Last week, I was focusing a lot on sabermetrics and the like. I just saw MoneyBall and am reading the book as well so it is fair to say I have had it on my mind. However, sometimes you need to throw away the stats and simply go with your gut feeling – and my gut is telling me that this could be a great season for the Grizzlies.
Why you ask? Well, the answer is simple. Everything is falling into place.
Zach Randolph is back in practice taking full contact blows and with plenty of time to get his game into shape and re-establish himself among the elite PFs in the Western Conference. The team’s starters have logged huge minutes this season after he and Darrell Arthur went down with injuries but they have weathered the storm and now that the league faces the dog days of the season the Grizzlies have a fresh body with extreme talent to throw at the opponents tired legs and bodies.
Zach’s return should mean Rudy will remain at SF the rest of the season. Rudy’s been playing a lot of minutes as the PF in a small ball lineup but that means more physical play for Rudy which has worn him down at the end of games. Freed from so much banging down low, Rudy should be even more effective than he’s been over the last month and his play over the last month has been the best all year, the last few games not withstanding.
Marc Gasol gets his best buddy on the team back, and it shouldn’t take long for them to get back to playing the way they did in the playoffs last season. Remember that Z-Bo wasn’t going to re-sign with Memphis unless they promised to resign Marc. Marc has taken the worst beating of anyone on the team this season, and the return of Z-Bo should mean fewer double-teams for Marc. He ought to find his elbow shot wide open now as teams have to worry about Z-Bo down low, especially with Marc’s passing ability.
The best part is that all the starters are locked up for the next two seasons, so no one will feel a need to do more to accentuate their value on the market. They simply need to play together with the passion and joy the fans of Memphis expect and desire. There aren’t many teams that can honestly say the starting five is locked up for the next two years.
But everyone has known the starters would be better with Z-B0’s return. What most people didn’t expect and haven’t counted on is how much better the bench can be. Using Dave Berri’s Wages of Wins calculations, Dante Cunningham and Quincy Pondexter are both playing better than the average NBA player at their positions since the San Antonio debacle on February 6th. They are both young and getting their first real chances to contribute during an NBA playoff race. No one knows for sure how they will respond to the pressure, but these players come from programs that expect success (Washington and Villanova), and they will likely step up to the challenge especially considering they aren’t going to be asked to carry a heavy scoring load.
Mo Speights and O.J. Mayo will be counted on to provide scoring off the bench. Both players are restricted free agents who literally have millions of reasons to perform their roles to the best of their ability. They are going to be in the spotlight coming off the bench, and neither player has the time to pout about not starting or not playing their preferred position. They can use free agency to address those issues this summer. First, they both need to be players in demand when free agency begins. The easiest way to do that is to step up big on both ends of the court for the rest of the season.
So, the Grizzlies have 9 players in precisely the right spot at precisely the right time in their careers to make a big noise for the rest of the season and into the playoffs. What’s more, they are coming together and getting healthy right when most teams are taking the biggest brunt from the condensed season.
Best of all, opponents don’t get fired up for the Grizzlies yet. They aren’t one of the teams that fans want to come out to see. The currently rank 20th in the league in road attendance. Adding to that is the reality that only three teams in the Conference have played fewer home games than the Grizzlies. With 13 home games remaining, starting tomorrow night against the LA Lakers, the Grizzlies control their destiny and are rounding into shape.
The Grizzlies are currently in 2nd place in the Southwest Division. The Grizzlies have never finished this high in the division. With Z-Bo’s likely return tomorrow night, is it possible this season the Grizzlies could finish even higher?