It is now December, so we are a month (plus a few days of October) into the NBA season. Time to see what we think we know about what we might have learned regarding what we believe. Clear as mud? Fantastic.
What do we know?
The Memphis Grizzlies enter December with the best winning percentage in their division…their conference…the entire league. They are ranked #1 in defensive efficiency and #6 in offensive efficiency. They have the second largest scoring differential in the league. They are among the league leaders in nearly every team defensive category. They have beaten the leaders in every division outside of their own so far this season (Heat, Knicks/Nets, Bucks, Warriors, Thunder). Their 12-2 start is the best in team history, bettering the 10-5 record they posted in the 2005-06 season. Rudy Gay is ranked #11 in scoring (19.1 ppg), Zach Randolph is ranked #2 in total rebounding and offensive rebounding (12.6 rpg and 4.7 orpg), and Marc Gasol ranks #1 in assists among non-wing players (4.5 apg) and #8 in free throw percentage among all players (89.7%). Mike Conley and Tony both rank in the Top 5 in steals per game once again.
What do we think?
We think that, despite what some mathematical formulas indicate, this is one of the best teams in the NBA because when they beat the Heat, Thunder, and Knicks in succession, they did so by a combined 38 points. We think that the critics and pundits who insisted that Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph could not coexist have been proven wrong. We think that the trust and faith placed in Mike Conley has paid off. We think that Tony Allen will always be Tony Allen, which means you take the bad with the good and just try to enjoy the ride because having him on your team improves your chances of winning. We think that, despite prevailing offseason opinions, Jerryd Bayless and Wayne Ellington > O.J. Mayo — at least for this Memphis Grizzlies team. We think that the Grizzlies’ improved bench has been a key to their success. We think that Lionel Hollins the the hands-down pick for Coach of the Month…and probably Coach of the Year, too.
What do we expect?
The Grizzlies play their long-time nemesis, the San Antonio Spurs, tonight. This will be the first of four back-to-back sets that they will play in the month of December. That means that the schedule is about to get hairy for them with games in San Antonio, Denver, Houston, Utah, and Indiana upcoming — none of which are easy places to win. Expect them to continue their winning ways, going somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-4 through this month. Expect Marc Gasol to continue to make experts question if Dwight Howard is truly the unquestioned best center in the NBA. Expect Conley to continue to mature and get better, just as he has done every season, and now seems to be doing on an almost game-by-game basis. Expect Tony Allen to be the glue that holds this team together. Expect Z-Bo to improve more and more as the season goes along and he returns to 100%. Expect Rudy Gay to showcase his killer instinct when the Grizzlies actually have a game where his cold-blooded clutch ability is needed in the last few seconds. Expect the outside shooting of Bayless, Ellington, and a much-imporved Quincy Pondexter to be the difference between the Grizzlies being in close games and winning handily. Expect the frontcourt bench tandem of Marreese Speights and Darrell Arthur to give opposing teams fits with their mid-range shooting, rebounding, and defense. Expect Hamed Haddadi to get the loudest cheers on the occasions he gets to enter the game. Expect the Grizzlies to be involved in their fair share of heated scuffles, as their Grit and Grind style continues to infuriate opponents. Finally, expect the Grizzlies to remain atop the Southwest Division when New Year’s rolls around…especially if Gregg Popovich continues to do things his way and rest his aged veterans.