Are The Grizzlies Better?


In today’s world of sports journalism, media and things of the like, we get too caught up in small shots, as opposed to looking at the big picture. Everything that happens that specific night is the greatest or worst thing that’s ever happened and even more so the next night. On and on it goes.

Every night in the NBA is the same deal. If the Knicks beat the Celtics on national TV, that means that they’re turning the corner and if the Heat drop the second game on a back-to-back, then they just are not tough enough to win the championship. Is it always relevant? Of course not! But it makes for interesting discussion and people love discussing things. Anything really.

Trolling was the theme of the year in 2011, and 2012 is off to a good start as well. Skip Bayless and a million other guys who don’t troll as masterfully as him all have extreme opinions one way or the other for the sake of television ratings. To make matters worse, try as we might we still tune in and watch Skip Bayless trash LeBron James, praise Tim Tebow and continue to unmercifully root for the Spurs and Dallas Cowboys at every turn.

I say all that to ask this one, simple question: Are the Memphis Grizzlies better today than they were during the first round playoff loss to the Los Angeles Clippers?

The starting five will be the same barring something unforeseen happening. O.J. Mayo is now with the Dallas Mavericks and while he was usually solid off the bench for the Grizzlies, Memphis always needed a good ball-handler on the floor with the second unit more than they needed a scorer. Jerryd Bayless would appear to be that type of guy. I was an O.J. Mayo fan, but for a guy that sees himself as a point guard in the NBA, he struggled handling the ball a lot of times.

Mayo is almost definitely a better player in a vacuum, but if Bayless does more of the things that the Grizzlies need (and doesn’t rub Lionel Hollins the wrong way) then he’ll almost certainly be better for the Grizzlies, and at a cheaper price tag than Mayo carries.

Mayo was also a high volume scorer, meaning that he got his points by putting up a ton of shots. It’s hard to criticize that because his role on the team was to carry the second unit’s scoring load and if that meant taking more shots than Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph some nights, so be it.

Dante Cunningham was traded for Wayne Ellington and while Cunningham’s game is a lot like my own game (which means he’s awesome) Ellington has the potential to address the Grizzlies’ biggest concern since Juan Carlos Navarro went back to to Spain, and that’s the lack of any good three-point shooters.

Cunningham was a useful reserve for the Grizzlies last year, but with Darrell Arthur back in the mix, he was going to be a fifth big man on most nights, meaning that he would see 10 minutes (or less) of action every night. If Ellington can hit the three, and he can defend well enough to outshoot his mistakes, then it was a good deal.

On paper, the Grizzlies have added two guys that they didn’t see a lot of last year. Josh Selby was awesome in Summer League, winning Co-MVP honors and Darrell Arthur missed the entire 2011-2012 season with an Achilles injury. Before the injury, Arthur had been regarded by many as a potential Sixth Man of the Year candidate after his performance in the 2011 NBA playoffs. His injury forced the Grizzlies to play musical chairs pretty much all season.

If Selby’s Summer League performance is any indication, then he may be able to replicate most of what Mayo did for the Grizzlies in his career. He showed a much better touch on outside shots and got to the basket a lot as well. It was only Summer League, but upside is upside and if he’s able to just knock down open three-pointers, he has a spot on the team.

You also have to factor in the Grizzlies’ health concerns from last season as well. The Grizzlies (like any team) were banged up for most of the year. Injuries are a part of the game, but I can’t think of any teams that lost one of their two top bench guys (Arthur) and their best player for almost three months (Zach Randolph). To navigate injuries like that and still win 41 games (in a 66 game season) and have home-court advantage in the first round is rather impressive.

Despite that, the Grizzlies’ 2011-2012 season are filled with a ton of what-ifs. Injuries, scenarios, strategy, pretty much anything you can think of it have to cloud Memphis’ memories of last year’s team.

The biggest one to me will be that Lakers game in March. With Randolph on the mend, and Rudy Gay out with a concussion, the Grizzlies led the Lakers for most of the game, but lost in double overtime as Andrew Bynum finished with 37 points and 16 rebounds.

It was a tough loss, but against a good team like the Lakers, and down two starters you try not to hang your head too much. However, when the Grizzlies and Lakers ended up with the exact same record, it became a much bigger deal. If the Grizzlies had won that game, they would have gotten the third seed in the Western Conference playoffs and played the Nuggets who would have been a much better match-up for the Grizzlies than the Clippers would have been. The Grizzlies would have likely won that series and played the Thunder in the second round.

That would have been a tough series, but after taking them to seven games in 2011, the Grizzlies had to have felt like they could have done the same thing and maybe even advanced to the Western Conference Finals for the first time ever.

Anyway, will the 2012-2013 edition of the Memphis Grizzlies be better than the 2011-2012 version?

In my opinion, they will be. I don’t know if they’ll be able to post the same winning percentage that they did last year, but I do believe that they’ll be able to win a round in the playoffs. Bayless will be able to handle the ball more than Mayo was able to, and the Grizzlies at least have the threat of some outside shooters, something they didn’t have last year at any point. Assuming Zach Randolph is fully healed by opening night, this is going to be another difficult match-up every night for opposing teams.