With the start of the 2013-14 NBA season rapidly approaching, we thought it only fair to share what makes each team so exciting. Ontologically speaking, all 30 teams deserve our eyeballs this season. Even disastrous lineups still present oodles of plays, personalities, highlights and headaches. Here are five things to keep in mind for each team before flipping the channel.
Next up, a Grizzlies team that’s again being underrated in the West.
[5 Reasons To Watch: Kings, Lakers, Knicks, 76ers, Bobcats, Cavs, Magic, Warriors, Timberwolves, Nuggets, Clippers, Clippers, Rockets, Bulls, Pistons, Bucks, Nets, Pacers, Wizards, Thunder, Heat, Mavericks, Celtics, Raptors Hawks, Spurs, Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Suns, Jazz]
Last season’s Memphis Grizzlies team was down 2-0 to the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs when people started saying their season was over. Some will claim there was a balanced, impartial response to the Grizzlies 0-2 deficit, but the vast majority of analysts were already looking ahead to who the Clippers might face in the second round.
Obviously we know the Grizz went on to win four-straight before taking the Westbrook-less Thunder down in round two to make their first Conference Championship in franchise history. We also know that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich squeezed an already tight Grizzlies half-court by ignoring their wing shooters (they just left Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince and others alone on the perimeter) in order to focus on the behemoths on the block. This led to a Spurs sweep, but a sweep that was closer than many remember.
Now, with the Rockets getting Dwight Howard, the Spurs still around, the Warriors picking up Iggy and the Clippers getting a new coach and two new wings (even if their owner almost blew it), the Grizzlies are considered â€” once again â€” to be long shots to come out of the West. When will people learn that underestimatiing the Grizzlies is exactly what they want?
Here are five reasons to watch the Grizz this season. If you’re not a fan of bruising basketball, then avert your eyes.
Faster Offense Under New Coach Dave Joerger
Center Marc Gasol has detailed this onus on playing faster briefly during the offseason, but it’s hard to imagine Zach Randolph and Gasol lumbering down the court at a breakneck pace. There’s a reason they played at the second slowest pace in the league last season. Maybe former coach Lionel Hollins encouraged them to mosey on up the court, or their big bodies demanded it. But there’s something alluring about a team that’s willing to waste 10 seconds before setting up their offense.
Maybe Joerger has a system in place that will ignite a ponderous team, but the personnel almost favors a slower gait. Gasol and Z-Bo aren’t getting any younger and maybe it’s helpful they take their time getting up the court on the offensive end.
That being said, if the Grizzlies can somehow figure out how to get the full 24 seconds of the shot clock to set up various offensive sets â€” instead of just one offensive set, followed by a hurried Mike Conley iso attempt â€” they’ll add a new dimension to a team that’s constantly being underrated in the national press. It’s either that, or another season of clunkers as the Grizz D is the only thing keeping them from a return to the lottery. Regardless, it’s gonna be a ton of fun watching them try and figure how to get some easy buckets if they’re not forcing turnovers.
Zach Randolph’s Vertical
Randolph doesn’t really jump. He’s not allergic to gravity, so much as stunted by it’s usually innocuous power. When Z-Bo drives hard into the lane, his best attempts are half-leans that bamboozle NBA defenders used to working in the in a stratosphere Z-Bo no longer inhabits â€” if he even did in the first place. But it’s that same wily game of Randolph’s that’s helped him become one of the toughest defensive assignments in the league. That is, unless you’re JaVale McGee.
But Zach’s earth-bound game is predicated on a series of stutters, head-fakes, dekes and jukes that would make even the most talented playground legend marvel at his ingenuity with so little natural talent. Maybe Z-Bo is the clearest case that the NBA GM’s annual survey has a white guy award because he should be winning that vote every year. He does a lot with a body you can spot in most YMCA locker-rooms.
While the rest of the league supports the high-flying theatrics of the youngsters, Randolph is content to rely on his mundane repertoire that remains on the court. And once he does have to get in the air, the sliver of space between his sneakers and the hardwood is almost as narrow a margin as the one separating this team’s defensive juggernaut from possibly lapsing into a pre-2011 abyss.
The Jabbering Marc Gasol
Gasol doesn’t stand out on a statistical level, but that’s primarily because the characteristics that helped the younger Gasol brother win the 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year award don’t yet have empirical data to support them (give Grizz stat geek and former ESPN analyst John Hollinger time, though). The single most thrilling aspect of Gasol’s defensive tenacity is the brain connected to that mouth; it’s a mouth that spews what sounds like jabberwocky, but is really a nuanced understanding of the game. He’s always talking, and to the uninitiated it can seem like a pose.
But Gasol helms the league’s second best defense. Only Indiana gave up fewer points per possession than the Grizzlies last year, so you can’t blame Grizz opponents for failing to score because of an early bird special pace. No, it’s Gasol screaming out which side the pick is coming, and getting Conley and Tony Allen to shade the right way on a screen; it’s letting Randolph know Gasol will be rotating over to double on the block, and so Z-Bo has got to bang the cutter coming through the lane.
Gasol gets the best out of his talent â€” similar to Z-Bo â€” by sharing his knowledge of opposing NBA offenses with the rest of his team. If a player can’t shoot, Gasol might tell Allen or Conley or Prince to back up a couple feet and go under the high screen. If a ball-handler is a shooter, than he’ll instruct them to go over screens and he’ll hedge on his man for a second with perfect footwork to bump the p&5 ball handler before they can turn the corner.
It’s all those decisions and more happening in tiny fractions of time and space all over the court that often leads to the grotesque, spittle-ravaged countenance Gasol exhibits when the game ends. He talks more than even we do, and we can’t shut up during games. This is a good thing for the Grizzlies, their fans and anyone lucky enough to watch the Grizz protect their basket. Gasol’s motor mouth should be applauded, and if there’s a rotation that’s missed, it’s not from a lack of exhortations on his part.
And when Gasol has run out of words, he just uses his shoe.
Mike Conley Jr.
The former Ohio State Buckeye has made mini-jumps in each of the last two seasons. He’s gotten stronger and more efficient from the field. He no longer seems to exhibit a lapse in concentration on a game-to-game level. He’s a professional, now. He doesn’t play defense with the aplomb of Tony Allen, or possess the preternatural rebounding and scoring gene of Z-Bo. He’s not a yapper like Gasol or a sleek, one-dimensional shooter like new signing Miker Miller.
No, Conley is snippets of those things and more. In a Western Conference featuring the top two point guards in in the league, Tony Parker and Chris Paul (apologies, but Derrick Rose is going to have to play some regular season games before he’s back in that mix), Conley gives the Grizzlies the perfect antidote. An unsung hero that’s improved his shot without sacrificing his team-first mentality. This team fits together perfectly like a jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces (except a shooter), and Conley is that center piece you find on the floor that brings the puzzle’s picture into focus.
It’s what they do. The Grit N’ Grind crew is still here, and that means more 80-79 games that gave David Stern heartburn before the Western Conference Finals started last year. It might only be sexy to those of us who think Bill Russell is exponentially more dominant than Wilt Chamberlain ever was, but defense wins games. In the run-and-gun NBA of the new millennium, a shooting-averse squad with only a few athletes continues to prevent the league’s best from getting comfortable on offense, and it’s led to some impressive playoff runs. It’s a street fight when you face the Grizzlies, and that’s what makes them so freakin’ enjoyable to watch.
Conley, Gasol and Tony Allen made the NBA’s All-Defensive team last year, and it’s no surprise. All of them are important ingredients for one of the league’s staunchest defenses, year in and year out. If you like the quirks of a defense-first team in the year 2013, then you’ll like the Grizzlies. The problem is most people don’t really care about a perfectly shrouded pick-and-roll. Except, that’s oftentimes the difference between just competing and getting the W.
What do you think?
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