2016/17 Record: 43 – 39 (First Round Exit)
2017/18 Salaries: $106,894,767 (Over The Cap Team) – full MEM salary cap situation – here.
Incoming Draft Picks: CHA/ MIA/ MEM ‘18 2nd (Most favourable including it’s own), PHX ‘18 2nd (56-60), BOS ‘19 2nd (56-60).
Outgoing Draft Picks: BOS ‘19 1st (9-30)
The last seven consecutive playoffs have featured the Memphis Grizzlies. Whilst this feat is by no means unprecedented – the San Antonio Spurs have made the last 17 playoffs – in a period of Western Conference domination, it is still a huge achievement.
Their success has also been largely homegrown, driven by the development from the likes of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley Jr, the former a multiple All-Star and the latter possibly the biggest All-Star snub. Both Conley and Gasol have developed into All-Star calibre players, whilst only playing in Memphis, and Zach Randolph, whose two All-Star appearances in 2010 and 2013 came during his eight-season Grizz tenure can be added as well.
Yet despite this long-running playoff record, Memphis have only made it to the Conference Finals on one occasion, where they got swept by the Spurs in 2013. The Grizz have had the top-end talent capable of competing, but with an ageing list and the success they seek seemingly further away after finishing 7th in the West last season, the Grizz have re-jigged their roster in search of finding the right role players that fit around their two stars.
The first major move the Grizzlies made this offseason was deciding to not re-commit to three key, but ageing players of past seasons. Vince Carter (40) and Randolph (36) were allowed to walk into the arms of former Coach Dave Joerger in Sacramento, and Tony Allen (35) eventually found a new home in New Orleans. This is a clear sign that the Grizzlies are changing direction. It is yet to determine which way.
Whether the Grizzlies will change direction towards that rebuild, or continue trying to compete will largely hinge on the performance of Chandler Parsons. Parsons was Memphis’ star Free Agency pick-up in the 2016 offseason, signing a four-year max-contract in a minor victory for the small market team. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, Parson failed to fire a shot, falling to multiple knee injuries over the season and averaging 6.2 PPG at 33.8 FG% and 26.9 3PT% (all career lows) in 19 minutes a game over 34 games. With $72.32 million owed over the next three years, if Parsons continues to perform like a scrub, the Grizzlies will essentially have a dead asset, and struggle to add established talent beside Gasol and Conley, unless one of their younger players is a diamond in the rough.
Any discovery of a diamond in the rough type will need to help the biggest areas of need that Memphis have, all of which are on the offensive end of the floor. Whilst they are a renowned defensive unit, and finished top 10 in 2016/17 in Defensive Rating, they finished 18th in Offensive Rating, last among the teams that made the playoffs in the West.
The main issues offensively stem from two main areas: shooting and athleticism. In 16/17, the Grizz were 28th in effective field goal percentage, 26th in true shooting percentage, 17th in 3PT% and dead last in 2PT%. There is a clear correlation between the more athletic teams in the League and 2PT%, with the Warriors, Rockets and Cavs finishing top three. The Grizz finished 8.4% poorer than those teams.
Taking the above into account then, it isn’t overly surprising that Randolph, Carter and Allen were allowed to walk to new pastures in the offseason. Yet, they were all key role players, with the three of them seeing the fourth, fifth and sixth most minutes per game last season. Memphis will have to address not just their traditional shooting woes and lack of athleticism, but also in filling the gigantic hole left behind by those who came before. The answer, General Manager Chris Wallace and Coach David Fizdale will hope, is to be found in the more recent additions to the squad.
Who Can Replace Randolph?
The most likely new candidates for replacing Randolph are Deyonta Davis and Ivan Rabb. The former is likely to see more playing time and a more prominent role, but the latter has a game more akin to ZBo’s.
Rabb is an interesting story. A potential top 10 pick should he have declared for the draft in 2016, he instead decided to go back to California for his Sophomore year, where he really didn’t improve on his Freshman year. The result was a free fall, again to the waiting arms of Memphis. Rabb is an old school big, more of a post than perimeter presence, and a terrific rebounder, traits that resemble Randolph’s. The Grizz have signed Rabb to a three year deal, and will be hoping that he can grow into a similar role over the duration.
The Grizzlies traded back into the second round in the 2016 Draft to select Deyonta Davis at 31 and Rade Zagorac at 35. Deyonta Davis was a highly rated Freshman from Michigan State whom was invited to the draft Green Room, but that unfortunately plummeted to the start of the second round. Fortunately for the Grizzlies, he fell into their laps.
Never able to get going in his Rookie year, Davis was hit by a plantar fasciitis injury, and fell down on the Grizzlies’ depth chart, but that didn’t stop him from receiving rave reviews from Marc Gasol. Right now, Davis brings an intriguing mix of size and athleticism, but with limited offensive versatility. The upside as a potential role player next season is there, and with minutes and a greater role opening up after Randolph’s departure, Davis may be the man to step up.
Who Can Replace Allen?
The most likely replacement for the Grindfather is James Ennis III. Whilst the defensive leadership and cultural cohesive presence that Allen brought to Grind City will be almost impossible to replicate, Ennis should have the opportunity to emulate Allen’s defensive production. Allen’s 2.9 defensive win shares were second best for the squad in 19/17, and Ennis finished seventh on 1.7 DWS. Should Coach Fizdale turn to Ennis as the next in line defensive stopper, expect those numbers to increase, as he has done year on year.
The reality is that it will have to be a collective effort defensively, and Chandler Parsons as well as new additions Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans
Who Can Replace Carter?
The Front Office will no doubt hope that it is Ben McLemore who can replace the man once dubbed half-man-half-amazing. The often maligned McLemore failed to fire in four seasons with the Kings after being selected seventh overall in 2013. Yet, the Grizzlies would no doubt hope that McLemore’s post-All Star/ post-Boogie production can carryover into 17/18:
Pre-All Star: 42 G, 17.9 MIN, 6.6 PTS, 41.2 FG%, 37 3PT%, 18.4% USG, 94 ORtg, 113 DRtg 1.5 TRB, 0.8 APG
Post-All Star: 19 G, 22.2 MIN, 11.5 PTS, 45.6 FG%, 40.3 3PT%, 23.6% USG, 102 ORtg, 115 DRtg 3.5 TRB, 0.8 APG.
The jump is significant and illustrates that there is still hope for McLemore. Unfortunately for him, the Grizzlies have a few players fighting for minutes at Shooting Guard, and a recent foot injury doesn’t help McLemore’s case.
One of those that is competing with McLemore is fellow Jayhawk alum Wayne Seldon Jr. Seldon’s shooting percentages are a little misleading, 14.3% in 11 games for the Grizzlies. Alarms however should stay silent, in three games with the Pelicans he went at 57.1%, 34.9% in the G-League and 39.2% in his Junior year at Kansas per RealGM.com. If he can produce in the same vein as his recent career outside of his 11 games in a Memphis jersey, and continue his ferocious defensive presence, he will equally have the opportunity to replicate what VC bought to Grind Town.
The Search for X-Factor, What Can The Others Add?
One of the more interesting players that the Grizzlies brought on for this year is the 35th overall pick in 2016, Rade Zagorac. Zagorac signed a multi-year deal this offseason after playing last season in Europe. His Summer League stats aren’t eye catching, but patience must be provided when young international players head to the NBA. The Grizzlies will hope his combination of height at 6’9, shooting and play-making ability can make an impact long term for the franchise.
There is also the other second round draft pick from 2017, Dillon Brooks. Brooks was an efficient scorer at the College level, averaging 16.1 points at 53.2 FG% and 40.1 3PT% in only 25 minutes a game. Similar to most second round picks who are selected by perennial playoff teams, Brooks is unlikely to play major minutes, but his skill set is intriguing, and should provide depth at the very least. Besides, efficiency can often be a definition for x-factor.
Letting their previous key role players go coincides with a push by the Grizzlies through their recent additions towards youth to find their next series of role players. The margin for error among small market teams is much narrower, and with roughly 75% of the Grizzlies salary cap tied up in three core players, the Grizzlies have limited opportunities to find the right players to fit around the core of Conley and Gasol, and maybe Chandler Parsons. The draft is the well that Memphis has decided to tap, in an effort to find the next generation supporting cast, and will hope that by doing so they can keep the tradition of Grit and Grind alive – albeit maybe a new Grind – whilst getting younger and more athletic in the process.
The success of the Grizzlies this year will be on the hope that one or more of their recent inclusions will be found to be the right fit.
Projected Starting Five:
Projected Depth Chart:
Overall Offseason Grade: C
2017/18 Prediction: 36 – 46
The Grizzlies decided to slightly deviate from their path, letting a mammoth amount of experience go and doubling down on youth to help them get to where they want to go. Signing Free Agents Tyreke Evans and Ben McLemore, both of whom have been much maligned over the course of their careers and bringing in three second-round picks (Zagorac, Rabb and Brooks) are cheap gambles that could pay off if one or more can produce at a level akin to a quality role player. But that pivot towards youth will likely backfire for the Grizzlies. The other teams chasing the final few playoff spots all became stronger, which will likely see the Grizzlies miss out.
Player to Watch: Tyreke Evans
The last two seasons for Tyreke Evans have been significantly interrupted, participating in a total of 65 games during that period. It’s easy to forget that prior to the recent injuries, Evans was a very capable contributor, averaging 16.6ppg, 4.9rpg, 5.4apg and 1.4spg in the seven seasons prior to 2016/17. The prime sixth man seems to be the logical role for Evans next season. He’s not quite a traditional Point Guard, nor a traditional Shooting Guard, and thus being a focus point for the second unit could be mutually beneficial for Evans and Memphis. Whether it will be off the bench or as a starter, Coach Fizdale will be hoping for that level of production for 2017/18, and if he can, it will go a long way to determining how good the Grizz will be.
Four Key Questions:
1. Who is the answer at SG?
The depth chart at Shooting Guard features Wayne Seldon Jr. who had a great Vegas Summer League, and the aforementioned Tyreke Evans and Ben McLemore. All will have a claim for the starting role as Conley’s backcourt partner. However, McLemore’s injury and the need for impact from the bench which may be best provided from Evans may see Seldon Jr. get the nod, at least initially. The depth of competition forced out Troy Daniels who was traded to the Suns, after a very efficient 62 games for the Grizzlies in 2016/17.
2. Who will be the 16th man on the roster?
If JaMychal Green re-signs with the Grizzlies, and the current thinking is that he will, Memphis will enter training camp with 16 guaranteed contracts for this season. Troy Daniels has already been forced out, but with one more cull left, who will get the chop? Having signed Zagorac, Brooks and Rabb to deals with multiple years guaranteed, it is unlikely to be one of them. It may be Brandon Wright, who is out of contract next season. Wright may see his minutes dwindle if Davis can improve, and Rabb can play a role. At 29 that would make him the odd man out.
3. Can they stay relatively healthy?
Injuries have cursed the Grizzlies in recent times. Last year it was star recruit Chandler Parsons to multiple knee issues, and the season before that it was Marc Gasol with a broken foot. In fact, the four best players on paper for the Grizzlies: Gasol, Conley, Parsons and Evans have missed a combined 277 regular season games over the last three seasons, and not one has completed a full 82 game season. With a seemingly shallower bench entering into this season, the importance of having their stars stay healthy is more paramount than ever.
4. Can the Grizzlies still maintain their ‘grit and grind’ reputation with the loss of the Grindfather and ZBo?
The origin of the defensive attitude of the Grizzlies of recent season started as a swipe towards Rudy Gay by Tony Allen in conjunction with the attitude of Zach Randolph. Over time, both came to embody the attitude of grit and grind itself. With Allen signing with the Pelicans and ZBo heading to Sac Town, the question will no doubt be whether the attitude will be maintained by the Grizzlies, and if so, who will embody the philosophy like Allen did? As discussed, James Ennis III is the ideal Allen replacement, and maybe JaMychal Green is ZBo’s heir apparent. Yet both are young, and have not been on the Grizzlie roster very long. It remains to be seen if they can keep the grit and grind tradition strong.