When you think Memphis, you don't think All-Stars.
This isn't necessarily a bad thing. A city like Memphis is about soul, the Blues, helping one another and trying to get better day by day. There isn't a ton of flash to Memphis; "Grit and Grind" isn't the sexiest philosophy, but it is Memphis through and through and why the team and city connect so deeply.
Unfortunately, this does not mean a ton of national media attention. It is the small-market cross to bear according to fans of the Spurs, Grizzlies and the like; "the NBA hates our team, ESPN, TNT, they all love the Knicks and Lakers but WHERE'S OUR ATTENTION!!!" Lack of media market size and larger-than-life personalities often means a lack of All-Star roster love.
It isn't impossible of course. The Spurs, for example, have had 14 All-Star appearances since the 2005-2006 season. Having all-time greats like Tim Duncan (seven), Tony Parker (six) and Manu Ginobili (one, which seems low) helps with that process to say the least. Memphis has never had those types of generational talents for long (RIP Kevin Love's short time in Memphis) but appearances have happened. During that same eight year time span the Grizzlies have had four All-Stars. The brothers Gasol each have one appearance, Pau in 2005-2006 and Marc in 2011-2012, and Zach Randolph is the sole Grizzly who has made multiple All-Star Appearances in 2009-2010 and the most recent one for Memphis in 2012-2013.
Speaking of Kevin Love, his arrival in the Eastern Conference opens up an All-Star roster spot in the West that could most certainly be filled by a Grizzly. But which one? What kind of season would it take to get to that roster spot, and which one is most likely to reach the numbers necessary?
Let's rank the
only possible top 3 possibilities. First up?
3. Zach Randolph
Pre-All-Star Game stats from his most recent All-Star season- 15.6 points, 11.5 rebounds, 47.4% shooting percentage, 30 double-doubles in 49 games.
The most recent Grizzlies All-Star is also the least likely of this list to return to the game. Zach, new contract and all, is a player whose best days are behind him. This of course does not mean he cannot be productive; his pre-All-Star game numbers from last season are actually pretty comparable to his numbers from that last All-Star season (17.5 points, 10.4 rebounds, 31 double-doubles in 50 games.)
Why He Could Go to the All-Star Game
Aside from the fact that Kevin Love is a big and Zach Randolph is a big, so it'd be a natural fit, Z-Bo has continued to adapt his game as he ages. He had one less rebound last season compared to his last All-Star Game season, for example, but more than one assist more. Continuing this trend would show versatility in his game. Z-Bo can continue to average a double-double given his timing on the glass and ability to score the ball in and around the paint. Double-doubles, and an increase in productivity elsewhere would only help his All-Star cause.
The continued development of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol can also help Z-Bo get back to the All-Star Game. As teams honor the penetrating ability and range of a Conley, or the facilitating mid-range game of Marc Gasol, Z-Bo will get chances that he maybe did not have when he was the main focus of the Grizzlies offense years ago. Even with a regressing skill set (more on that later), easier and more efficient scoring chances could make Zach an All-Star for a third time in his career.
Why He Won't Go to the All-Star Game
Remember that regressing skill set we were talking about? Rebounds, shooting percentages at the rim and in general, all stats that have fallen as the years have passed since the Super-ZBo season of 2010-2011. As Zach declines, other bigs in the West continue to grow and improve. Anthony Davis, LaMarcus Aldridge, Serge Ibaka, and Blake Griffin are all young big men who will continue to get better. Elder bigs such as Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan will likely get the nod over Randolph at this point in their careers, and he is no longer the best big man on his own team.
He is a key cog to the Grizzlies machine moving forward, but an All-Star he (likely) is not.
2. Mike Conley
2013-2014 Pre-All-Star Stats- 18 points per game, 6.3 assists, 1.6 steals, 46% shooting, 37% 3 point shooting.
Arguably the biggest beneficiary of the "Rudy Gay Trade" from the 2012-2013 season, Mike Conley's development of a consistent offensive role has been well documented. The front office bet on Mike Conley, and he has made them look like Vegas veterans for that gamble. Conley has become a consistent member of the "Top 10 Point Guards" in the NBA debate, and given the current crop of NBA point guards, that is impressive company to keep.
Will Mike be able to overcome this tough competition and get into the All-Star Game?
Why He Could Go to the All-Star Game
Unlike his teammate Zach Randolph, Mike Conley is still on an upward trajectory in his career. He will be 27 once the season gets under way, officially in the early prime of his career. Conley has improved an aspect or two of his game every season, and in 2013-2014 Conley averaged career highs in scoring and field goal percentages. He made finishing at the rim a priority last season and it showed, as his shooting in the paint went up 3% from 2012-2013 to 2013-2014. He is capable of continuing to grow and maintaining success while taking on more of the load offensively.
Conley is also a former All-NBA Defender, an aspect of his game that separates him from some of his counterparts. If Mike adds a little more facilitation to his game and ups his assists numbers, he can certainly make an All-Star Appearance this season.
Why He Won't Go to the All-Star Game
Conley, much like Randolph, plays in the company of truly great players at his position. In the Western Conference he contends with Damian Lillard, Chris Paul, Stephen Curry, Tony Parker, and Goran Dragic on a regular basis. Mike is more likely to make the All-Star Game than Zach because of his age and ability to still add substantially to his game, but the effect is still the same. Mike also would have to drastically increase his offensive numbers to compete with the likes of Paul (11.1 assists before the break last season) and Curry (41.5% from three) for example.
Conley's chances at the All-Star Game are dependent more on others than himself. He will almost certainly play better this season than last, but it is also likely that those in front or or neck-and-neck with him (Dragic) will stay at their current levels or improve themselves. Injury or rest being needed would be the most likely routes to a Conley All-Star appearance, which would be deserved if he does indeed improve on his season from last year.
1. Marc Gasol
Pre-All-Star Game Stats from His Most Recent All-Star Appearance- 15 points per game, 10.1 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 2.2 blocks, 49.3% shooting.
The man most likely to make the All-Star Game from the Grizzlies is also one of the most unique in the NBA. In an era in which athleticism is put at a premium, where coaches believe they can teach basketball-specific skill but not elite leaping or length, Marc Gasol is a true rarity. Only he, his brother Pau, and Joakim Noah are able enough passers to be considered bigs who are elite at that skill, but Marc is a better defender than Pau and a better scorer than Joakim. Marc is the total package, a top 10-15 player in the NBA, and when healthy, an All-Star.
Why Marc Gasol WILL Make the All-Star Game
He will be, first and foremost, healthy. Marc looks to be in perhaps the best shape of his life as he prepares for the FIBA World Cup in Spain, meaning he will be more durable and less susceptible to wear and tear as the season grinds on. He also will benefit from having another playmaker on the floor with him. The impact of the Vince Carter signing on Marc Gasol has been understated to an extent; Carter's ability to play off of the pick-and-roll will enable Marc to play off of that pick-and-roll, or on the pick-and-pop, with a player that is not Mike Conley. Another partner in crime on the wing will make Gasol that much more effective.
Marc will have more time to get into the groove of the NBA season, will have a deeper roster around him that can create through and for him, and is capable of producing stat lines that Dwight Howard can only dream of. With an all-around game and Love out of the West, this All-Star roster spot is Gasol's for the taking.
Why Marc Gasol May Not Make the All-Star Game
This is almost completely dependent on Gasol. If he does have health issues (which is possible considering the past couple of seasons), or needs a break after a summer and fall of playing basketball for both Spain and the Grizzlies, Marc could step away and want the break more than the All-Star spotlight. He has made the team before, and Marc is more concerned with winning in the playoffs than getting the attention that comes from an All-Star selection. There is also a possibility with the movement of the NBA toward going smaller that coaches and fans value those athletic longer forwards and wings over a big bodied Gasol.
Then, as was discussed at the beginning of this piece, there is the small-market factor. Fan voting will almost certainly never lead to Gasol, or any Grizzly, starting an All-Star Game. While coaches appreciate Marc Gasol much more than the casual NBA fan does, a screwy vote here and there could force Gasol to sit out the mid-winter showcase game. Not the worst thing ever, but Memphis benefits from all the positive publicity it can get.
It is an honor to be an All-Star. Being considered one of the best in your field is fantastic, whether it be an office job, a teacher, or a professional athlete. While Memphis fans and writers/bloggers alike appreciate what the Grizzlies bring to the court and community, that understanding and bond is not shared nationally. It will take a unique, dominant, and efficient first 45 games or so of a season to get a Grizzly to an All-Star Game. Given the layout of the West, Marc Gasol is the most likely member of the Memphis Grizzlies to achieve that title of All-Star.
And hey, if no Grizzly gets to the All-Star Game, the world will keep spinning. Memphis cares more about April, May and June than some weekend in February anyway.