I’m buying into the youth moment going on in the West this season. There are several upstart teams looking to become contenders and knock some of the top dogs off their perch. The Memphis Grizzlies have been a thorn in the sides of all the great teams the past few seasons as they allow their chemistry and athleticism to propel them into a higher competitive level. Take a look at last year’s regular season standings for the West. A lot of people may be surprised to see that the Grizzlies finished 4th in the West with a 41-25 record.
This may not be a team that improves itself with free agent signings, but rather allowing their core players to continue to improve year by year. Rudy Gay is the key player on the roster as he is the one the offense is centered around. He’s a Josh Smith-esque player who gets to the bucket any time he wants but I’d say he has a better head on his shoulders. Gay rarely falls in love with his shot and isn’t known to hover around the 3-point line. He's established himself as one of the leaders for this young roster.
If you haven't paid attention to Zach Randolph's career since his tumultuous stints in Portland and New York, then you've been missing out. His time in Memphis has been spectacular as he has matured as both a player and a man. He's been named to an All-Star team and even an All-NBA team. He's become one of the best rebounders in the league but is coming off an injury plagued season in 2011-12. It’s always fun to see a good player try and return from injury and see if he can go back to performing at a high level. I’ve become a big fan of Randolph the past two seasons, which is saying something because I disliked him from his Jail Blazer days. The combination of him and Gay can be one of the better ones in the West.
When Pau Gasol was traded from Memphis to the Lakers, everyone declared it to be one of the worst trades in NBA history. What some people fail to realize is that the move brought in Pau's brother Marc to the Grizzlies. He's been exceptional for Memphis since his rookie year in the NBA and was named to the All-Star team last season over his brother Pau. He's the anchor for the Grizzlies and one of the pivotal pieces for them going forward. He’s one of the most underrated players in the league and beginning to establish himself as possibly better than his brother.
Mike Conley may not have had as good a first few season in the NBA as the Grizzlies were hoping after they used their 4th overall pick in the 2007 draft, but you can see the promise quite often. He just needs to put it all together on a consistent basis. To his credit, he has improved each year since being drafted - save for last season where his stats were actually a step back from his 2010-11 campaign, but we could chalk that up to the crazy schedule. If he's going to breakout and prove he's a franchise worthy PG, then this would have to be the season. I've got faith in him and there's a decent chance that this team will flourish or flounder based on his performance.
This isn't a deep roster, far from it. The bench has some solid contributors like defensive stud Tony Allen and young players with potential like Marreese Speights (both of whom will have to step up and play huge for this team to really succeed) and a returning Darrell Arthur. Arthur was one of the more underrated sixth men in the NBA the past several seasons, but he had to miss all of last year with a torn ACL. Like Randolph, the Grizzlies will need Arthur to come back and prove he’s healthy again. The bench is bolstered with him on the floor and razor thin if he misses any extended periods of time. A lot of this team’s success hinges on his ACL being able to hold up over the long season.
I’m far from confident with my decision to pick the Grizzlies as a top six seed in the West, but I like the game they play. I’m very high on the combination of Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph and believe Mike Conley is going to become the PG scouts thought he’d be coming out of Ohio State. He has a very good backup in Jerryd Bayless now so should he falter, the Grizzlies have a solid safety net. The West is packed with above average teams that will be looking to lock up playoff spots. The 4 seed and down are absolutely up for grabs and could have very few games separating themselves.
Season Outlook: The Grizzlies battle with several other teams for a playoff spot in the West in what becomes a revolving door of good teams vying for their spot. Rudy Gay gets named to his first All-Star team.
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