolph 
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Offense: Before Memphis Grizzlies ownership lavished Conley with the richest NBA contract of its time last summer, Fizdale had already whispered sweet nothings into Conley’s ear about how he would become the offensive focus, lead a fast-paced Memphis squad and finally, deservedly play in his first All-Star Game. Well, none of that happened in Fizdale’s rookie head coaching stint in Memphis, with the Grizzlies playing the 28th-fastest pace (94.74 possessions per game) at 19th in offensive efficiency (104.7 points per 100 possessions). It wasn’t for a lack of effort or game-planning. Fizdale did stagger his veteran scoring bigs (Gasol and Randolph) in the starting and bench lineups, so that Conley could carry a bigger scoring load himself with the starters (his points per game rose from 15.3 to 20.5 as his playing time increased from 31.4 to 33.2 minutes per game). But the absence of Parsons and the age decline of four of the top six 30-something minutemen led to poorer results than anticipated. Granted, the Grizzlies got better-than-expected results in their three-point shooting game from Conley, Troy Daniels, Carter, Gasol and JaMychal Green. Still, it was not enough to lift a team that suffered the 26th-best true shooting percentage in the NBA (.535). Now, with Parsons at full strength and three-point imports on board (McLemore, Evans and Mario Chalmers), Memphis has a second crack at becoming the offense Fizdale and Conley envisioned more than a year ago.

Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Defense: The 2016-17 Grizzlies finished 43-39 in 2016-17 and landed the seventh seed in the West because of their seventh-rated defense, which allowed only 104.5 points per 100 possessions. If little else went right for Memphis last season, at least its grizzled vets knew they could rely on the Grizzlies’ trademark D, which transitioned quite well from the David Joerger to David Fizdale regime. Gasol, a 2012-13 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, is back to anchor the squadron, though the perimeters give up a bit when perennial All-D wing Allen is no longer there to harass scorers. Assistant J.B. Bickerstaff has been given more freedom to instill new principles with this younger players, and we’re already seeing a difference with the Grizz pressing ballhandlers more than before.

Upside: Lurking well below anyone’s radar is Memphis third-string power forward Deyonta Davis, who at age 20 only logged 238 NBA minutes his rookie season. We particularly liked the second-round, 31st pick of the 2016 NBA Draft, ranking him No. 8 amongst his draft peers and noting his special penchant for rebounding at Michigan State. The 6-11, 237-pound power forward may not become a starter this season, but that’s not to say he is worth more of a look after grabbing 60 rebounds in 238 minutes as a young NBA pro.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Durability: Starters Conley, Green and Gasol only missed a collective 26 games last year, meaning the team should be in decent hands as long as Parsons can fulfill his obligations. With a weak bench, Fizdale may be tempted to overplay his starters, which could become this team’s Achilles heel. Look for most of the Memphis subs to play career highs in minutes this season, just as many of them did last year.

Synergy: When novices often talk about the advantage big-market teams have over small-market squads in keeping their All-Stars, they often overlook the truth when Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard remain in San Antonio; Russell Westbrook stays in Oklahoma City; Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday stay in New Orleans. Or when Conley and Gasol stay in Memphis. Such is the case with the Grizzlies dynamic duo again, with Conley logging 25,075 career minutes in a Grizzly uniform, while Gasol has 24,061. Granted, the core unit has been broken up after a nice run, with long-timers Randolph and Allen gone. But Memphis too must reload, and it’s only a matter of time until Green, James Ennis and Andrew Harrison become the next grizzled vets to play bigger roles in this revised winning system of basketball.

Experience: Gasol and Conley have plenty of postseason experience, with Gasol having logged 2,344 playoff minutes to rank 32nd among active players, while Conley has 2,093 minutes to rate 36th among actives. Neither, however, has played in an Finals, with that lone distinction on this club belonging to Chalmers, who won 2012 and 2013 NBA championship rings as the starting point guard on the 2012 and 2013 NBA champion Miami Heat. There, he played under Fizdale, who was Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra’s assistant at the time.

Win Frame: 40-45 wins

2017-18 HOOP Season Preview

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