In the next two weeks, the Armchair crew will be taking on the NBA Regular Season preview. We will be taking on each team individually and looking into what to expect from each.
Last Season: 55-27, eliminated in Conference Semifinals (Warriors in 6)
Key Additions: Brandan Wright, Matt Barnes, Matt Barnes’s penchant for violence.
Key Losses: Kosta Koufos, Jon Leuer
To the era dominated by small-ball, 3-point shooting, and offensive efficiency, the Marc Gasol Mercenary Company that is the Memphis Grizzlies laugh heartily. This team is mean – a proper, defensive, oldschool basketball team that has eschewed the modern flair of the game in favour of bullying teams out of the Grindhouse: Marc Gasol, who would not look out of place leading his band of mercenaries on a month-long raid of the Riverlands, is one of the finest centres in the NBA, equally capable of defending and running the offense. Combined with the defensive acumen of Tony Allen and the all-around meanness of Zach “General Z-Bo” Randolph, this team pushed the Warriors closer than anyone else, taking a 2-1 lead in the Western Semifinals before the basic mathematics of three points being more than two points eventually caught up with them.
This summer, the Memphis Grizzlies did what I thought was impossible: they got meaner. In Matt Barnes, the Grizzlies have a genuine psychopath – he’s accumulated a disciplinary file that takes up several Raiders of the Lost Ark-style vaults worth of storage space, will start a fight with literally anyone, and can also shoot threes effectively. Brandan Wright adds valuable depth to their frontcourt, meaning that Z-Bo can get valuable rest in order to be healthy for the playoffs. Most importantly, they kept Marc Gasol: had the Spaniard signed in free agency with San Antonio (thereby forcing the rest of the NBA into the nuclear bunker for the next several seasons), Memphis would probably have gone into tank mode – the grit/grind era is too reliant on his skillset and All-NBA calibre of playing to function otherwise. Zach Randolph is 34, and you can’t help but feel like the window for this team is closing; by keeping Gasol, they kept it open a little bit longer.
The Grizzlies are a paradoxical team: on their night, they can beat anybody. In the last five seasons, they’ve beaten San Antonio, OKC, the LA Clippers, and Blazers in the playoffs, and given the Thunder, Warriors, and Clippers drawn out, attritional series. They consistently top fifty wins in one of the most difficult divisions in NBA history, and have consistently been a threat in the playoffs. At the same time, they are constrained by their poor 3-point shooting and penchant for injuries – particularly to Conley and Allen. Because 3>2, this Memphis team will always be at a disadvantage. There are reasons for this decision: there is a connection between this team’s ethos and its fans that is rare in the NBA, and they have thrived in a small market where other strategies would have failed. The Grizzlies will probably reach fifty wins again this year, and probably even make it out of the first round. From there, everything is dependent on luck – there is a world in which Memphis makes the NBA Finals, but it’s one in which a lot of other people get hurt first. It’s also a world where some of those injuries may well come from facing the meanest mercenary company that masquerades as an NBA team.
Plausible best-case scenario: The Grizzlies are healthy enough to achieve a high playoff seed, and benefit from injuries to Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Kahwi Leonard to make their first NBA Finals.
Plausible worst case scenario: Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, or Mike Conley struggle with long-term injuries, the Grizzlies miss out on the playoffs in the Western Conference of Death, and try again next year.
Totally implausible scenario: Matt Barnes goes a season without incurring any fines.