NBA Preview: Conley, Gasol keep Grizzlies in playoff contention

Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (Matt Slocum/AP)

GM: Chris Wallace
Head coach: David Fizdale
2016-17 record: 43-39 (7th in the Western Conference)
2016-17 result: Lost 4-2 in the first round
Key departures: Tony Allen, Zach Randolph
Key acquisitions: Ben McLemore, Tyreke Evans, Mario Chalmers

The days of “Grit and Grind” are officially over as Memphis says goodbye to both Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, who has already had his number retired by the Grizzlies.

Coach David Fizdale will be able to continue evolving their style of play like he did last season, upping their pace as they start to mirror the title-contending Miami Heat teams he used to coach as an assistant.

While they did lose other key players to their roster they still have their two most important pieces in Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. Question is, will that be enough to make it back to the postseason in an even stronger Western Conference?

2017-18 should be a rollercoaster of a ride as they continue to experiment. It’s something we haven’t seen from the Grizzlies this decade, but it’s necessary if they want to find themselves among the West’s contenders sooner rather than later.

Potential Breakout Player

Originally an undrafted player, JaMychal Green proved himself last year as a consistent presence for the Grizzlies, averaging 8.9 points on 50 per cent shooting from the field and a 37.9 clip from three, while also grabbing 7.1 rebounds a game. Along with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, coach Fizdale has said that Green is a definite starter for the 2017-18 campaign.

If he can continue his upward climb in his fourth year in the league, he could be poised for a breakout year as the Grizzlies look for someone to fill Zach Randolph’s shoes.

With an ability to stretch the floor and the size at six-foot-eight to bruise smaller defenders in the paint, Green has the versatility to fit into Fizdale’s up-tempo offence. Now, it’s all about what he can do with his extra touches.

What a successful 2017-18 season would look like

The Grizzlies should still have the expectation that they’re a playoff team. Both Conley and Gasol showed an ability to adapt to coach Fizdale’s system in his first year at the helm in 2016-17, which should make the postseason a realistic goal for a successful 2017-18.

After attempting just 66 three-pointers in his first eight years in the league, Gasol became a legitimate three-point threat last season, converting on 38.8 per cent of his 268 shots from beyond the arc. Conley’s 40.8 per cent shooting from three, to go along with his average of 20.5 points per game in 2016-17, make him a perfect fit on any team in the league.

They’ll need to look to younger players like James Ennis, Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans to make up for Vince Carter’s offence. The Grizzlies’ defence, which had the seventh best rating in 2016-17, is also expected to slip without their most reliable ball stopper, but a former 2012-13 DPOY in Gasol should help weather that storm.


If Chandler Parsons continues to look like a shell of himself, it gives Tyreke Evans a chance to break out of his own shell coming off the bench. He should be able to thrive in Fizdale’s fast tempo offence, especially as a ball handler and shot creator.

The former 2009-10 Rookie of the Year, Evans hit 36.9 per cent of his three-pointers in the past two seasons. While he might not ever regain his previous form, he had flashes in 2016-17 with a 29- and a 26-point performance, while scoring in double-digits in 20 of his 40 games in another injury-riddled season.

Staying healthy is Evans’ biggest problem, but if he can, he might become a necessary spark that can give the Grizzlies an extra sign of life as they try to hold their place in the West.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.