In late November the Grizzlies were in fifth place in the West, one of the season's early surprises. Then 6'1", 175-pound Mike Conley tried to take a charge against 6'7", 232-pound Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.
Conley got the call, but he stayed on the floor; he had broken multiple bones in his lower back. He was projected to miss six to eight weeks, which supposedly spelled doom for Memphis's season. But Conley's broken back sidelined him for only 17 days. The Grizzlies went 7--2 in his absence; when he returned, Conley not only led them to the playoffs but also topped 20 points per game for the first time in his 10-year career.
Call it a Grit 'N' Grind parable. It's relevant now because the Grizzlies once again face daunting questions. Can anyone besides Conley and Marc Gasol shoot? (Memphis was last in field goal percentage.) Can Tyreke Evans help? Will Chandler Parsons—in the second year of a four-year, $94 million deal—play more than 50 games, and if so, will he average more than six points?
It's fair to be skeptical. In the supercharged West, the Grizzlies look like prime candidates to take a step back. But we've been hearing that for a long time—including last season.
COACH DAVID FIZDALE
(2nd season with Grizzlies)
2016--17 RECORD 43--39
(3rd in Southwest)
18 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
PG MIKE CONLEY
20.5 PPG; 6.3 APG; 46.0 FG%; 40.8 3FG%
SG BEN MCLEMORE [NEW ACQUISITION]
8.1 PPG; 2.1 RPG; 43.0 FG%; 38.2 3FG%
SF CHANDLER PARSONS
6.2 PPG; 2.5 RPG; 33.8 FG%; 26.9 3FG%
PF JAMYCHAL GREEN
8.9 PPG; 7.1 RPG; 50.0 FG%; 37.9 3FG%
24 [THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING]
C MARC GASOL
19.5 PPG; 6.3 RPG; 45.9 FG%; 38.8 3FG%
SG TYREKE EVANS [NEW ACQUISITION]
10.3 PPG; 3.1 APG; 40.5 FG%; 35.6 3FG%
SG WAYNE SELDEN
5.1 PPG; 0.9 APG; 43.1 FG%; 25.0 3FG%
C BRANDAN WRIGHT
6.8 PPG; 2.8 RPG; 0.7 BPG; 61.5 FG%
• THE CROSSOVER TOP 100 RANKING
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP MEMPHIS
MARC GASOL is such a fun guy to watch because he's got no athletic superiority whatsoever. What he's become is a huge credit to him.... It's been hard for MIKE CONLEY to penetrate the top tiers of point guards. It's a little telling that he's never been an All-Star. At what point does his game flatten out? Conley is going to be 30 and coming off his career high in scoring. And I'm not saying it's an unwilling 20 points per game, but that's more than three points higher than any season before. Do we really expect him to go to a higher level? You've got Kyrie Irving and Damian Lillard out there—guys who play with such flair and scoring bravado. I never saw Conley as that guy. Maybe that's because of the talent around him or the defense-first mentality there, but maybe it says something about him.... TYREKE EVANS—there's some individual talent, but it can be hard to blend a ball-dominant player like that. There's a certain fear that he could go off for 30 points at any time, but is that going to be in a winning effort? ... Whenever you've got a guy who's got the physical tools that BEN MCLEMORE has and who has demonstrated he can be a threat from the perimeter, you're tantalized. You give him the opportunity because physically he has stuff that other guys will never have.... JAMYCHAL GREEN was given the perfect opportunity to shine and took advantage of it. There's just nothing special. I don't see a continual developmental curve. He's an accepting role player, but I don't think he's perched on the ledge to move up in the league.
TELLING 17 STATISTIC
It will be tough for Memphis to keep pace, but Conley and Gasol are too excellent to go quietly.