Grizzlies have become a team in the truest sense
Glancing over the NBA standings, you will see a list of familiar names at the top. Detroit holds the league’s best record at 15-3. San Antonio has won 16 of its first 20 games, and Dallas is 15-6.
Of course, you’ll also see a few surprising teams hovering around first place — such as the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors, and Milwaukee Bucks. And, yes, the Memphis Grizzlies, who were 13-7 through Monday.
While the newfound rejuvenation of teams like the Clippers has been detailed endlessly, the Grizzlies have been relatively anonymous, and undeservedly so.
In an era where few teams are efficient on both sides of the ball, the Grizzlies are the exception. They shoot a healthy 45 percent from the floor while averaging 91 points per contest. They average 19 assists, and commit only 14 turnovers a game.
Defensively, they are even more deadly. They hold opponents to 84.8 points per, on a grotesque percentage of 42 percent. What the Grizzlies are is a team of veterans who know their roles, and all have the understanding of how to play within the team concept. They also have a head coach in Mike Fratello who knows how to succeed.
Let’s start with the foundation that the Grizzlies have set for themselves. They have a legitimate interior scorer in Pau Gasol, who is averaging 19.2 points, 9.2 rebounds, and four assists per game. Gasol is a triple-threat every time he touches the ball, and has superior athleticism and agility for a player his size (7-foot-0, 240 pounds). But Gasol has also shown in years past that he is uncomfortable with being the star, preferring instead to have others share the glory, even if it means sacrificing his own numbers.
Therefore, in the offseason, Grizzlies president Jerry West acquired players who could score, pass, and dribble, while also understanding that in order for the team to achieve its utmost success, Gasol must be the cog.
Enter Damon Stoudamire. Enter Eddie Jones. Enter Bobby Jackson. All are veteran guards who can shoot and handle the ball, while also applying defensive pressure and causing problems by disrupting an opponent’s offense. The Grizzlies also rid themselves of the enigmatic Jason Williams and malcontent Bonzi Wells.
What the transactions did was provide a plethora of offensive weapons that Fratello could turn to so that Gasol was not hounded with all of the work. Five other Grizzlies are averaging in double figures this season: Jones (13.1), Shane Battier (12.7), Stoudamire (11.7), Jackson (11.0), and Mike Miller (10.6). More importantly, the Grizzlies have a cast of players who provide expertise in all facets of the game. Stoudamire and Jackson can penetrate and dish; Miller, Battier and Jones are all deadly from the 3-point stripe; Battier, center Lorenzen Wright, and guard Dahntay Jones all provide energy defensively, and a scrappy, hustling mindset.
This season’s Grizzlies are fluid and smart with the ball. No one is looking for his own shot on offense, and everyone passed and screens until a good, open look is had. On defense, everyone helps everybody else. The guards hound and pressure the ball, knowing that the length and agility of Gasol, Wright, and Battier will be there, anticipating any daredevil who chooses to challenge their path. The Grizzlies have bought into Fratello’s system and are smart enough to realize that, in order to win, they need to depend on each other.
Aside from the Pistons, I have yet to see another team with the same effectiveness on both ends of the floor. When you watch teams like the Grizzlies or Pistons, it’s like you’re watching a premiere college basketball team. There are no impure motives or distractions. The only goal is to win basketball games.
And while the rest of the fans and media are enamored by the drama of teams such as the Lakers, Knicks, and Pacers, maybe they instead should spend their time focusing on the play of the Grizzlies. Perhaps then they’ll see that team play and proper preparation still exists in the prima-donna state that the league often finds itself in today.