The changing of the guard during the offseason, from old veterans to young prospects, led many to believe that the end of the Memphis Grizzlies Grit ‘N Grind era was here. At their peak, the Grizzlies were a team who would stop the heavyweights by slowing down the pace of the game to a snail’s crawl, restricting opponents to comparatively low point totals. They were the dangerous team who snatched two games from the seemingly unstoppable Warriors just two seasons ago in the Western Conference playoffs. Their defensive rocks in that series, Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, departed this Memphis offseason which was only fitting given their mid-30s age. This led to the Grizzlies being projected at 10th in the Western Conference in the pre-season evaluation.
Surprise, surprise. The Grizzlies have achieved and have had an extremely impressive start to the 2017-18 season. They have made one thing clear: while the Grit ‘N Grind philosophy may no longer be the underlying core of their playing style, it still thrives in their attitude. The Grizzlies mentality should push them far above their predicted position, and potentially even make some noise in the playoffs.
The new-look team has assumed a modified style of play. They have begun to launch a far higher number of three-pointers this season, jumping three spots to 11th in the league in attempts per game so far this season. The improvement, however, starts with the returning players who saw little playing time last season.
|Grizz Reincarnation||3-Point Attempts|
Chandler Parsons has showed glimpses of the potential he once demonstrated in Dallas, and has thrived in the role of the sixth man for the team. James Ennis and Brandan Wright are performing far better than they ever have. Andrew Harrison has demonstrated an ability to be a versatile and (modern) point guard, given his size at the position. Mario Chalmers has added vital shooting and passing to the backcourt. Tyreke Evans has shown flashes of his Rookie of the Year campaign. The reputation already garnered by rookie Dillon Brooks cannot be dismissed either. He’s provided excellent offense for the Grizzlies off the bench, and has regularly shown an ability to provide helpful contributions in crunch time. They all fit into Coach David Fitzdale’s system with tremendous ease, and have contributed to the Grizzlies reputation of a well-oiled machine with a host of ways to break their opponents down.
Not only have their additions exceeded expectations, their marquee players look better than ever. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley have been having MVP-caliber starts to the season. While their talents have never been doubted, the pair have often been overlooked during selections for All-NBA and All-Star honors, though much of this comes down to the fact that their impact is felt more in terms of the win than in the box score.
It’s not surprising that the Grizzlies could pose threats to some of the bigger teams in the West. They’ve already racked up impressive wins against the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets, and currently sit in a playoff spot. Given their ability to guard all five positions well, they are particularly threatening to teams who rely on bombing a large number of shots from deep. This defensive identity matches up with many teams near the top of the West, such as the Warriors, Rockets, and Thunder.
The Grizzlies have thus far demonstrated a grit and resilience from top to bottom, something that wasn’t expected when the heart and soul of their team in Randolph and Allen were removed. This characteristic is particularly difficult to play against, as on a good day, the flair of the Grizzlies is hard to match. They’ll win every loose ball, match every point scored in the dying minutes, contest every jumper, crash every offensive board with unmatched determination.
With this mentality, the Grizzlies should climb above less experienced and motivated teams such as the Nuggets and the Jazz, and could just wind up sitting in the 5th seed spot – the exact same spot they were in last year.
As the West got tougher and the Grizzlies seemed to lose their personality, they did just what was expected from a team engraved in a Grit ‘N Grind system. They may have had to pivot to a whole new style of play but they clenched their teeth, tied their laces, and stepped on the court with an unmatched desire to win. And it looks like it could take them much farther than expected.
photo via llananba