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The Memphis Grizzlies need their grit back

With the Grizzlies’ recent struggles, maybe it’s time to return to some of the grit and grind ways of old?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

For years, the Memphis Grizzlies were known for their lockdown defense. They were feared by opponents for clamping down on star players and limiting top-tier offensive teams far below their season averages. The Grizzlies took pride in their defensive effort, but with Tony Allen now gone, their defense doesn’t seem to have a leader anymore. This is apparent by their plummet in defensive stats. In turn, this has resulted in a downward spiral in general for Memphis.

In terms of defensive efficiency, here are the stats from the last six seasons:

Link for infographic here.

(Side note, I did not include the 2015-16 season, because this was the year the Grizzlies had 28 players on the team. They were ranked 19th at 105.4 in the league that season. Because that was such a bizarre season, I chose not to include it)

Now, the Grizzlies are currently ranked 11th in the league in defensive efficiency. If this were to hold it would be the first time since their 2009-10 season that Memphis is ranked outside of the top ten in this category (again, excluding the bizarre 2015-16 season).

To start the season off, the Grizzlies had a hot streak, and their defense showed up as well as their offense. During this disastrous 9-game losing skid, however, Memphis has dropped out of the top ten in defense, and this is largely the reason they’re dropping so many games. It could be argued that the Grizzlies desperately miss Tony Allen in this way, but defense is not just a personnel issue.

It’s especially an effort issue.

Clearly, this has been a struggle for Memphis the last handful of games. And this was further proved as David Fizdale was fired this week. The Grizzlies players, or at least leader Marc Gasol, were not buying into Fizdale’s schemes and philosophy. When players are fully committed to a coach, the effort usually isn’t lacking. Perhaps, because the Memphis players sensed the tension in the locker room, it carried out onto the floor…and in particular, this was evident on the defensive end.

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

For Memphis, everything starts with how successful they are defensively. Tony Allen drilled this idea every night, but he was right. In fact, his words were prophetic.

When the Grizzlies’ defense has ranked higher, their record has been directly affected. And their offense hasn’t had to be stellar for them to succeed, either. If their defense was top-tier, then they could be mediocre offensively, at least in the regular season.

In 2012-13, Memphis’ offensive ranking was 18th, while they thrived defensively at 2nd. That year, they had a record of 56-26.

During the 2013-14 season, the Grizzlies were tied at 16th for offensive efficiency, while they ranked 7th in the league defensively. In turn, their record was 50-32 for the year.

And these are just a couple examples. Obviously, having a top-ten offense and defense helps, but the Grizzlies have to excel defensively before their offense can kick into high gear.

David Fizdale has been fired, Memphis looks to the future of its franchise and questions are abundant. It all starts with the players at the helm, which are Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. Having been part of the successful run of years past, they must lead this new squad into unchartered territory.

If the Grizzlies decide to stick with the roster they have, maybe looking to the past of the franchise, in terms of effort on the defensive end, could save their future this season.

Follow @sbngrizzlies