The Memphis Grizzlies, courtesy of a few key players, still have one of the NBA's more talented teams. This coming even during a time where the biggest market teams are starting a trend of putting together their own versions of a "big three."
The Grizzlies find their success in stellar defensive play, as they were the NBA's fifth-ranked team in 2011 in points against. In an unbelievably tough Western Conference, that kind of ability is extremely valued.
As a result, the Grizzlies' biggest impact players are not necessarily just their top scorers but rather who their defensive efforts are built around.
PF Zach Randolph is expected to be back healthy this season, after missing much of 2011-12 and not being his usual self when he did get on the court.
That usual self is a presence on the offensive end that the Grizzlies can count on. Not only is that in scoring, where he averaged over 20 points per game in the two seasons prior to injury, but also on the boards. In those two seasons, he averaged 11.8 and 12.1 rebounds per game.
Of those totals, 4.1 and 4.4 came on the offensive end, allowing him to finish near the top of the league in that category both years. That kind of ability to keep failed offensive possessions alive is extremely valuable.
Should Randolph stay healthy over the course of this season, we should see him get back to that impressive form from prior to his injury problems of last year. If he does, it will make the Grizzlies' chances to win on a nightly basis that much more likely.
It is one thing to have size down low, but it is another for that size to be as productive as Marc Gasol is. Gasol uses that advantage on both ends of the court, making him one of the team's most relied upon players.
On the offensive end in 2011-12, Gasol was the Grizzlies' second-leading scorer with 14.6 PPG. On top of which he added an impressive assists number for a big man, with 3.1 per game.
Additionally, his rebounding ability and play in the defensive post allow the Grizzlies a certain comfort level against the league's best big men. With Dwight Howard heading over to the Western Conference joining the Lakers, this will become even more essential for the Grizzlies to make a playoff run.
Though coming up short of the top of this list, the Grizzlies would be a completely different team without Gasol. His value cannot be overlooked when considering their potential to compete in the difficult Western Conference.
Throughout his career, Rudy Gay's scoring has been consistently just shy of 20.0 PPG. While that provides significant contributions in itself, that alone is not why he tops the list of the Grizzlies' biggest impact player. Where his irreplaceable value comes is in his defensive prowess.
At 6'8", he has the size to play with any of the NBA's dominant small forwards. In a Western Conference that could go through Oklahoma City and Kevin Durant for quite some time, his ability on the defensive end will be as important as any.
Various offseason rumors (via SportsNet) had Rudy Gay as a legitimate trade target for many teams. Ownership denied such speculation (via ESPN)—and rightly so. Moving forward, he is the most significant piece to this team. Without him, they would lose not only their best scorer but likely their most versatile defender as well.