The Memphis Grizzlies Are the NBA’s Biggest Surprise This Season
It is still early in this young NBA season, and while some things were predicted, one team is out to show that they’re not just floating a motto around to keep fans. Memphis is still Grit N’ Grind and is currently sitting at number one in the NBA’s brutal Western Conference at 12-5.
With Memphis, a team with no structure in their front office for the last decade, decided to risk it all on Grizzlies 12-year veteran guard Mike Conley, who was coming off of a left heel injury that required surgery last season that shut him down. That surgery, added in with former Head Coach David Fizdale being fired put the weight of the franchise on the 7’1 Spaniard Marc Gasol. A season with 22 wins could arguably been their best. Gasol matured in terms of leadership with his teammates, and called an optional players only minicamp in Los Angeles prior to Grizzlies training camp this season.
“I reached out to Mike (Conley) because he has better contact with those guys,” Gasol talked about how it all went down prior to the season. Gasol, who spends majority of the offseason at his home in Spain is tough to reach for the ‘other guys’ on the Grizzlies roster, but his ‘brother’ Mike Conley is always in contact. Conley and Gasol arranged a player’s only minicamp with a nineteen year old rookie in Jaren Jackson Jr., and a bunch of guys that know how to play the NBA game.
Everyone attended the minicamp in Los Angeles. Grizzlies’ veteran new comers Kyle Anderson, Garrett Temple, and Shelvin Mack raised no eye brows when Memphis acquired them over the offseason, but Memphis couldn’t have won all 12 games without those guys. I can go through each game that Memphis has won and point out where those guys helped Conley and Gasol get the Grizzlies over the hump on both ends of the floor.
Gasol, who has always been critical of the Grizzlies after each season, and strives to be as close to perfect was asked about the 19 year old rookie in Jackson Jr., and what he would bring to this roster and this locker room to which Marc replied with a grin, “he gives a new swagger. He gives us energy on those nights where it is tough to get up for a game.”
Seeing Gasol talk highly of Jackson was huge as a fan that had seen the Grizzlies miss on so many draft picks over the last decade. Add in a very talented big man in Jaren, with the veteran “journey men” Memphis acquired this offseason, and Memphis is one of the biggest surprises of this NBA season.
Memphis was projected by Las Vegas to win a mediocre 33 wins, and I called out all of the Grizzlies critics that said that they were “injury prone” like Grizzlies Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff talking his team through defense “SHOW ME YOUR HANDS!” Bickerstaff yells each possession
It is almost an ore around the Grizzlies franchise, from a national perspective that is like “yeah, you won this game against this superior team, and you actually play defense, but you’re not as interesting as this team.” It hasn’t been fair, but it has been fun. Memphis has been known for its Grit N’ Grind and locally always being the underdog majority of nights.
So, in a league that is going in a direction of more three pointers, and putting their defense in their backseat, Bickerstaff told the media “In a league where so many teams are relying on their offense, we are going to go against the grain and hang our hat on the defensive end of the floor.” Bickerstaff, who has only been in Memphis for two seasons, understands what gets the fans going, and also knows what his cornerstone guys are in Conley and Gasol.
The Commercial Appeal
“We are trying to get it to where opposing teams travel to Memphis and say ‘we are going to get some good BBQ, but we’ve got to play those Grizzlies,’” Grizzlies newcomer Garrett Temple recalls coming to Memphis as a visitor on road trips, and bringing that pain to opposing teams.
Bickerstaff and the Grizzlies front office made a team full of guys that have been put in tough spots throughout their careers now at home in Memphis playing a role that is fit for anyone that wants to play hard on any given night. Veterans, who have traveled and are in it for the benefit of the team.
“Some nights guys will not get those minutes, and we wanted guys that would be ready for that night where we are coming off a back-to-back and need them to cut the minutes for those veterans. We wanted guys that knew it was bigger than ‘self’” head coach Bickerstaff recalled going through his first offseason has Grizzlies offseason.
Memphis is currently riding high on a five-game winning streak which started following a devastating loss to the Utah Jazz at home where Memphis suffered their first and only home loss this season. A game where Memphis wasn’t as physical with their opponent and Utah took advantage of it. Since then Memphis has taken it to their opponents, handing the Milwaukee Bucks their first home loss of the season, and then snapping a four year drought against the San Antonio Spurs by winning in San Antonio.
Memphis heads into their matchup against the Los Angeles Clippers this afternoon at 2:30 CT riding that five game winning streak looking to win six straight games for the first time in nearly two years. Memphis ranks fourth in the NBA in overall defense with a net rating of 103.2. Memphis also ranks second in the NBA in steals this season at 9.4 steals a game through 17 games. Last weird stat for Memphis, the Grizzlies rank fifth in the NBA in three point percentage, but rank in the bottom half of the NBA in attempts per game.
Memphis, a team projected to win 33 games and miss the Playoff for a second year is out working Western Conference on a nightly basis and has the best record in the Western Conference.
*Stats accurate as of 11/22/18