How the Memphis Grizzlies Are Climbing to Elite Status

Tom FirmeAnalyst IINovember 21, 2012

How the Memphis Grizzlies Are Climbing to Elite Status

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    The Memphis Grizzlies are roaring out to their best 10-game start in franchise history, showing signs of a Western Conference contender. The Grizzlies have become more than just a pesky team that went seven games with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second round in 2011 and bowed out in the first round last year.

    Lionel Hollins’ squad has become more well-rounded. The Grizz' have developed some scoring flair to go with a gritty defensive attack. The team actually won a difficult game on the road. Rudy Gay is waking up to the scorer he’s supposed to be.

    This small-market team doesn’t have the superstars the Miami Heat or Los Angeles Lakers do. Similar to the Detroit Pistons teams of the last decade, the Grizzlies power their way behind a few players who are near the top at their respective positions.

    Follow along to see all the ways the Grizzlies are working their way up to elite status.

Rudy Gay Becoming an Aggressive Scorer

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    Ever since he had been at Connecticut, the knock on Rudy Gay has been that he doesn’t score as much as he could. Finally, in his seventh pro season, Gay has risen above the murmurs about his dissatisfying scoring profile.

    His numbers have picked up significantly to this point. The Baltimore native is dropping 20 points per game and 17.8 field-goal attempts per game. He’s taking 1.1 more shots per game than he ever did before.

    That newly found drive will be essential down the stretch. A Grizzlies team that sees him taking control with his scoring has a much better chance of going deep in the playoffs.

Zach Randolph Coming Back Strong

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    One of the biggest questions for the Grizzlies entering this season was whether Zach Randolph would return to the gripping play he showed before his partial MCL tear early last season.

    He’s undoubtedly regained form through 10 games. Randolph is averaging a league-leading 13.8 rebounds per game and is fourth in total rebounding percentage at 26.7 percent.

    He’s also second in the league in offensive rebounds with 52, once again giving Memphis a plethora of second-chance opportunities.

    The Marion, Ind., native has pulled down 11 or more rebounds in each game.

    With his strength and keen positioning, he causes fits for opponents looking to crash the boards.

Strong on the Inside

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    The Grizzlies have one of the most treacherous inside combinations in the NBA.

    As mentioned before, Randolph is a dominant rebounder, especially on the offensive glass. He tracks shots and floats to the ball, putting himself in just the right position to get the ball, even below the rim. With his bulky frame, he can hardly be thrown off.

    While the 12-year pro isn’t shooting as much as he did prior to his injury, he’s still a potent scorer. He’s putting up a decent 16.7 points per game, having scored 20 points twice.

    Marc Gasol has continued to be a strong force in the middle. He’s putting up 15.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, mirroring Randolph well. His offense has been efficient, as shown by his league-leading 133 points per 100 possessions.

    Randolph and Gasol show great strength, toughness and chemistry down low. As inside toughness continues to be essential, the Grizzlies are well-positioned with their gritty big men.

Defense

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    The “Grindhouse” has been basically the same slashing unit as usual on the defensive end. Memphis is second in steals per game (9.4) and sixth in turnovers forced per game (16.3). Also, Memphis stands seventh in defensive rating (100.7 points allowed per 100 possessions).

    Rudy Gay, Mike Conley and Tony Allen are averaging 1.5 or more steals per game, as they did the past two years.

    This is a reasonable start for the team that led the league in steals and turnovers forced the last two years. As the Grizz' keep the grind through the season, a third straight season with that mantle is a strong possibility. The way the Grizzlies disrupt opposing teams’ offensive rhythm, they are tough to beat.

Big Early-Season Wins

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    The Grizzlies have had two big wins in this early stretch that have demonstrated how tough an out they will be.

    On Nov. 14, Memphis rocked the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Sooner State for a statement win. After falling behind by 10 after the first frame, the Grizz' rallied to take an 11-point lead at halftime and kept the Thunder at arm’s length the rest of the game. Memphis exploited Oklahoma City’s porous defense, averaging 120 points per 100 possessions.

    This was a huge gain for a Grizzlies team that went just 5-10 on the road against winning teams and failed to win one against the team in powder blue at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

    Two days later, the Grizz' made a major break by handing the New York Knicks their first loss of the season. Memphis stayed hot on offense, putting up 122.8 points per 100 possessions.

    As the Grizzlies gain more success against good teams down the stretch, they'll become scarier come playoff time.