This article was originally published on The Field at scroll.in on December 11,2017
The Memphis Grizzlies continue to eke out wins. Just how are they doing so is a mystery to fans, and unsuspecting opponents.
Well, it’s a mystery to their leading scorer Marc Gasol too.
“I wish I could tell you,” said Gasol said when asked how Memphis’s stayed sharp to close out tight games. “We just keep fighting. You’ve seen it in many games now where we just don’t let go of the rope.”
The Grizzlies are 4-0 on overtime games this season, and are 6-0 in games decided by 3 points or less. Tally that up and the Grizzlies are 12-0 in OT games or games decided by 5 points or less.
More importantly, they are 9-3 in the three weeks since they lost Chandler Parsons (only the Golden State Warriors have more wins with 10 in that period) and 5-1 since they lost Mike Conley.
Conley, who was averaging a career high 19.2 ppg while shooting a career high 47% from the 3-point line, went down in the 104-85 loss against the Charlotte Hornets. He was later diagnosed with transverse fractures in the vertebrae effectively ruling him out for at least six weeks.
This wasn’t easy news for the Grizzlies who not only lost their floor general and highest scorer, but also a player who capped off the teams’ offseason by signing the richest contract in NBA history.
Add that to the deal Chandler Parsons signed, a 4 year / 95 million max deal, and the Grizzlies came into the season with nearly all their money and all their hope on two players, who since the opening game have suited up for just 23 games total (Conley 17, Chandler 6)
Those hopes though, now rest in the hands of Marc Gasol and bunch of role players that surprisingly are springing wins on unsuspecting opponents.
Gasol, who has stepped out of his comfort zone, both literally and figuratively, has now attempted over eighty 3-point shots after having attempted just 66 in the first eight seasons of his career. He is averaging a career high 19.9 points, but his rebounding numbers taken a beating where he is averaging a mediocre 6.1 rpg.
This is where due credit goes to due credit goes to rookie JaMychal Green who has stepped up to the challenge of filling Randolph’s shoes in the starting line up. Averaging 9.4 ppg and 7.8 rpg, the 6’9” Green is perfect complement to Gasol’s new found outside game.
However, consider for a moment the starting five that the Grizzlies have suited up in the last few games JaMychal Green, Troy Williams, Marc Gasol, Andrew Harrison, Tony Allen. Not exactly a playoff contender. As a matter of fact, it can be argued that, with the exception of Marc Gasol, none of the other four will realistically start for a playoff team in the West.
Tell that to their record though. At 16-8 and tied for 5th in the Western Conference, the Grizzlies are 10-3 against their western opponents and are currently one of just two teams on a 5-game win streak, the other being the Houston Rockets.
Then, there is their defence.
Slowing down teams to a bump-and-grind style that suits the Grizzlies perfectly. The dynamics have changed a bit since coach David Fizdale chose to bring Zach Randolph off the bench to power the second unit, instead of trotting out the two-headed monster that was the Gasol-Randolph frontcourt for the last few seasons.
They lead the league in defensive rating* at 99.9 and holding opponents to 36.8 points in the paint, while rank 7th in opponents’ 2nd chance points with 12.1. They rank 9th with 8.5 steals per game, and while their opponents make just 43.1% of their FG’s (4th)
Still, Memphis are far from a perfect team, and have gaping holes in their game that have yet to be addressed.
Parsons, who will likely return this week is the answer to one of Memphis’ most pressing needs, a reliable scorer who can create his own scoring opportunities when the team loses its way on an offensive possession.
Memphis also need a reliable presence at the point guard position, which for now has been addressed by using the injury / hardship exception to sign Toney Douglas. But Douglas isn’t Conley, and the Grizzlies will have to wait another excruciating 5-6 weeks to get their floor general back.
Conley will likely be back in January, by which time, hopefully, Parsons will have integrated himself into the the team’s offensive flow. If all falls into place, Memphis is poised to peak at the right time and make the Western Conference Finals for the first time since their 2012-13 campaign.
*Defensive Rating: Calculated as (Opponents Points Allowed / Opponents Possessions) x 100