Along with the offense-prone Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors, the Memphis Grizzlies find themselves in vaunted early season company. Along with their Western Conference rivals, the Grizz have made quick work of their opponents. People are impressed, and when that happens the darkhorse banter for Memphis begins. But an easy schedule might be clouding Memphis’ true identity.
As the current standings go, the Grit and Grind nation are at the top of the Western Conference after beating the likes of the Timberwolves, the Hornets, the Pelicans, the Suns, a decimated Thunder team, and the measly Pacers. Not usually meek company but those teams are a collective 12 and 21 at this mark. So, truly, the Grizzlies have at least benefited somewhat from an easy schedule.
That’s not to say that they aren’t built for a playoff push. Marc Gasol is looking like an MVP candidate, posting 18.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.3 steals, and 1.6 blocks on 52.4 percent shooting. His trimmed-down look is also lending itself well to an increased offensive responsibility – his usage rating is at 25.0 percent, the highest of his career. And it’s no secret that the Grizzlies are exponentially better when he’s suited up.
Marc Gasol returned from a sprained MCL in his left knee on Jan. 14th, since then Grizzlies have best record in NBA at 38-13
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 7, 2014
You add to that an older Mike Conley, the always-present Zach Randolph, a confident Courtney Lee, and the addition of Vince Carter and you have a team ready to kill some postseason dreams. At this point, they’re a top-2 defense with great matchup potential against an aging Spurs squad, an untested Rockets group, and a hot-shooting Golden State team that hasn’t fared well against Memphis’ game.
But are they a qualified contender? Not quite.
Their depth is still a worry, and though Vince Carter brings added shooting and playmaking, as last year’s first round Dallas-San Antonio series showed, he can only win you one game (if you’re extremely lucky, maybe two) when the lights are brightest. An OKC at full strength, a Golden State that can remain healthy, or a re-emergent San Antonio are all more viable candidates for late season glory.
As the Grizzlies’ gritty 71-69 win against Charlotte showed, they can win with tooth and nail. But, in that regard, they might be all too much like last year’s Indiana Pacers. At 16 and 1, Indy was riding a historically efficient defense to much fanfare before their true identity caught up to them. Memphis is too composed to discombobulate in the fashion Indiana did but might not be far off from repeating a case of grounded expectations.
Their first loss of the season to the overachieving Bucks speaks volumes to who Memphis might truly be. Though somewhat of a surprising defensive juggernaut thus far, Milwaukee is ranked 23rd in the league in points scored per game (93.9). And that’s all they had to muster to mar a then-perfect Memphis Grizzlies record. Despite shooting 27.8 percent from deep and 72.7 percent from the charity stripe, the Bucks only had to overcome an embarrassing 35.4 percent shooting night (and 21.4 percent from downtown territory) from Memphis to snag the win.
That kind of loss to a team still going through growing pains says more about the Grizzlies’ relaxed schedule than it does their overstated strengths.
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