There are 30 teams in the NBA. Mathematically, only 15 teams, at most, can have two top 30 players on their roster. In reality, less than ten teams have this luxury. Being an organization in this exclusive group that has two elite talents ensures success year in and year out. The Memphis Grizzlies are one of these organizations.
And yet, everyone seems to think that they will miss the playoffs. That this is the year they will finally fall off. That for some reason, this season, Mike Conley and Marc Gasol won’t wreck havoc on opposing defenses anymore.
Everyone is wrong.
The Grizzlies two stars can carry this team to the heights they have reached in years past. Both Conley and Gasol were top 20 in VORP last season. Besides Memphis, only the Golden State Warriors had more than one player in this top 20 on its roster. And when these guys play, the Grizzlies just win basketball games.
When Marc Gasol made an appearance in an NBA game last season, Memphis was 40-34. They went 3-5 without him. He makes so many winning plays that keep the defense lost and confused:
Where is ya going, Kyle O’Quinn?
That pump fake is a testament to how good Gasol is in the mid-range. He shot 48 percent from 3 to 10 feet last season, so you either get a hand up or he hits it in your face. Or, you jump at the fake like O’Quinn did and he blows right by you for a dunk.
His fancy-pants passes unlock more ways to score for Memphis than just about anything else the team does. When the opposing defense brings the help or the double team, Gasol makes them pay:
His impact on the offensive end is immeasurable. Throughout his career, when Gasol plays, the Grizzlies play at a 46.5 win pace. If you take out his rookie year, that number improves to a 50 win pace. He makes the players around him better, and the new signings on the Grizzles will find that out the fun way.
As most superheroes have a sidekick, so does Gasol. But this is less of a sidekick and more of a partner. Mario has Luigi, and Gasol has Mike Conley. The rest of the league is just a poor turtle in the mushroom kingdom.
With Conley on the court last season, the Grizzlies had an offensive rating of 111.7. Without him, that number plummeted to 102.6. He is the initiator, the creator, and he is always thinking two steps ahead. Everything starts with him. He can get the defense to shift with no actions, and it just makes stuff happen:
The Grizzlies are 7.5 points per 100 possessions better when Conley plays. His production is vital to the team, and he can carry them to crazy heights. He has led the Memphis Grizzlies to the playoffs in each of the last 7 seasons, back to when he was on his rookie contract. One more reason he is so productive is he takes care of the ball, shown by his sturdy 11.8 turnover percentage last season. His tantalizing ability to pull off some razzle-dazzle dribble moves makes defenders dizzy:
Conley controls everything. He and Gasol are an incredible duo that makes the Memphis Grizzlies hard to beat. However, the roster is 17 guys. Can the other 15 do enough to win games in the FedExForum?
Well, they have in the past. Remember earlier when we talked about how highly Conley and Gasol rated in VORP? Well, Memphis also had some pretty terrible players last year, according to VORP. Andrew Harrison, Chandler Parsons, Troy Daniels, and Jarell Martin all rated in the bottom 100 players in the league in this statistic, and they combined for 3890 minutes. That means in 19.5 percent of the teams time on the court, they had a 1 or more bottom 100 players on the court.
This season, that problem should be mitigated. Daniels has been traded away, Parsons is no longer injured, Harrison is no longer the backup point guard, and Martin’s minutes will be replaced by two new signings; Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.
In the specific optics of helping Gasol and Conley, Parson and Evans are going to be huge additions to the team this year. Of course, Parsons was on the team during the 2016-17 campaign, but he only was able to play in 34 games and was injured for a majority of those minutes. If he can bounce back even slightly, then he is almost as a newly signed player for the team.
Parsons can be something that the Memphis Grizzlies really didn’t have last season; a shot creator on the wing. In his first six games of the season, before re-aggravating that left knee that has plagued him for so long, Parsons played solidly for the Grizzlies. He shot almost 40 percent from the field and was a +20 in these six games, helping Memphis to a 4-2 record. Outside of this run, Parsons was not helpful, he was a -70 over his other 28 games and shot only 32 percent from the field. He just couldn’t make shots go down, and they all looked a little flat:
A career 46 percent shooter, last season was a huge anomaly for Parsons. Remember, this is the guy who hit 10 threes in one HALF not 3 seasons ago. Even if he is significantly worsened as a player by these constant nagging injuries, this coming season he should be better than last year. That will increase his value and make him, and the wing depth, better for the Grizzlies.
But Parsons being better than last year isn’t enough wing play to carry this team. Thankfully, they signed another shot creator for their flanks this season; Tyreke Evans.
While Parsons can create shots for himself, Evans can create shots for others. He had a 25.9 assist rate last season, good for 42nd in the league (of players with over 100 minutes), and that figure would have been the second highest on the Grizzlies behind Conley.
For reference the best assist rate from a Grizzlies wing last season was Parsons 12.8 percent. So yeah, Evans’ shot creation is going to help on the wing. The Grizzlies were 4th to last in the NBA in assists per 100 possessions, Evans should help them climb in this ranking. Shot creation on the second unit is something the Grizzlies lacked last season, so Evans should make the team significantly better by boosting the reserves.
So they have the superstar duo. They have the wing scoring and creation. They have the shooting between the stars and the newly added Ben McLemore. Mario Chalmers steadies their backup point guard problem. That means they have it all. They have all the player types they need and they have depth now.
Teams with two stars and a variety of veterans have something equally talented young teams don’t have; experience. The Memphis Grizzlies have that. Conely and Gasol could carry an okay roster pretty far. Now, with a solid rotation to go with their stars, they are a borderline dangerous team. Don’t forget about the Memphis Grizzlies, they are coming for your playoff spots.
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