Playoff Contention: Memphis Grizzlies
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New Grizzlies vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger, along with GM Chris Wallace, have made Memphis better--both now and for the long term. Their brilliant trade for Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis and Austin Daye, while also unloading the cumbersome contract of Rudy Gay ($37 million over the next two seasons), not only improved this defensive-dominant team, but it has helped the squad escape the more costly luxury tax for future seasons as well. Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley are Top 10 players at their positions (some would make Top 5 arguments for each). Tony Allen could make the All-Defense squad, along with Gasol for that matter. But this team is better than last year's squad because of the chemistry factor (another year together for the aforementioned four, along with Quincy Pondexter and a now-healthy Darrell Arthur). It is also better because Prince, Davis and Jerryd Bayless have made both starting and second-string units better, sufficiently replacing the components of Gay, O.J. Mayo and Marreese Speights. Credit Coach Lionel Hollins for keeping this team on task and emerging as the third, fourth or fifth best team in the West. For an organization that has won only one playoff series in franchise history, that is a step in the right direction.
Prince has been a godsend to the Grizzlies' lineups, with his new team posting a 106.9 offensive rating and 92.2 defensive rating when he's on the floor (713 minutes in 22 games). Memphis now has a 97.2 second-ranked defensive rating on the season, along with a 101.2 offensive rating, ranking 20th. The former starting lineup--Conley, Allen, Gay, Randolph and Gasol--had a very good +8.3 net rating in 631 minutes together before the trade. However, since replacing Gay with Prince, the Grizzlies have gotten a lot better, with the new starting lineup posting a +13.7 net rating together in 332 minutes. The transition has allowed more of the offense to flow through Gasol, Randolph and Conley. An added bonus has been 23-year-old Davis strengthening both first- and second-string units when he is on the floor.
THE 5,000 MINUTE RULE
We have this theory about the 5,000 Minute Rule: The Grizzlies may have five veterans over 5,000 minutes together once the 2013 NBA Playoffs are over, led by Conley (14,468 minutes in Memphis), Gasol (13,035), Randolph (9392), Allen (5258) and Arthur (4515).
LORD OF THE RINGS
Allen and Prince are two key Grizzlies who have won NBA championship rings, with Allen earning one as a sub for the 2007-08 Boston Celtics and Prince winning one as a starter for the 2003-04 Detroit Pistons. But I cannot leave out new acquisition, third-string center Dexter Pittman, who logged eight playoff minutes and won himself a ring with the 2012-13 Miami Heat last season.
Hollinger Playoff Odds gives Memphis a 4 percent shot at winning the 2013 NBA championship, while Basketball-Reference rates the Grizz at 2 percent. The 46-21 Grizzlies are in a race for the No. 3 seed with the 47-22 Clippers and 47-22 Nuggets, with the team that gets to 56 wins first having the advantage for that slot. Whoever grabs the No. 3 spot will have a much easier first-round foe (likely the 39-31 Warriors) than beating up on fellow 55ish-game winners.
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C Marc Gasol: 67 games, 35.2 mpg, 14.3 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 19.4 PER, +6.8 Net, +10.2 On/Off
C Darrell Arthur*: 48 games, 17.0 mpg, 6.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 11.8 PER, -2.4 Net, -8.4 On/Off
C Dexter Pittman: 7 games, 3.9 mpg, 1.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg, 8.5 PER, -28.1 Net, -35.5 On/Off
PF Zach Randolph: 61 games, 35.5 mpg, 15.8 ppg, 11.7 rpg, 18.1 PER, +5.0 Net, +3.1 On/Off
PF Ed Davis: 67 games, 20.9 mpg, 8.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 17.7 PER, +2.8 Net, -4.5 On/Off
PF Jon Leuer: 20 games, 7.5 mpg, 2.0 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 7.3 PER, -26.5 Net, -34.4 On/Off
SF Tayshaun Prince: 67 games, 32.4 mpg, 11.0 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 11.9 PER, +14.7 Net, +17.7 On/Off
SF Austin Daye: 42 games, 12.6 mpg, 4.8 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 13.3 PER, -21.6 Net, -32.5 On/Off
SG Tony Allen: 64 games, 27.4 mpg, 8.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 12.8 PER, +7.3 Net, +7.3 On/Off
SG Quincy Pondexter: 44 games, 21.7 mpg, 6.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 11.1 PER, -0.5 Net, -6.3 On/Off
PG Mike Conley: 65 games, 34.3 mpg, 13.8 ppg, 6.2 apg, 17.9 PER, +8.9 Net, +15.7 On/Off
PG Jerryd Bayless: 67 games, 20.7 mpg, 7.7 ppg, 3.2 apg, 13.2 PER, -1.3 Net, -9.2 On/Off
PG Tony Wroten: 30 games, 8.4 mpg, 2.9 ppg, 1.4 apg, 10.4 PER, -9.9 Net, -15.0 On/Off
2011-12 GONE GRIZZLIES (.621)
SF Rudy Gay: 65 games, 37.3 mpg, 19.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 17.8 PER, +2.0 Net, +9.1 On/Off
SG O.J. Mayo: 66 games, 26.8 mpg, 12.6 ppg, 2.6 apg, 14.8 PER, +0.2 Net, -1.9 On/Off
PF Marreese Speights: 60 games, 22.4 mpg, 8.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 14.1 PER, -2.8 Net, -5.7 On/Off
PF Dante Cunningham: 64 games, 17.6 mpg, 5.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 14.9 PER, -1.4 Net, -7.1 On/Off
PG Gilbert Arenas: 17 games, 12.4 mpg, 4.2 ppg, 1.1 apg, 10.0 PER, +5.6 Net, +2.5 On/Off
C Hamed Haddadi: 35 games, 5.9 mpg, 2.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 16.3 PER, +6.4 Net, +4.1 On/Off
PG Lester Hudson*: 16 games, 20.9 mpg, 10.9 ppg, 2.3 apg, 13.9 PER, -9.1 Net, -10.9 On/Off
* did not play in 2012 NBA Playoffs; players in boldface are returning players