Memphis Grizzlies: Why the Grizzlies Are No Longer Title Contenders

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Memphis Grizzlies: Why the Grizzlies Are No Longer Title Contenders
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Shortly after the Memphis Grizzlies dealt away one of their franchise cornerstones, they looked lost in the game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, a game in which they never really even had a chance of winning.

Yes, I'm aware of the fact that the Grizzlies were shorthanded since the incoming players in the trade couldn't suit up yet, but Tayshaun Prince, Ed Davis and Austin Daye cannot push this team into title contention.

Rudy Gay might have had some struggles shooting the ball and finding his spots this year, but that shouldn't take away from all of his contributions in prior seasons.

The only difference is that Memphis had a legitimate shot at contending for a championship this year if it kept its frontcourt together. The Grizzlies were only one perimeter shooting threat away from being, arguably, the best team in the Western Conference.

Although trading away one player wouldn't be known as "blowing up a roster," Gay was part of the reason why the Grizzlies has one of the best frontcourts in the NBA. The team just can't expect to play the same way once it gives up someone as crucial as Gay.

 

No one can create their own shot

It's as simple as that.

Prince will probably be taking Gay's spot as the starting small forward, but he isn't a player who can create a play for himself or his teammates, especially at this stage of his career.

Gay crosses LeBron James and dunks it on the Heat defense

He is a decent shooter and a good defender, but I can't see him doing anything more than waiting for a pass to shoot a spot-up jumper or occasionally posting up a smaller defender.

According to Synergy Sports, Prince is scoring 19.6 percent of his points from spot-ups and 12 percent in transition. However, the Grizzlies aren't really a fast-break team, either, scoring just 13.1 transition points per game (per Team Rankings).

For the majority of the season, the Grizzlies have run their offense through Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the low or high post because they free up the perimeter and driving lanes for cutters.

But good defensive teams can counter those set plays. When the team is having trouble finding a basket, it needs a player who can create a shot, make a play or draw a foul to help spark the whole team. Gay was that player.

 

No perimeter scoring threats

In an era where small ball and perimeter players dominate the game, the Grizzlies are one the few teams that still operates with a traditional lineup.

They're currently seventh in the league in points in the paint per game, but they're also last in the league in points from three-point field goals. It further proves just how dominant their frontcourt was, as it basically carried the team to a franchise-best 29-16 start.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

I expected that the Grizzlies would actually try to get a legitimate outside shooter in return for Gay, but that didn't happen.

Granted, Prince is shooting an exceptional 43 percent from three-point range this year, but he's only taking about one per game. Furthermore, his three-point percentage has fluctuated mightily for his whole career.

Daye is in a similar situation, except his inconsistent minutes create even more doubt about whether or not he can steadily contribute—especially since the Detroit Pistons basically gave up on the former lottery pick.

Mike Conley is probably the Grizzlies' most consistent outside shooter, and Quincy Pondexter has been shooting the ball extremely well this season, but they aren't the type of players that defenses target. Realistically, opposing teams would prefer to prevent the ball from going down low to Randolph or Gasol than give up a wide open Conley three-pointer.

All things considered, none of those players pose as real outside scoring threats. They aren't players like Kyle Korver or Steve Novak who suck the attention of defenses.

 

No versatile defender

Make no mistake, Prince is still a great defender in his own right, but he isn't the same defender that he was back in the Pistons' glory days.

When he was on the bench, the Pistons actually had a better offensive and defensive efficiency than when he was playing. 

Although Gay had his struggles on offense this year, he was still one of the most versatile and best defenders at his position. His supreme athleticism and quickness allowed him to defend both guard positions if there was a switch while his strength and long arms allowed him to bother bigger forwards.

As a team, the Grizzlies are excellent, and Tony Allen is probably the best perimeter defender in the game (via Memphis Commercial Appeal). But when the playoffs come and there are more isolations and switches to create mismatches, Gay was the perfect guy to rely on because he has the ability to slow down every elite perimeter player.

 

Conclusion

Despite the fact that Gay has been having his worst offensive season since his rookie year, his value to a team isn't recorded on any stat sheet.

With his trade, the Grizzlies should have gotten some players in return who could fill in the holes on this team, like a perimeter shooter or a shot creator—but they didn't. 

Gay was the perfect fit for this team, and the organization should have kept the core of the team together if it wanted any chance at contending for a title.

Davis and Daye are good prospects who could be developed into great players (especially Davis), but this team isn't rebuilding to potentially contend in the future. This team should've been contending right now, considering that Gasol is in his prime and Randolph is slowly exiting his.

The window for a championship was wide open with Gay, but now it's starting to close.

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