2014-15 IN REVIEW
2nd in Southwest Division
5th in Western Conference
The 2014-15 NBA season marked the third consecutive year where the Memphis Grizzlies accumulated 50 or more wins, and their 55-27 record stands as the second-best in franchise history, falling just one victory short of their 2012-13 campaign at 56-26.
Memphis got off to a red hot start to the season, winning 21 of their first 25 games and picking up right where they had left off with their tough-minded, gritty culture. Every time the Grizzlies took the floor, you knew what kind of mentality they were going to attack you with and there was never any question about whether or not they were going to wear you down on both ends of the floor. Standing as one of the strongest squads in the Western Conference, they were set up to make another postseason run but they felt that they needed to make some personnel moves in order to add another ingredient to their mix.
In January, the Grizzlies acquired Jeff Green from Boston in a three-team deal with New Orleans where they parted ways with Tayshaun Prince, Quincy Pondexter and a future first round draft pick. At the time of the trade, Green was averaging a career high 17.6 points per game and was looked at to add another offensive dimension on the perimeter for second-year head coach Dave Joerger. The Georgetown alum started in 37 out of 45 games for Memphis to close out the regular season, producing over 13 points and four rebounds per contest while shooting 36% from beyond the arc.
Of course, you can't talk about the Grizz without acknowledging the devastating frontcourt tandem of Zach Randolph and 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol. You'll have a hard time finding another big man duo that plays off of one another as well as these two, and as time goes on, they seem to be getting more dangerous.
Gasol took on more offensive responsibility than ever before last year, coming into the season slimmed down and in much better shape. As a result, he appeared in 81 games and scored a career high 17.4 points per game to go along with 7.8 boards and 3.8 assists. The big fella earned his second Western Conference All-Star selection and for the first time in his career, was named to the All-NBA 1st Team. Meanwhile, Randolph continued his reign of terror as the bully of the west and a double-double machine, dropping 16.1 points and 10.5 rebounds per contest.
Mike Conley, for whatever reason, is still one of the most underrated point guards in the NBA. He is certainly one of the best guards in the league that nobody really talks about, as he has developed into a great leader and one of the best two-way point guards the league has to offer. When he and Tony "The Grindfather" Allen are on the floor together, opponents have an insanely difficult time getting into the paint and once they do, you've got to deal with the size and physicality of Gasol and Z-Bo.
Including last season, Allen has been named to the NBA's All-Defensive 1st Team in three of the last four years.
Memphis finished the regular season with 55 wins, good for the fifth seed in the Western Conference and that set them up for a first round matchup with LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers. The Grizzlies jumped all over the Blazers early on, winning Game 1 by 14 points and following up with a 97-82 victory in Game 2 as they convincingly protected their home court. The remainder of the series would be decided by seven or less points, and Damian Lillard's 32-point Game 4 performance put Portland on the board, but Memphis absolutely wore them out and closed out the series quickly back at home, closing it out 4-1.
In the second round, we witnessed a battle between two completely different styles of play. Memphis was the slow it down, grind it out kind of team while they were matched up with a 67-win Golden State squad that played small and fast, spreading the floor out and aiming to dictate the tempo of the game.
After getting smacked by 15 points in Game 1, Memphis punched back and split the first two games on the road with a big time defensive effort in the second game of the series. Golden State committed 20 turnovers and shot under 42% from the field while Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green combined to shoot just 16-45 for the game. Yikes.
The series shifted to Memphis for Game 3, and the Grizzlies temporarily took control of the series with a 2-1 lead, thanks to Gasol and Randolph combining for 43 points and 23 rebounds while Steph Curry had another rough shooting night (8-21 FG, 2-10 from three). However, once Golden State figured them out and started clicking in Game 4, Memphis never had a chance. The Warriors won each of the final three games of the series by double-digits, including a 98-78 blowout in Game 5, sending Memphis home in six games.
The reality is that nobody was going to beat Golden State last season, but Marc Gasol and the Grizzlies still put together one hell of a season and if you can't appreciate their style of play, you don't appreciate basketball.
SUMMER OF 2015
Key Additions - Brandan Wright, Matt Barnes
Key Losses - Kosta Koufos, Nick Calathes
Marc Gasol entered unrestricted free agency this offseason, but he didn't spend much time entertaining a change of scenery, and Memphis was not about to let him walk. The big fella is staying put as the centerpiece of the Grizzlies, agreeing to a five-year, $110 million max contract extension that will keep him in Memphis through the 2019-2020 season. After taking care of that, the Grizzlies haven't done a whole lot of roster reconstructing, but they were in need of adding a couple new supporting pieces.
After Kosta Koufos left Memphis as a free agent this summer, opting to move on to Sacramento, the team had a hole to fill in terms of adding depth up front. To do so, they signed Brandan Wright to a three-year deal worth approximately $18 million in a role you would assume to be their first big off the bench.
Wright doesn't necessarily give them a true center behind Gasol, and Memphis remains thin in that department, but he is a very active, long-armed athlete that can really finish around the rim at an efficient rate, and he should fit in beautifully while giving the team a more mobile option up front.
In the NBA, you can never have too many hard-nosed scrappers that can swing between both forward positions and provide a guaranteed lift of energy. In June, Memphis traded Luke Ridnour to Charlotte in return for Matt Barnes, who had recently been sent over by the Clippers as part of the Lance Stephenson deal.
Barnes fits in perfectly with the Grizzlies culture and grind-it-out mentality, and his versatility gives them another interchangeable forward along with Jeff Green.
With the 25th pick in the first round of the draft, Memphis added LSU power forward Jarrell Martin, who may not play much right away but is an active young big who is coming off of a 1st Team All-SEC selection.
Memphis didn't add a whole lot this summer, but they didn't lose much either and they brought in a couple of veterans that fit in well.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C - Marc Gasol
PF - Zach Randolph / Brandan Wright / Jarrell Martin
SF - Tony Allen / Jeff Green / Matt Barnes
SG - Courtney Lee / Vince Carter / Jordan Adams
PG - Mike Conley / Beno Udrih
X-FACTOR - Jeff Green
We're all familiar with the pros and cons of Jeff Green around here. When he is aggressive and motivated to attack, he looks like an All-Star caliber player, but at other times he is equally liable to lay back and just try to fit in.
In order for Green and the Grizzlies to take the next step both individually and as a team, he needs to put his head down and assert himself like he never has before. Jeff Green at his best is a special athlete and a mismatch nightmare that can create his own shot, space the floor, do damage as a slasher and dominate out in transition while affecting the game defensively with his athleticism and length.
In last year's playoffs, Green came off the bench and was a ghost the entire postseason, scoring just 8.9 points per game on 33% shooting from the field. That is unacceptable and simply cannot happen in 2016.
At this point in his career, chances are that he just kind of is what he is, but he's a terrific talent that has an opportunity to make a significant difference on a winning team. He probably won't do it consistently all year, but if he can step up and elevate his game at the right time, it could change everything for the Grizz in any given playoff game or series.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2015-16
The Grizzlies aren't going anywhere, and you can absolutely pencil in the tough-minded squad as a threat out west. Not much has changed in terms of their outlook and goals, so you can expect them to be just as dangerous in 2016.
Who knows where they will be seeded in the Western Conference playoff picture, but they will be there and they will be an extremely tough out for anybody that draws them for a best of seven series.
3rd in Southwest Division
6th in Western Conference