$152 Million But Are the Grizzlies Contenders?

New Faces: Deyonta Davis (R),Wayne Selden (R), Troy Williams (R), Wade Baldwin (R), Chandler Parsons

2015-16 Regular Season Record: 42-40

2015-16 Regular Season Achievements: 6th: Steals. 8th: Offensive Rebounding. 9th: Free Throw Percentage.

Leading Scorer: Marc Gasol, 16.6

Leading Rebounder: Zach Randolph, 7.8

Is this a new era in Memphis Grizzlies basketball? For the past few years they have been known as a tough, physical defensive club who can grind the hell out of games making you numb just watching them. With Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the post and Mike Conley circling the drain like dishwashing liquid, and Tony Allen beating you up, the refs let the Grizzlies get away with pushing teams around. It was their identity and they played it well.

But last year, there was a crack in the foundation. The vaunted defense? Not so much. The Grizzlies were 22nd in three point defense, 23rd in two point defense, last in rebounding. They looked too slow for the quick league, lacking explosiveness. For the first time Zach Randolph looked like Father Time had began to take an ax to his legs. He had a 10-year low in offensive rebounding, a 13-year low in defensive rebounding, a 13-year low in total rebounding, a 14-year low in steals. Is Father Time about to break the window in the Zach Randolph house?

He is 35 years old. He has logged hard minutes as a NBA power forward. His best days are behind him. He was never the most athletic or explosive player, he relied on wits, intelligence and skill. But routine Randolph plays failed him last year and this year new Grizz coach David Fizdale is sending Randolph to the bench to save his legs during the long and grueling season. It makes you wonder how much left is in the Randolph tank?

JaMychal Green is the Randolph replacement. Green has yet to light the NBA up with anything but he is athletic and explosive. But, really. Green vs. Blake Griffin? Green vs. LaMarcus Aldridge? Green vs. fill in the blank? Randolph may be a little slower but he still knows how to use that body of his to stop offensive players in their tracks, to make their job a helluva lot tougher. Furthermore, Randolph and Marc Gasol have incredible chemistry. It feels like the Randolph to the bench is an experiment that by mid-season may reverse itself.

Complicating matters is the Grizz addition of Chandler Parsons. Parsons is a one-trick pony. He’s a dynamite perimeter scorer, a nice passer in the lane and every now and then he can put the ball on the floor and take it to the rack. But his defense would be horrific if he tried to play it. He doesn’t. He guards absolutely no one. He makes a basic effort. His rotations are late and slow. It was Chandler Parsons who was late on defense in the first round of the 2014 playoffs. The game was tied and his apathy allowed Damian Lillard to break free and score a series ending three pointer to give the Blazers the win and vault Lillard into stardom.

So what you have here is a front court with an apathetic Parsons who has had knee surgery so his quickness is questionable and a very wet behind the ears JaMychal Green. One has to guard Kevin Durant. The other has to match wits with the versatile Draymond Green. Let’s look at this without trying to laugh.

Chandler Parsons was ranked 41st last year when measuring defensive impact. He was worse than Danilo Galinari and Joe Ingles. JaMychal Green was ranked 74th. He was worse than Kris Humphries and Anthony Tolliver. In that same Real Defensive Plus-Minus metric Zach Randolph was ranked 82nd out of 94 power forwards. His defense wasn’t playoff caliber but he brought things on the offensive end that JaMychal Green who is still a young player can’t.

Do the Grizzlies still see themselves as contenders?

They must. They bid against themselves and paid what no other team would pay a player who has never been an All-Star. The Mike Conley contract is ridiculous and will be an albatross around his neck. $152 million means you are the best player in the NBA. You are a MVP candidate. Conley is neither. Nor is he a 30 point, 12 assist player. He’ll never be able to live up to the contract stat wise. What he can do is lead the Grizzlies to the WCF and to make the right play and/or the right shot late. While it was a huge gamble and faith in Conley, it also has unintended consequences. It latches on to him a boatload of pressure he has never had before.

Marc Gasol is returning which is the good news in the Grizzlies world. Gasol has a bone bruise in his foot that will keep him out the rest of the preseason but he is still expected on opening night. They need him. Gasol is still their best player, their best passer, their most consistent scorer, their best defender. He’s tied with Conley and Tony Allen as their toughest player. Not having Randolph in the starting lineup means Gasol will regularly get double teamed which is no problem for Gasol. He’ll just pass out of it. Green will be open. Can he make open shots? Can Green post up his man? Can he put the ball on the floor and finish through the contact? That is the elephant in the room. It’s not about Conley or Gasol. It’s about the Memphis others.

Prediction: 45-37


photo via llananba