During the 2016-17 NBA season, headlines will be dominated by Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors on a daily basis. However, having a super-team doesn’t guarantee a championship; just look at the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers. Everything can change and anything can happen in the NBA. A team can implode, the injury bug could strike, or a team simply might not play to its potential. In this Last Word On Pro Basketball series, we’ll break down which two key factors will determine the fate of each team in the upcoming season.
In this edition, we’ll take a look at the Memphis Grizzlies.
Two Key Factors to a Successful Memphis Grizzlies Season
The Memphis Grizzlies have made six straight playoff appearances. That doubles the franchise’s total amount from before the “Grit and Grind” era. They have also notched their only four playoff series wins during this stretch. This has, undoubtedly, been the most successful era in franchise history. In comes new head coach David Fizdale, who hopes to bring the same success that both Lionel Hollins and Dave Joerger had, while adding a more modern offensive style. This was a team littered with injuries last year, setting an NBA record with 28 players on the roster over the course of the 2015-16 season.
First Key: Staying Healthy
The injury situation from a year ago has been told time and again. It allowed NBA fans to learn who in the world Xavier Munford was. We actually got plenty of time to see what he could do on the court. If you had told that to Memphis fans going into the season, they would be begging for Nick Calathes to come back. Mike Conley and Marc Gasol missed over 25 games apiece. By the end of the season, this looked more like a D-League team than an NBA squad.
But 2016-17 is a new year and the injuries won’t be as bad as they were last year. The Grizzlies are already planning to give Gasol days off throughout the season to preserve him come playoff time. Conley enters the season healthy. The Grizzlies are looking like a younger team after an off-season in which they let the likes of Matt Barnes and Courtney Lee walk in free agency. Instead, they brought in younger players such as Wade Baldwin. That brings us to the big off-season acquisition for Memphis: Chandler Parsons.
Parsons has been one of the more versatile, creative players in the league…when he has been able to stay healthy. Over the last two seasons with the Dallas Mavericks, Parsons has missed a combined 37 games. That may not seem like an extensive amount, but for a team that just gave him a four-year, $94 million contract, the Grizzlies have to expect him to play in nearly every game.
For a team that lost 12 players to injury for a total of over 300 games last season, health is a major key. The Grizzlies will have to stay healthy if they want to remain in contention in a deeper Western Conference.
Second Key: Adapting to the System Change
After years of grinding games away with scores like 87-83, times are changing in Memphis. Zach Randolph begins life as a reserve big man (I would not like to be the one who told him that). Tony Allen is nearing the end, and players like JaMychal Green and Deyonta Davis are the future. That is radically different from when Lionel Hollins took over in 2010.
It is now Fizdale’s time, though. He made the decision to move Green into the starting lineup, as Green fits the more modern style both offensively and defensively. Fizdale plans to adjust the Grizzlies in multiple ways throughout his first season.
First, Fizdale plans to flip the traditional game plan. When he talked to CBS Sports’ Matt Moore, he said that he plans to give Conley the “first six seconds of every possession” rather than entering the ball into the post to start every possession. Fizdale said, “I want to give Mike the opportunity early on to attack and make plays, and then we’ll get that end of possession post-up for Zach [Randolph] or Marc [Gasol] out of movement where teams can’t just load up on them.”
Next, the Grizzlies have a weapon that they have been seeking out for years. They thought that Jeff Green may have been what they were looking for, but as each of his teams have found out, Green is never the answer. The answer comes in the form of Chandler Parsons. Parsons has the play-making and shooting ability that might’ve taken Memphis over the top in the 2012-13 season. Parsons’ ability to run a secondary pick-and-roll after a Conley drive will open up looks for everyone. And Parsons’ non-health concerns, mostly on the defensive end, are perfectly masked by Tony Allen’s strengths. That’s without mentioning that Parsons can play the four alongside Gasol in small-ball units. A lineup of Conley, Baldwin, Allen, Parsons, and Gasol would provide a level of play-making and shot creation that Memphis has lacked for years, while the team was still strong defensively.
Finally, Fizdale should be able to get young players such as Baldwin and Davis to play early. Memphis hasn’t had too much young talent in the pipelines, but grabbing Baldwin and having Davis fall into its lap should begin to develop the next era of Grizzlies basketball. This Memphis team does have some depth concerns. If they are able to plug-and-play two rookies, that’d be a big help for the present and the future.
The Grizzlies appear to be a team that will battle in the bottom half of the playoff race. Health, system adaption, and depth will be key, because this team does have the top-end talent to compete come playoff time. Ultimately, that is what ownership hopes Fizdale can do, in order to take the franchise to a level that Hollins and Joerger weren’t able to.
February 8, 2014: Marc Gasol (33) of the Memphis Grizzlies defended by Elton Brand (42) of the Atlanta Hawks during the NBA match-up between the Atlanta Hawks and the Memphis Grizzlies at Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia. The Grizzlies won the game 79-76. (Photo by Andrew Snook/Icon SMI/Corbis via Getty Images)