Well, look at this, there is another small market team out West who is doing everything right. They have two of the most underrated players in the league in Conley and the younger Gasol. They found whatever potion was needed to motivate Z-Bo into the vicious player he once was. Oh, and they also have one of the best perimeter defenders in the league needed to stop a certain number 0 in OKC. Here is why I love Memphis this year (also known as my unofficial declaration of love for Marc Gasol).
The West is a tough conference, and it takes a little something special to win it. At this point I may be stating the obvious but Grizzlies are looking like a team that has what it takes to unseat OKC.
Watch them play, watch it very carefully. What you can see is a very fine tuned team when everyone is healthy and there are a few elements that make them great and able to compete at a very high level.
First of all, I think they have one of the best centers in the league right now in Marc Gasol. The man should probably be breaking down doors of whoever voted for All-Star reserves and asking some very serious questions. Yes, he doesn’t have the athletic ability of… well, a lot of other centers, but he does a lot of things so well for this team. He can spread the floor because of a really decent shot. He moves other players out of position with his body. He sets very effective screens that threaten to dislocate players’ shoulders or crack their ribs (with that sneaky elbow). He also has the feet of ballet dancer (more so than most big men these days). With all the intangibles he brings to this Memphis team, he is by far one of their most important pieces.
Then there is Z-Bo, and let me tell you, I wish I was drinking what he’s been drinking (can they also put Rudy on that diet?). Whatever potion it is that the Grizzlies got him on has motivated the man beyond belief. I’ve been a huge Randolph fan since his days with the Trail Blazers and I was waiting for him to get another chance. He is positively way too nonchalant for a professional athlete. Half the time it looks like he just got out of bed, and yet he has played his way to a consistent double-double performance on most nights and is top 5 in the league in rebounds. Between Z-Bo and Gasol, Memphis has the luxury of spreading the floor like no other team with two shooting bigs.
I also happen to think Conley is one of the best PGs in the league. Yes, he is not flashy with the crossovers or the passes like some others and he is not an explosive score first guard, but he is the player this team needs. A steady floor general to run a very sloth-like offense, can hit the three when necessary and get in the lane and kick. All of that with a very solid defensive acumen and you have yourself a floor general.
Finally we have Rudy, Allen and the bench. Rudy is a freak athletically. Someone once referred to him as a poor man’s Kevin Durant. They probably ment it in the same way as a dollar is a poor man’s million, or McDonalds is a poor man’s lobster dish (I don’t eat lobster so I can’t be specific, I’m poor). When he wants to play he can play. He has a good shot, freakish athleticism and decent defence (once in a blue moon it’s even above average, the they turn into the were-Grizzlies, a much scarier team). Allen on the other hand doesn’t score, still very athletic and possibly the best on-ball perimeter defender in the league. He’s the spark plug and the batter that keeps this team going.
Yes, their bench isn’t as deep this year, especially after giving up some pieces in order to get under the luxury tax (I call it the NBA version of Atkins). But they still have enough balance to work their way to a top 4 seed finish.
Think about it though, they have two bigs that can probably scare the crap out of most backcourts in the league, they can both defend, spread the floor and pass the ball well (plus, Z-Bo swag adds extra gravitational pull to defenders). They have a PG that can control the game like he’s playing 2k in coach mode. They also have a defender who can keep up with most scoring threats in the conference pace for pace. They also have Gay… He does things, sometimes… When he feels like it.
I think they’re one of the few teams in the West that matches up really well against OKC, and even better against the Spurs, just by virtue of Marc and Z-Bo alone.
Now imagine if Tony Allen learned how to shoot?