When the Westgate Sports Book came out with its NBA under/over win projections for the coming season, one of my first thoughts was “34.5 seems low for Memphis.” Which was quickly followed by “if they can stay healthy, that is.”
The Grizzlies added a potential new face of the franchise this summer in Jaren Jackson, and they upgraded parts of their bench, and they still have Marc Gasol in the paint. Most importantly, however, they get Mike Conley back from injury, a borderline All-Star level point guard who changes the way this team plays on the court.
But even Conley sees this season as different from Grizzlies campaigns in the past, as he told Mark Giannotto of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal.
“It’s different for me because for the last eight years, I came into every season thinking we have a chance to win at a high level,” the point guard said last week in Las Vegas at USA Basketball’s mini-camp. “This season, expectations are still try to be that playoff team, that team that comes out and really makes it tough on everybody. But it is an awkward year with so many teams getting so much better [with] different acquisitions they made in the offseason.”
Conley wasn’t so much playing down the Grizzlies as admitting the reality ahead of them. The West is going to be a Battle Royal this season. Golden State and Houston will make the playoffs, they both have a depth of talent that gives them a lot of margin for error. After that, nobody is entirely safe. There are teams we tend to trust more than others — Utah because of their defense, Oklahoma City because of its two stars, the Lakers because of LeBron James — but after those first two in the West pretty much anything can happen. Seeds three through 12 will likely be separated by just a handful of games (less than 10 wins).
Memphis could grab one of those bottom playoff spots if Conley can stay healthy and things go their way. The challenge is we can say the same thing about the Clippers and Dallas and San Antonio and New Orleans and… you get the idea. Do you trust the Grizzlies in that setting?
The question in Memphis is if things do not go right the first part of the season, do they accept that it’s time to rebuild and start shopping players such as Conley, who would have trade value? That’s not the case right now, but know that teams are watching for just that.