Last season: The Grizzlies won 50 games and finished seventh in the Western Conference despite Marc Gasol being sidelined for two months with a knee injury. They did it by relying on the usual grit-and-grind formula, with a midseason trade for Courtney Lee adding some scoring punch. They took the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games in the first round and damn near pulled off the upset, as Tony Allen proved himself the only defender on the planet capable of slowing down Kevin Durant.
Signature highlight from last season: The first-round series with the Thunder had no shortage of drama, but the Grizzlies’ overtime win in Game 2 in OKC is hard to top.
Key player changes: Seemingly deciding that Mike Miller probably wasn’t going to play 82 games again, Memphis wisely upgraded veteran wing scorers by signing Vince Carter to replace him. They also drafted small forward Jordan Adams and big man Jarnell Stokes. Little-used backup big Ed Davis left for the Lakers.
Keys to the Grizzlies’ season:
Are Z-Bo’s best days behind him? Zach Randolph just signed a two-year extension with Memphis, but he’s 33 years old and has slowed down in recent years and dealt with various lingering injuries. When healthy, he and Gasol make up the best defensive frontcourt in the NBA, and Randolph’s ability to bully opposing bigs at both ends and score in the paint is essential to the Grizzlies’ successful formula. They won’t hope to make a deep playoff run without a healthy and productive Z-Bo.
Can the rookies contribute right away? If Randolph can’t contribute at a high level, Stokes could see some action at backup power forward his rookie season. Adams adds much-needed scoring on the wing and has looked excellent in the preseason. But Memphis’ playoff hopes will be helped greatly if the two rookies are ready to play right away.
Who will score? In the past, the Grizzlies have been elite on the strength of their defense but sorely lacked shooters. The trade for Lee helped in that regard, and Carter should be a nice offensive addition. They need Allen’s defense in the backcourt, but he’s a complete minus on offense, so between the rest of their wings, they need to find a way to manufacture points.
Why you should watch the Grizzlies: Gasol is one of the most fun two-way centers the NBA, a creative passer with a gorgeous hook shot. Mike Conley is one of the West’s most underrated point guards. Carter’s late-career reinvention as a sixth-man utility player has been neat after a disappointing stretch in Orlando. Allen is a crazy person. Their home fans are terrific. What’s not to like?
Prediction: 53-29. Barring another major injury, the Grizzlies have as good a chance of any team below the Spurs/Thunder/Clippers tier of making a Finals run. Nobody wants to deal with their defense in the playoffs, and their offense should be better this season.