Mike Conley and Marc Gasol have been here before, uniting on a 24-58 team 10 years ago, only to slowly rebuild the franchise into one of the NBA’s top six winning teams in the 2010s decade. The Grizzlies, who peaked by qualifying for the 2013 West Finals, made seven straight playoff appearances during this decade.
Now, following a 22-60 falloff last season and a two-year roster overhaul, Conley and Gasol remain the remnants of that 2013 squad. With an injection of youngsters Jaren Jackson, Kyle Anderson and Dillon Brooks at their side, they are here to rebuild once again.
|Returners||Mike Conley, Andrew Harrison||Dillon Brooks, Chandler Parsons, Wayne Selden, MarShon Brooks||Marc Gasol, JaMychal Green|
|Newcomers||Shelvin Mack, Garrett Temple, Jevon Carter||Kyle Anderson, Omri Casspi||Jaren Jackson, Ivan Rabb|
|Gone||Mario Chalmers, Kobi Simmons||Ben McLemore, Myke Henry||Jarell Martin, Deyonta Davis, Omari Johnson|
Offense: Under former coach David Fizdale, Conley was supposed to be a push-the-pace point guard, but that never really materialized. More likely than not, Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff will return this unit to what it has always been since Gasol was the giant center of the team: a slow-paced offensive squad that was built on patience and defense. Oh sure, the 31-year-old Conley may return to his scoring ways, especially since he already is the best scorer on the team, averaging 20 points per game in his last 81 contests over the last two seasons. Conley says his heel is 100 percent healed and he only needs to play himself into shape to get rust-free and also return to his standard level of play.
At age 33, his longtime teammate Gasol has shown little to no signs of decline, still averaging his 17 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists that we’ve come to expect from the man who also once won the Defensive Player of the Year award six seasons ago. With the offense running through these two alternatively, the Grizzlies should be able to climb out of the bottom 10 rankings where they fell sans Conley in 2017-18.
What Memphis lacks in scorers, they make up with in unselfish, court savviness in players like Anderson, Jackson and Mario Chalmers. The Memphis braintrust is hoping the unselfishness and added passing will lead to better shot selection and three-point efficiency, which dipped pretty low last year at 9.2 treys per game at .352 percentage.
Defense: Grit ‘n Grind should return to Memphis, if not through the teachings of Gasol and Conley, then at least through the play of elite, young defenders like center Jackson, along with wings Brooks and Anderson. The three offer the length that embodies 21stCentury basketball and each already has the proven spirit of a defensive stopper, even though they are only 19, 22 and 25 years old, respectively.
With Jackson and Gasol, Memphis never needs to be without a center on the floor. And since Jackson is so fleet afoot, he also has the skills to play the four spot alongside Gasol, giving Memphis the best defensive frontline they’ve had in franchise history.
Mixed with wings Anderson and Brooks, who are both capable of guarding three or four different positions, and all of a sudden Bickerstaff has more flexibility in his lineups than he has ever had previously.
Upside: Jaren Jackson Jr., son of the former San Antonio Spur Jaren Jackson, is one of the most elite prospects in the NBA, best evidenced by his draft position (fourth in the 2018 NBA Draft) while also being among the League’s youngest players (just turned 19 last month). The power forward-center’s defensive rim-protection skills is what got him drafted so high, but do not sleep on his offensive game, which is pretty good, too. Brooks is another with a world of potential, after playing all 82 games as a rookie, starting 74 contests and ranking second on the team in minutes played (2300), only trailing three-time All-Star center and mentor Gasol. The 6-6 wing has already established himself as quite the glue guy. And then there is old rookie, Jevon Carter, who at age 23 already has the respect of his mentor, Conley.
Durability: The 31-year-old Conley is not feeling any pain in his heel this preseason, which allows him now to focus solely on getting his body into basketball shape. The 33-year-old Gasol has aged well, playing in 73-plus games in three of his four thirty-something seasons. The rookie Brooks came up big for Memphis last season, playing 2350 minutes in all 82 games. Eighth-year pro Chandler Parsons is the one enigma on the team who has been unable to consistently play, missing the majority of his previous two seasons in Memphis with knee injuries. But after participating in Dr. Peter Wehling’s Regenokine blood-spinning procedure in Germany this summer, Parsons is hoping his level of desperation pays off in results on the court in games played and off the court in pain free.
Synergy: You would be hard-pressed to find two NBA stars as loyal to their organization as Conley and Gasol, who currently rank sixth and seventh among recent players in minutes played with one team. The others? Quite an impressive list: San Antonio’s Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili; Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki; L.A.’s Kobe Bryant; Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook. So now, one wonders, can Conley and Gasol rebuild this 22-win franchise, just as they did with a 24-win franchise a decade ago? I don’t see why not, especially since other organizational fixtures like Green, Harrison, Chalmers and Brooks are in place.
Experience: Memphis dropped from sixth to 10thin wins this decade following last season’s disastrous 22-60 finish. But until then, the house that Gasol and Conley built was in the same neighborhood as Oklahoma City, Golden State, Miami and Houston, which all trailed San Antonio in winning percentage from the 2009-10 through the 2016-17 seasons. Now, ensconced in 10th—just behind the Clippers, Celtics, Bulls and Blazers—Memphis will rely on Gasol and Conley to dig them out of the hole once again. Both have 2,000-plus postseason minutes and rank amongst the top 50 active players in playoff minutes. The center and point guard return with 2017 playoff teammates Green, Harrison and Wayne Selden to get the job done.
Win Frame: 31 to 35 wins