The Memphis Grizzlies made a terrific showing in the 2011 NBA Playoffs. The Grizzlies upended the San Antonio Spurs in the first round, sending off the old fellows in six games. Then, the Grizzlies battled another young team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, and nearly won.
This was only the beginning of the rise of the Grizzlies in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies served notice that they will contend for an appearance in the NBA Finals.
Their upset of the Spurs signaled a changing of the guard in the west. While the Spurs are still good, they succumbed to a strong young team. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol rallied the crew that lacked one of their best scorers in Rudy Gay. Randolph averaged 22.8 points per game in the playoffs. Gasol raised his contribution to 15 points per game.
Hopefully, the Western Conference powers are ready for the rising Grizzlies.
Following are four reasons why the Grizzlies are contenders.
The Grizzlies are a tough defensive team. Gasol is a solid defensive center. Gasol rebounds well and plays physical defense in the post. Gasol grabbed seven rebounds per game last season and 9.3 per game in 2009-10. Randolph is terrific on the glass. Randolph set a Grizzlies franchise record with 12.1 rebounds per game last season. Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo defend well.
Tony Allen and Shane Battier provided good defense last season. Battier, who has always been a difference maker defensively, would be helpful if the the Grizzlies re-sign him. Allen will bring great on-ball pressure.
As a unit, the Grizzlies look good on paper. The Grizzlies have a 105.1 defensive rating, ninth in the league. Their 97.6 points allowed per game ranked 13th last season.
The Grizzlies are a good offensive team. Rudy Gay is a terrific scorer. Gay was in the midst of a very nice season when he suffered a season-ending elbow injury. Gay had career highs in field goal percentage (.471), three-point percentage (.396) and free throw percentage (.805).
Gay will come back stronger this season. This season, Gay will have a career high in points per game, averaging at least 21 points per game while shooting 48 percent from the field.
Randolph will also have a big scoring season. Benefiting from his chameleon training, Randolph will be stronger than ever on the inside.
Gasol is a great third option. Last season, Gasol shot 52.7 percent, down from 58.1 percent the year before. This season, he should rebound.
Mike Conley is a good fourth option. Conley shot 44.4 percent and scored 13.7 points per game. Darrell Arthur was good off the bench, averaging 9.7 points per game.
The Grizzlies shot well last year. The Grizzlies shot 47.1 percent as a team. Their 99.9 points per game were good enough for what they needed.
Next season, the Grizzlies will average better than 100 points per game with a strong comeback by Gay.
The Grizzlies show their mettle when they play the best teams in the Western Conference.
This was on display when they played the Thunder in the Western Conference Semifinals. One can point to how they pushed the Thunder to seven games. The Grizzlies took the Thunder to overtime twice in the series, winning one and pushing the Thunder to triple-overtime in Game 4.
After being held to 72 points in Game 5, the Grizzlies came back in Game 6 to win by 12. Randolph dropped 30 points to show that the Grizzlies wouldn't go silently into the night.
The Grizzlies played well against the best in the conference in the regular season. The Grizzlies split their season series against the champion Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers took two of three from the Grizzlies last season. In the regular season, the Grizzlies won three of four against the Thunder.
Teams with stars go to the NBA Finals in today's NBA.
The Grizzlies have enough star power to go deep in the playoffs. Randolph and Gay make a good star combination.
Randolph is the second best power forward in the NBA. Randolph is a very good player on both ends. Randolph averaged 20.1 points per game last season and 20.8 per game in 2009-10. In each of the last two years, Randolph was third in the league in rebounding.
Last season, Randolph made the All-NBA third team. That was his first All-NBA honor. Randolph should receive another one this season.
Gay will be strong coming back from elbow surgery. Gay is an up-and-coming pure scorer. Gay will turn the corner this season. Gay is about to become a prime scoring threat.