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MikeCheck on NBA: Look no farther than Memphis, where Gasol’s growth and urgency have sparked Grizzlies to one of NBA’s best starts

By Michael Wallace
Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – Typically, this space is reserved for an outside look at a topic that’s trending, intriguing or, on some occasions, even aggravating about the NBA.

Whereas the first week of the season was overshadowed by demoralizing injuries, the past few days have highlighted the surprising starts of players and teams that don’t always rise to the national spotlight normally reserved for Golden State or Cleveland.

That’s where the Memphis Grizzlies and, more specifically, Marc Gasol enter the equation.

Perhaps the view from here is a bit biased, but facts are facts.

Opposing coaches and players, league scouts and national pundits count the Grizzlies among the surprise teams of the young NBA season. Just watch Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard or Hall of Famer and NBA TV’s Isiah Thomas. Or check the social media feed of ESPN’s national reporters covering the defending champion Warriors or those embedded with the magazine cover story Rockets.

We don’t have time to wait around and try to figure out a lot of things... It’s not just me that feels that way. It’s Mike Conley, who has been around here a while too. We want to win.
-- Marc Gasol

From a national perspective, so much of this season for Memphis was supposed to be about struggling through a transition that has seen the Grizzlies respectfully move beyond the Core Four era and into an evolving brand of ball that further accentuates the talents of Gasol and Mike Conley.

So far, it’s resulted in only the team’s second 3-0 start in franchise history. We’ve seen Conley open the season as one of the best fourth quarter closers in the game. And Gasol has emerged as one of only three NBA players averaging at least 25 points and 10 rebounds through at least four games. The others on that list are Giannis Antetokounmpo and DeMarcus Cousins.

Indeed, one of the best stories of the young NBA season is playing out right here in Memphis. Among the benefits of a tough opening schedule is that victories already over those Warriors and Rockets have brought a level of attention and appreciation this way that certainly wouldn’t have come this soon. It’s a miniscule sample size, but the Grizzlies (3-1) have already shown signs of being dangerous enough to knock off the top title contenders in the West, and disjointed enough to fall to potential lottery-bound squads like the Dallas Mavericks.

Case in point: Wednesday night’s setback in Dallas was proof that Memphis is susceptible to those same frustrating slipups to inferior foes that limited it to 43 wins, the No. 7 seed and a first-round playoff loss to San Antonio last season. This season is about avoiding that type of fate.

And that brings us back to Gasol, whose increased sense of urgency and decreased level of patience will serve as a compass for these Grizzlies. Coming off the most productive offensive season of his career, Gasol is already doubling down at a prolific pace this season.

Every game, it seems, there’s another first. The season-opening win over New Orleans was only the third time in Gasol’s career he debuted with a double-double. He’s now got three double-doubles through four games. In the following win over the Warriors, Gasol’s 34 points and 14 rebounds marked the first time in his career he’s registered at least that many points and rebounds in the same game.

The win in Houston saw Gasol focus on dominating the post, where he had five dunks. Two nights later in the setback in Dallas, Gasol tied his career high with five made three-pointers. He’s scored exactly 100 points entering Thursday’s home game, which are his most ever through four games to start a season.

“We don’t have time to wait around and try to figure out a lot of things,” Gasol said. “It’s not just me that feels that way. It’s Mike Conley, who has been around here a while too. We want to win.”

Gasol has set a clear tone for the Grizzlies early this season.

He’s leading with his play, which is the best of his career.

He’s conditioned himself for the rigors of running faster in coach David Fizdale’s up-tempo system and rebounding more to fill the void left by the departures of Zach Randolph and Tony Allen. But it’s Gasol’s vision that might be his most impressive contribution right now.

Yes, he can certainly appreciate an impressive start.

Yet, it only matters if Memphis maintains this to the finish.

Grind City’s NBA Power Index

  1. San Antonio Spurs
  2. No Kawhi Leonard and no Tony Parker has so far been no problem for the Spurs, who are getting All-NBA production and leadership from LaMarcus Aldridge after a rocky first two seasons. LW: 3

  3. Memphis Grizzlies
  4. Before stubbing their toe in Wednesday’s setback in Dallas, the Grizzlies had gotten off to a 3-0 start with wins over Golden State and Houston to build an impressive opening-week resume. LW: NR

  5. Los Angeles Clippers
  6. Doc Rivers lost three starters and three of his top five scorers from last season, but clear-cut franchise catalyst Blake Griffin and a balanced supporting cast have the Clippers off and running. LW: NR

  7. Houston Rockets
  8. With Chris Paul (knee) already out, the Rockets started this week’s three-game trip also without Trevor Ariza (foot) and Nene (Achilles). That’s a third of the rotation. Yet they find a way. LW: 4

  9. Golden State Warriors
  10. Perhaps they’re still dealing with the jetlag from that preseason trip to China. Maybe that explains the feisty attitudes amid a sluggish start that’s included losses to Houston and Memphis. LW: 1

  11. Orlando Magic
  12. This is rarified air for a team far more accustomed to being in line for the lottery than listed among the top squads in the league. But a blowout over Cleveland amid a 3-1 start is impressive. LW: NR

  13. Milwaukee Bucks
  14. Tonight’s nationally television against the Celtics will give casual fans around the globe a legit shot to learn how to pronounce Giannis Antetokounmpo, the most exciting player on the planet. LW: 7

  15. Cleveland Cavaliers
  16. It’s way too early for injuries and uneasiness to pile up on the Cavs the way they have through the first two weeks of play. But if LeBron James isn’t too worried, we shouldn’t be either. LW: 2

  17. Washington Wizards
  18. Let’s keep it real: It was all good for the unbeaten Wizards until Marcin Gortat gave Lavar Ball a target. Then Lavar, Lonzo and the Lakers hung the first ‘L’ of the year on the Wizards’ record LW: 6

  19. Portland Trail Blazers
  20. A week after being released by the Grizzlies and signing a two-way deal with Portland, 2016 first-round pick Wade Baldwin IV is expected to miss six weeks following thumb surgery. LW: NR

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.