After a few tough moments following the Rudy Gay trade, the Grizzlies went into the all-star break on a high note, winning their last three games to put their record at 33-19. As an added bonus, the previously hot Nuggets finally dropped a few, putting the Grizzlies back at 4th in the West, meaning they’d had have home-court advantage if the playoffs started today. After a bumpy last few months, it was nice to see the Grizz end this part of the season on a positive note.
But when can we expect from the Grizzlies the rest of the way? Will they challenge the hierarchy of the West for a higher seed, will they flounder their way to the lower half of the West, while teams like the Nuggets and Warriors trample over them, or will they stay where they are right now?
Well, for starters, fans should expect the Grizzlies to be a force to contend with from now until the end of the season. What these last three games have shown us is that the Grizzlies have adjusted to the changes caused by trading Rudy Gay, and once again, they look like one of the scarier teams in the league. They key is going to be that play of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. At times, they look like the best frontcourt duo in the league. Without Gay, they will be the ones expected to do the bulk of the scoring. After what we’ve seen from them in the past, it’s hard to envision them not being up to the task.
The play of Mike Conley will be key as well. Without Gay taking so many shots, the success of the pick and roll is going to be essential. Conley has quietly been an extremely effective point guard, and in the games before the all-star break, he was playing some of his best basketball so far this season. I expect him to rise to the occasion as well. We’ll be seeing Conley feed the ball to Gasol and Z-Bo in the post for tons of easy points the rest of the way. Due to the lack of jump shooters, that’s going to become the Grizzlies identity. Luckily, they’ve always been a tough team who survives by pushing the other team around for 48 minutes, so this will not be a difficult transition for them.
The addition of Tayshaun Prince is going to be a big help as well. He’s not a high-volume shooter, but he’s effective enough, and can be quietly efficient. Also, he plays solid defense, and can hit the occasional three, which is going to be very important since it’s one of the Grizzlies’ biggest weaknesses.
As for the bench, Quincy Pondexter and Austin Daye are also solid from beyond the arc, but the main second unit scorer will be Jerryd Bayless. After a rough start, Bayless has been scoring a lot more in recent weeks, and appears to be taking a more active role in the offense. If he keeps this up, the Grizzlies will have one more legitimate scorer, who can give the offense the potency that was displayed earlier in the season, before the team fell back into old habits.
Finally, Ed Davis needs to start playing more. This is not the first time I’ve mentioned this, but it’s worth repeating. Even if he doesn’t immediately fit into what Lionel Hollins wants to do, he’s too good of a player to be sitting on the bench all game. Davis deserves to be playing 20-25 minutes a game, and if Hollins starts giving him that time, the second unit will thrive. Giving him a bigger role should be the top priority for Hollins in the aftermath of the all-star break.
The Grizzlies have a solid team, and they appeared to have adjusted to the changes caused by the Gay trade. They should be a tough team the rest of the way, and while they may not pass the Thunder, Spurs, or Clippers, I don’t expect anyone to go in front of them either. When the playoffs begin, Game 1 should be played at the Grindhouse.