Longevity is an incredibly underrated template of success. Once upon a time, a team like the Spurs was built through the draft, and they’re still relevant today. The Memphis Grizzlies didn’t exactly build through the draft, but they have developed a young core over the years and turned them into championship contenders.
The Memphis Grizzlies are entering the 2015 playoffs for their fifth year in a row. They have a core that consists of high IQ veterans, and they arguably play the best defense in the league.
But why are they still under the radar?
Floor general Mike Conley is dealing with a sore left ankle. Conley has never been an all-star, but don’t let that fool you. Without question, he is an all-star point guard with an uncanny ability of distributing the ball, plus he can guard just about any point guard in the league. Another factor he’s added to his game over the years is a reliable jump shot, so as a defender, you can’t sag off of Conley anticipating a pass, he’ll bury a jumper right in your face.
Defensive specialist Tony Allen has also been out with a hamstring injury. It’s clear that “Trick or Treat” Tony is still one of the best defenders in the league, but what makes him awesome is his offensive game. He can’t shoot, and opposing teams know this, but he’s still effective on offense. Allen is always cutting to the basket getting easy buckets or crashing the offensive glass. He’s not a walk in the park for whoever has to guard him due to his constant movement off the ball.
There’s no questioning that Memphis needs both of these guys to be healthy to win a championship. I doubt Conley and Allen are going to even miss Game 1 against the Portland Trail Blazers, regardless of their health, considering how tough they are.
Last Wednesday the Grizzlies got a comfortable win against the Pacers without Conley and Allen. You could argue the Pacers are an under .500 team so who cares, but that game would have put them in the eighth seed over Brooklyn. It was a must win for the Pacers. Marc Gasol went 33 and 13, and it would be safe to bet he will continue this trend against Portland. If Coach Joerger can limit Conley and Allen’s minutes against a beat up Portland team, it might be worth the investment in order to compete with the tougher teams in the West later on.
I can’t stand that some people still think star power is a determining factor. People say you can’t win a championship without having star players. Yeah, that’s true. Memphis has Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol. Their fourth best player is arguably Jeff Green. Sure, Memphis’ best player in Gasol isn’t as overwhelming as a LeBron James, Stephen Curry, or Anthony Davis, but Gasol remains one of the best passing big men in the game, and one of the best defenders. Plus he’s taken some lessons from “Rainbow” Randolph this year in the post.
If star power really matters, then the Knicks shouldn’t have sucked last year. It’s important to have a bench, and Memphis definitely has that. Check out their depth chart via ESPN.com:
|Point Guard||Mike Conley||Beno Udrih||Nick Calathes||Russ Smith|
|Shooting Guard||Courtney Lee||Vince Carter||Jordan Adams|
|Small Forward||Tony Allen||Jeff Green|
|Power Forward||Zach Randolph||Jon Leuer||Jarnell Stokes||JaMychal Green|
|Center||Marc Gasol||Kosta Koufos|
They are nine players deep, surely a magic number. No one fights over minutes, and everyone knows his role. I can’t stress how important it is to have that on a team.
The Strength of the Western Conference
I don’t think I’ve written a column on my blog yet without mentioning how freaking deep the Western Conference really is. Unfortunately, being a great team is not always what it takes to win a championship. You have to get extremely lucky with matchups. Only issue is there’s no right answer this year.
If the Grizzlies get through the Blazers, they will probably face the Golden State Warriors in the second round (unless Anthony Davis goes bananas). That is not an ideal matchup, but if Conley and Allen get healthy, they’re definitely the best defensive backcourt in the league. Curry and Thompson won’t get as many clean looks as they normally get, but does that mean they won’t hit those shots anyway? I don’t know.
I think part of the reason the Grizzlies are under the radar is because they play an old school brand of basketball. They post up more than most teams and they don’t love dunks and shooting threes. If you are a fan of 90’s basketball, watch Memphis. They are as close to a 90’s team as you can get. I would not be surprised to see the Grizzlies in the finals this year. They are top 4 in defensive efficiency via Hollinger Statistics. Defense wins championships, right?