Potential First Round Opponent: Memphis Grizzlies
By Ian Smith
The Memphis Grizzlies head into the playoffs with gaping holes in their lineup, missing both their best backcourt player as well as their terrific center to injury.
Point guard Mike Conley (achilles) and center Marc Gasol (foot) will remain absent for the Grizzlies in the postseason. This will prove to be a devastating blow for them, and prevent any realistic chance of making a deep playoff run in an extremely challenging Western Conference. A series with the San Antonio Spurs would appear too much for the Grizzlies to handle without two of their most talented players.
The Grizzlies presented probably the toughest obstacle for the Golden State Warriors on their championship run last season, but while Conley wasn’t at full strength for that series, Gasol was.
The Grizzlies are one of 7 teams to average less than 100 points per game, which is partly the result of a low field goal percentage that ranks in the bottom third of the league as well as their slow pace. They shoot the 3 pointer worse than any team except the Los Angeles Lakers, relying primarily on the interior and mid-range game of Zach Randolph (and Gasol before he was injured).
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Gasol and Conley represent about 32 points per game missing from the lineup, and Randolph would be leaned on even more to help reduce that deficit.
Randolph hasn’t had a good year scoring low on the block, but has shot the ball more efficiently further out from the rim compared to league averages. He’d be the focal point of the offense in any playoff series, and he poses severe matchup problems for any interior defender who isn’t strong enough to hang with him.
The Grizzlies also rank in the bottom third of the league in assists per game, but don’t turn the ball over much much either. They run primarily a half-court offense, and serve as somewhat of a time capsule to a different era of inside-outside NBA offenses predicated on establishing a presence inside to win games.
The Grizzlies have a top 10 defense, although their defensive efficiency is lower than what their points allowed indicates. The slow pace they play with affects their low opponent points per game numbers, but they also have numerous players who pride themselves on defensive intensity.
Tony Allen has proved over his career to be one of the elite perimeter defenders in the NBA. Matt Barnes is the same type of agitator on defense, provided that he doesn’t let his emotions get the better of him in critical situations. Along with Lance Stephenson, the Grizzlies can deploy a trio of tenacious defenders to irritate opposing offenses.
Point guard and center is where the Grizzlies would assumably suffer most in the playoffs. The combination of Ryan Hollins and Chris Anderson down low provide the Grizzlies with terrific energy, but expecting starter-level production in a playoff series from either of them might be a stretch. Anderson’s rim protection could come in handy, though, as Randolph has never been a viable shot blocker.
Jordan Farmar will be expected to play the bulk of minutes at point guard for the Grizzlies. In almost a decade in the league he’s yet to establish himself as a consistent starter, and while he can provide perimeter shooting, the Grizzlies are going to desperately miss what Conley can provide for them.
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The Grizzlies are a difficult team to play when they’re fully constructed, but being without Conley and Gasol for the playoffs makes them less relevant in this competitive field of teams. They’ll make any series difficult with their physicality, but don’t pose a major threat going forward in terms of pulling off any shocking upsets against the cream of the crop in the Western Conference. A mostly healthy Spurs team against an undermanned Grizzlies squad would most likely be a quick, albeit bruising series.