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History Reveals Memphis' Serious Playoff Potential

Conventional wisdom doesn't give the Grizzlies much hope this postseason, but in Part 2 of Contender vs. Pretender we'll look closer at Memphis' numbers and how they relate to their playoff chances. Hint: the alternate headline was A New Hope

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Contender vs. Pretender Part 2: Grizzlies Edition

If you missed it, Part 1 of Contender vs. Pretender took a look at the entire playoff lineup and how this year’s teams appear in the light of past Finalists. The results weren’t too pretty for Memphis who fit only one out of the nine main criteria that define most Finalists over the last 10 seasons. Is that the end of the story for the Grizz? Is there no hope for this year’s team after their gutty, historic regular season?! WHAT IS GOING ON???!! Not necessarily! R-E-L-A-X

The Criteria of the Ring

To recap Part 1, the nine criteria most Finalist fulfill include:

1) Regular Season Win % (>69.5%)
2) Field Goal % (>47%)
3) 3-Point % (>36%)
4) Effective Field Goal % (>50%)
5) Points per game (>100 pts)
6) Offensive Rating (>105)
7) Defensive Rating (<101)
8) Net Rating (>6-7)
9) PIE (>54.5)

The definitions and usage of those stats aren’t particularly relevant today since we’re only interested in how the team can break the mold and defy recent trends. To put it bluntly, Memphis probably doesn’t have a great shot at making the Finals……..but! Their team history shows that the Grizzlies can definitely make a deep playoff run and buck the trends.

Defense Wins Championships

First, let’s help those who want some historical rationale for this year’s team making the Finals. It’s no great surprise that old-school basketball (the antithesis of most of these nine criteria) had its heyday, well, back in the day. The team that Grizz fans should look towards for some hope this postseason is the 2004-2005 Detroit Pistons squad. Those were the glory years of Defense Wins Championships™, and two extremely defensive-minded teams met up in the finals (San Antonio vs. Detroit). While Detroit couldn’t pull off another Finals victory they did take the Spurs to the brink in Game 7 and made it that far playing very similarly to this year’s Grizzlies team.

Without delving too much into the stats (they’re all available in Part 1 for the boldest of readers), let’s just say that the ’04-’05 Pistons were, on paper, the exact same as the Grizzlies! They too fit just one of the nine main criteria- Defensive Rating, which just so happens to be the same criterion met by the Grizzlies! If that’s not destiny…So go back and start binge-watching that year’s Pistons team and get excited because it’s going to be a throwback Finals this year WHEN the Grizz make it that far.

It Runs in the Family

And if that trip down 8 Mile Memory Lane doesn’t have Memphis fans absolutely bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for Sunday, here’s another case for the team. Even if the negative Nancy’s don’t want to hop aboard this hype train to its end of the line Finals stop, they should at least be packed and ready for a lengthy ride on the Playoff Express. Looking back on the Grizzlies’ recent playoff runs, it’s pretty obvious that Memphis has never fit the conventional standard of a "Contender". Which is great because the Grizzlies have certainly had some playoff success despite being the very unique (but lovable!) bundle of joy they are. Let’s focus on the 2010-2011 and 2012-2013 seasons. In the former the Grizz took the Thunder to Game 7 of the Conference Semifinals and in the latter Memphis went all the way to the Conference Finals, where something else happened against the Spurs.

In the ’10-’11 season, Memphis fit three of the nine Contender criteria (field goal percentage, Offensive Rating, and points per game). By far it was their best offensive season, but they only made it to the brink of the Conference Finals. Now in the ’12-’13 season, Memphis only fit one of the nine and just like this year, it was Defensive Rating. So there’s your team-history based blinding beacon of hope, Grizzlies fans! We’ve done it before and we can do it again! Full disclosure: the 2012-2013 team did have stronger numbers all-around, but if this year’s roster can reassert some dominance on the boards and tighten up the defense a smidge, they’re golden.

Whoop that Trick

In the end, while it would be a little out of the ordinary for the Grizzlies to make the Finals this season, there is some historical precedence- both within and outside of the franchise. Both the 2010-2011 and 2012-2013 Memphis teams had success in the postseason with a similar defiance of the norm. And elsewhere in the league, the 2005 Pistons made it all the way to Game 7 of the NBA Finals by playing the same style of basketball that these Grizzlies exemplify. There's your case for Contender, Memphis. So get pumped because the journey begins this Sunday and it’s got a sneaky shot of being a lengthy one.