NBA Predictions: Why the Memphis Grizzlies Will Win the West in 2012-13
If Zach Randolph resumes his role as an elite power forward in the NBA, the Memphis Grizzlies will advance to the NBA Finals next spring. No other team in the Western Conference will have a sufficient answer for the Grizzlies' elite play at both ends of the floor.
Randolph was injured for the better part of the 2011-12 season, and in his return near the end, he was but a shell of his former self (11 PPG over 26 minutes of play). As a result, the young but experienced Grizzlies lost a heavily contested seven-game series against the resurgent Los Angeles Clippers in Round 1 of the 2011-12 playoffs.
However, when healthy, Randolph is a 20-PPG, 10-RPG power forward who will complete the following Grizzlies lineup (Players statistics are provided by Basketball Reference.com.):
F: Rudy Gay
C: Marc Gasol
The Grizzlies' Rebounding Will Rank Amongst Best in the League
Opposing teams will have exceedingly difficult times crashing the boards against the Grizzlies this upcoming season.
Randolph and Gasol are good for a combined 20 to 25 rebounds a night. Both players are active on the offensive glass, and if they are on the floor together, the Grizzlies should be amongst the league leaders in second-chance opportunities.
Last season, in Randolph's absence, bench player Maurice Speights averaged six rebounds a game in 22 minutes of play. Speights will be invaluable to Memphis' rotation this upcoming season.
The Grizzlies' superiority in crashing the boards does not stop in the frontcourt. Starting guards Mike Conley Jr. and Tony Allen are amongst the best rebounders in the league at their respective positions.
The Grizzlies Have Formidable Perimeter and Interior Defense
Having just one elite perimeter defender is a unsung blessing in the NBA.
The Grizzlies have two.
Mike Conley Jr. is an extremely active defender; he averaged 2.2 steals last year, good for second in the NBA. Tony Allen was the leading guard in the NBA Defensive Player of the Year vote in 2011-12.
Even if guards manage to beat Allen and Conley off the dribble, they will have a nice treat waiting for them in the paint.
Randolph and Gasol are two of the most physical defenders in the league. Randolph, Gasol and Speights are not afraid to jostle in the paint and lay hard fouls. Moreover, the 7'0" Gasol averaged two blocked shots a game last season.
The Grizzlies' Jump Shooting Will Improve Markedly This Season
Back in the 2011 playoffs, the Grizzlies had one glaring weakness: They didn't have a good jump shooter. Rudy Gay (who was injured at that time) will address this problem in 2012-13.
Gay is a dependable shooter from 10 to 15 feet from the basket, averaging 45 percent in that range last season. His shooting from 16 to 23 feet, on the other hand, left much to be desired, at only 34 percent.
However, given the opportunity to play a full season with a healthy Randolph in 2012-13, Gay will see a lot more open shots from these ranges.
Consequently, expect Gay's shooting to improve next season.
The Grizzlies' offseason acquisition of Jerryd Bayless—who shot 42 percent from the three last year—will help the them spread the floor and hit an increased number of open jumpers. Second-year guard Josh Selby is coming off an outstanding NBA Summer League performance and could turn out to be another offensive spark off the bench.
The Grizzlies Have One of the Top 3 Interior Offenses in the League
What the Grizzlies might lack in jump shooting, they will more than make up for with one of the best frontcourt offenses in the NBA.
Assuming both Randolph and Gay remain healthy, the Grizzlies have a power forward and small forward who both average about 20 points a game. Marc Gasol at center is good for 15 points per night, as well.
Rudy Gay can get to the basket at will; he's an active slasher who averages five field-goal attempts at the rim. With Gay actively attacking the basket while Gasol and Randolph muscle around the rim for high-percentage scoring opportunities, the Grizzlies will be extremely difficult to defend next year.
Mike Conley Jr. averaged 6.5 assists last season with an impressive assist-to-turnover ratio of about 3.5-1. The pass-first point guard will be a reliable ball facilitator and will effectively feed the ball to Randolph and Gasol in the paint.
The Los Angeles Lakers Have Too Many Questions to Address to Beat the Grizzlies
If the Lakers are healthy and address numerous concerns by the 2013 playoffs, then they should be able to beat the Grizzlies in a tight series.
However, they will need all their starters to perform at a high level to do so.
There are a litany of concerns that the Lakers need to address, and odds are that at least one won't be:
- Will Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant both be at full strength after an 82-game regular season? Can they effectively run the offense against a more physical, younger Grizzlies squad that may have the best team defense in the league?
- Will Andrew Bynum, whose career has been riddled by injuries and immaturity, enter into the playoffs as a 20-PPG, 10-RPG center? If not, can he match up against Marc Gasol?
- Will Metta World Peace's mental game be intact, and, even if so, will he be able to adequately cover the younger, more explosive Rudy Gay?
- Is Pau Gasol interested in winning another NBA ring? His mediocre 2011 playoff performance indicates otherwise.
There are too many questions to answer on the Lakers' side for them to defeat a Grizzlies team that, when healthy, should play an extremely efficient team game on both ends of the floor.
The Grizzlies Will Throw the Oklahoma City Thunder off Their Game
The Grizzlies have distinct advantages over the undersized Thunder in interior offense, defense and rebounding. The Thunder—primarily an explosive jump-shooting and slashing team—will struggle to find easy scoring opportunities against the torpid Grizzlies squad.
Kevin Durant averaged a solid 28 PPG against the Grizzlies, and Durant's high level of play will require the Grizzlies' frontcourt to counter Durant's production.
However, if Gasol, Randolph and Gay can coordinate their games on the offensive end, they will have an edge over Oklahoma City's active defensive squad.
The Grizzlies are also Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook's Achilles' heel.
Westbrook—a second-team All-NBA player—averaged 24 points a game last season. His play on offense is integral to the Thunder's success.
However, Westbrook's numbers against the Grizzlies last season were poor. Over four games, Westbrook averaged only 18 points a game, on 34 percent shooting, and four turnovers a game. If the Grizzlies can continue to take Westbrook out of rhythm next year, they will be in a strong position to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.