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Who should the Grizzlies want in the playoffs?

Spoiler alert: Not Golden State.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Excluding potential 8 seeds, who are the worst playoff matchups for the Grizzlies?

From best to worst:

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma City – The Grizzlies are built to beat teams like this. Tony Allen makes Westbrook work as hard as possible, and with no shooting, this series probably hinges on whether the Thunder can kill the Grizzlies on the offensive glass two or three times. This team traded a 1st and two 2nds for Joffrey Lauvergne and Jerami Grant, and I don't know if either guy could play against the Grizzlies in the playoffs. When trading a first round pick, you need to be able to answer yes to the question: “can this player even step on the court in a playoff series?”

That’s probably an unfair assessment of Jerami Grant, who is an okay hedge against Andre Roberson leaving in free agency. But hey, at least Victor Oladipo has regressed in almost every statistical category after giving him a four year extension that has capped you out for the rest of the decade.

I like the Grizzlies chances. I’d have the Grizzlies as a decent favorite, but this series actually happening is a longshot.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

LA Clippers – After a hot start, the Clippers bench has returned to being awful. The Clips would probably benefit from shorter rotations, but the Grizzlies would too. This series, if any, is the one you need a healthy Chandler Parsons. LAC has nobody to guard him, and by this I mean they really don’t have a single small forward on the roster.

I also think you’d get the very best of Tony Allen and Zach Randolph. DeAndre Jordan would have to spend a lot of time away from the rim guarding Gasol, who should uncork six threes a game in this series. I’d put the Grizzlies as a small favorite as things stand right now, and if you could guarantee me that the Clippers Big Three would be totally healthy, my opinion would not change.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Houston Rockets Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Houston – I think we’re seeing peak Houston right now. They’ve found an offensive hack in putting their three point shooters a step or so behind the line. They’re willingly taking longer shots, which means the defense has more distance to close out. Their gamble, which has paid off so far, is that a 26 foot shot with a defender 2 feet away is easier than a 24 foot shot with a defender closing in.

I don’t know if there is a defensive counter to this, but the downside of shooting a ton of threes is that your outcome is subject to more variance. If two teams are evenly matched, but one goes unusually cold from three in a game, that could be all it takes.

As an aside, this is not an argument to take less threes, but it might nod towards understanding how Memphis has outperformed its point differential in recent years. If your game to game outcome is less variant, then your peak offensive ceiling is lowered, but you also don’t suffer the games where you can’t hit anything from deep. This year, Memphis has taken more threes (30.7% of their shots are threes, up from 22.2% in the previous season) and there have been some really poor shooting outings. 5-25 in a December 16th loss to the Kings, for instance. I think some of the “inconsistency” the team has shown can be explained by taking higher value shots that don’t go in as often.

But back to the Rockets, who take a ton of threes. The Grizzlies have Tony Allen, and the Rockets still run everything through Harden, and they really only have Eric Gordon as another ball handling option, and I’d take my chances with Gordon running an offense in a seven game series. The Rockets have also been healthier than one would expect given their roster, so perhaps that isn’t the case in the playoffs. I’d put the Rockets as a small favorite, but would probably bet whichever team you could get better than even odds on.

NBA: Utah Jazz at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Utah – We’ve beaten Utah twice, but I just hate this match-up for the Grizzlies. In a somewhat contrarian manner, at the start of the season I thought Utah would be a better playoff team than regular season team. They’re integrating not one, but two point guards, and that would throw any team off.

Utah can still obliterate teams defensively, and is one of the few teams with a demonstrable home court advantage. They have height advantages on Z-Bo and Conley, two players who consistently struggle with talented players taller than themselves. Gobert is probably my pick for the Defensive Player of the Year so far. Joe Ingles has been a pleasant surprise (my early favorite for off-season deal that everyone will pan but might kinda be worth it), cancelling out the underwhelming addition of Boris Diaw.

I would put Utah as a decent favorite over the Grizzlies, something like 60/40

NBA: Playoffs-San Antonio Spurs at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

San Antonio – We haven’t played the Spurs yet, but this is not the same Spurs. Kawhi is brilliant, but who does he guard on Memphis? Parsons? Fine, who guards Conley. Green? Okay… {thumbs through papers on desk, still thumbing}

Who guards Gasol?

These are not the same Grizzlies either. The Spurs’ are ill-equipped to guard a three point shooting center for 48 minutes, and Gasol will need to take a ton of threes in this series. If Pop plays Pau Gasol and David Lee too much, Gasol will have a field day. And if Pop goes with a more mobile option – Dedmon, for instance – would this hurt their offense too much?

Will Pop mothball Tony Parker, who is very quietly super-washed? Will Pop go small with LMA and Kawhi, and could that lineup hold up enough defensively to be worth going to?

If any team should trade for Paul Millsap, the Spurs should. It would be a dick move to trade Pau so quickly after signing him, but Pau, Davis Bertans, Djounte Murray, and the Spurs 2018 1st round pick is probably a better haul than what Toronto can offer, and comes with the added bonus of moving him out of conference. How insane would a LaMarcus Aldridge-Millsap-Kawhi frontcourt be? Throw in Thabo Sefolosha to give the Spurs another wing and that team suddenly has the horses to give Golden State a run for its money. If there was ever a player who was a Spur, Millsap is it.

I’d definitely, definitely definitely favor the Spurs, but I still give the Grizzlies a puncher’s chance (excluding Millsap, of course), maybe better than 1 in 3.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Golden State – Obviously. This team has been screwing around, has a better point differential than last year’s 73 win team, and can rest their players down the stretch. Pray the Grizzlies aren’t the 8 seed.

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