The Grizzlies are a good-but-not elite team that boasts of great defense and interior scoring. But is their cast enough to make the leap into contending?
The Grizzlies have two strengths, the first of which is their defense. They were 5th in the NBA in points allowed per game, at 93.0 per, while leading the league in both steals (631) and forced turnovers (1,130). They Grizzlies play some of the best off-the-ball defense in the NBA, picking steals by clogging lanes and pressuring the ball. They have a great compliment of perimeter defenders (Mike Conley, Tony Allen), lengthy passing lane agitators (Rudy Gay) and size in the middle (Marc Gasol). The great thing about the Grizzlies defense is that while they've proved to be one of the top defensive-minded teams in the NBA, they really will only get better from here. It will be great to see their continued improvement on defense.
An issue some teams have is that their best defenders are their worst offensive players. Tony Allen, Memphis' stopper, fits that definition. But Lionel Hollins has been able to find a balance that doesn't rely on Allen too much. In fact, at times you'll see Twitter imploring Hollins to re-insert Allen in the fourth quarter of a tight game. But the coach grasps the trade-off, and unlike many other coaches, is OK sacrificing some measure of defense -- and trust me, [Mayo - Allen] is a big ol' sacrifice defensively -- for a boost to the team's average offense. Hollins understands his team and its needs.
The other problem they have had is that nobody is really sure who "the man" is on this team. Two years ago, with Rudy Gay sidelined for most of the spring, it was Z-Bo who put the team on his shoulders and carried them. Last year, with Randolph out for most of the lockout-shortened season, it was usually Rudy who was the driving force for the team. This year, with (hopefully) both of them healthy, it will be interesting to see just who grabs the reins and takes charge of this team. One of the reasons this is so important is that a team needs a focal point during a tough stretch, someone they can look to when things are going south and need to be turned around. The Thunder have Durant, the Mavs have Dirk, the Lakers have Kobe, etc. Who will be that guy?
This is where Rudy Gay comes in. Ever since signing a five-year, $82 million contract in 2010, Gay has been the closest thing to a franchise player on this roster. But he's not quite worth his contract, and so he's cast in the difficult position of being too good to lose, but not good enough to live up to his price. That's why we will always see his name in trade rumors, much like we did this summer. And when you look at the Grizzlies' future salary commitments -- Gay, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley are slated to make $58.8 million all by themselves next year, which is roughly the value of the salary cap -- you realize that something has to give. Either Gay goes, or the Grizzlies suck it up and pay a hefty luxury-tax bill.