After the Memphis Grizzlies sent Rudy Gay to the Toronto Raptors last week, some mistakenly believed they'd drop. The Golden State Warriors thought the No. 4 spot in the West was theirs after the trade, per NBA.com. But this all-for-one, one-for-all team doesn't go down like that.
The Grizzlies have rallied before with Gay and Zach Randolph missing. When Gay went down with a season-ending injury in 2011, Tony Allen, Sam Young and O.J. Mayo picked up the scoring slack. After Randolph suffered a partially torn MCL, Allen, Marc Gasol, Mayo and Marreese Speights picked up the scoring.
Once again, the Grizzlies need a few players to make up for the loss in scoring. On the face, filling the hole isn't as difficult as it seems since Gay averaged 17.2 points per game on 40.8 percent shooting before leaving. However, they'll still need to score more than the current 104 per 100 possessions.
The Grizzlies also need to the clay that built their identity to form the foundation for this title run. Here's the method they need to follow if they want to move past this transaction to win it all.
The Grizzlies can bring themselves most of the way to a title by shutting down teams as they are wont to do.The loss of Rudy Gay won't change that. Gay allowed 100 points per 100 possessions, right around the team rate. The Grizzlies allowed just 0.6 points fewer per 100 possessions with him on the floor.
The defense has been mostly decent since he left. They've allowed 109, 76 and 96 in the three games since the trade. This is partly due to the transition of Jerryd Bayless to a larger role in the rotation. Bayless isn't a great defender, but has improved his defensive rating to 102 points per 100 possessions.
Moreover, the defensive action revolves not around Gay, but around Mike Conley and Allen up top and Randolph and Marc Gasol inside.
Gay was as good as the guys around him. He stood by the turnover-forcing fundamentals. However, he was never as good as Conley or Allen. Gay had a steals rate of two percent, while those of the other two are better than three percent.
Memphis remains the defensive dynamo they've been the past couple years without Gay. Much of their work fighting for the title will be done on defense.
Wake Up Marc Gasol
Marc Gasol has been noticeably silent in the past couple months. He's posted 12.7 points per game since Dec. 1.
His strong scoring performances are infrequent. He has only seven 20-point games and 18 15-point affairs. Ten times he's scored in single digits, including seven since Christmas Day. The fifth-year pro fell asleep again on Tuesday, slipping in just six points on 2-of-8 shooting.
After Marreese Speights was traded Gasol had a brief scoring binge, scoring 20 points in two of three games. The last two contests saw the Spanish Olympian struggle, with a combined 13 points on 7-of-21 shooting.
Gasol turned it up last season with his frontcourt mate out, scoring 14.7 per game that January, 15.6 per game that February and 16.4 per game in March. But he's giving a diffident response to the recent loss of the Grizzlies' leading scorer.
The man Allen calls "Big Spain" needs to bring the monstrous game that he promised before the season, muscling in for buckets. A jump in scoring from Gasol is necessary for him and Randolph to live up to their combined inside dominance.
Higher Scoring from Role Players
While Gasol needs to carry a greater scoring burden, the supporting cast needs to help raise the team scoring to a reasonable level.
Tayshaun Prince has scored 25 points in his first two games wearing the three shades of blue. If he can keep up an average better than 12 per game, he'll be doing a fine job filling the 3 spot.
Bayless and Darrell Arthur must step up. Bayless has, but Arthur hasn't.
Bayless has scored in double figures in seven straight games, with 20 or more in three of the last four. He was at it again on Tuesday, knocking down 11 of 15 from the field for 29 points.
Meanwhile, Arthur hasn't scored in double figures since Jan. 23. He's tallied 41 points in the last six games, shooting 29.2 percent during that stretch. Tuesday was an unhappy night for the Kansas product, as he scored a mere four points on 1-of-10 shooting.
Quincy Pondexter's return would help in this area. He was the leading bench scorer before suffering an MCL sprain, at 6.7 per game. His 42 percent three-point shooting mark is greatly needed to rejuvenate that aspect of their offense.
The Grizzlies' scoring woes didn't end with the loss of Gay. They've failed to get past 90 points without him. One can't say they'd pick up the scoring with him since he was in the midst of a down year. Besides, he wouldn't commandeer the offense.
Winning a championship via defense is in reach for Memphis as long as it can score enough. Opponents have a terrible time accumulating a great number of points against the "grit 'n' grind." Ultimately, the Grizzlies need to do their perennial rally to make it happen.
Disclaimer: All stats are current through Feb. 5 games. Advanced stats come from basketball-reference.com.
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