Before the season started, GBB ran an over/under preview series for all of the teams in the NBA. The Grizzlies, of course, were the team to keep an eye on in these parts, and their 43.5 projected wins were very interesting to try to make a prediction on. Seven of us took the over as part of that challenge, including myself, while five of us at GBB took the under. Our average record projection was 45-37, partly because of how bullish I was on Memphis myself - I had the Grizzlies going 48-34.
I believed in Chandler Parsons, and thought that Mike Conley would have a huge season, and that Marc Gasol would be the leader that David Fizdale wanted in a return to All-NBA form. I was maybe 2-4 on those thoughts - Gasol may make All-NBA but not be Fizdale’s leader, Conley took a big leap forward, and Parsons took a tumble back. That all, and then some, worked out to a 43-39 record, just one game better than their disastrous, injury-riddled season of 2015-2016.
And again, it was due to injury. Some folks called it, like our own Chase Lucas. He took the under at 41 wins in our season preview, and the health of Memphis was the major reason why. Here’s an excerpt from his post on the Grizz:
The injury question is everything and everyone knows it. It’s impossible to know what the answer to that question will be, but that doesn't mean it can be ignored. All members of the Grizz core are past their prime, coming off of an injury, or both. Gasol, Conley, and Parsons are the three best players on this team, and not one was able to finish last season. The Grizzlies are simply not on equal footing when it comes to injury concerns.
Of course Gasol and Conley wound up playing in over 70 games each including the playoffs, but the Parsons absence was huge and had a hand in defining the season. His injury forced players that were not equipped to play outside of role. Vince Carter isn’t a starter at this stage of his career. James Ennis III, Troy Daniels, and Wayne Selden Jr. are not key 20+ minute per game rotation players on good basketball teams. When Tony Allen went down in game 82 before the playoffs got underway, it hurt the Grizzlies that much more.
That is why, as I grade the Grizzlies season, I will not go so far as to say they failed. Because they didn’t...at least not as the Grizzlies many of us hoped to see. Some, like Chase, saw past and through the rose-colored glasses and saw this team for what it was - flawed and thin due to the off-season investment in Conley and Parsons. One bet paid off, and one went south quickly. Memphis was not equipped to be without their third best player for a whole season, and the end result was not an underachieving very good team, but a good team who just managed to stay afloat.
In spite of that, the Grizzlies pushed the San Antonio Spurs to six games in their first round playoff series. Despite the lack of a healthy Parsons, and injuries to Allen, Brandan Wright, and Conley throughout the season, Memphis was able to knock off great teams like the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. They bought in to a systemic change on the offensive end more than they every had in this era of Grizzlies basketball as they launched threes more than ever before. Players like Zach Randolph acted like a pro and took to a role change he most certainly didn't agree with to help the team, and Memphis has more memories to take with them from this cherished core of Grizzlies (comeback vs. Warriors, Take That for Data, Conley’s amazing Game 4, etc.)
Once it became clear that Parsons would not be healthy this season (it happened for all of us at different stages), the expectations had to change. These Grizzlies probably would not have beaten the Spurs or Warriors in the playoffs at full strength, but they would have been higher than the seven seed and in a better position to compete to get out of the first round. Conley and Gasol would have had another facilitator, another scorer, another talented offensive player to help push Memphis in to the modern NBA.
It just wasn’t meant to be this year.
So sure, they went under their projected win total, and yes, they have suffered the same fate for two seasons in a row now - death by Spurs. But even more than that, a similar refrain defined why that occurred - health, or a lack thereof. You saw the return of a star, the emergence of a new one, and the beginnings of a new culture with a new head coach. Considering where this team had been with regard to health in the past, this season was much easier to accept, even with another disappointing conclusion.
After last season, we were celebrating losers and crying coaches and were terrified for the future. Now? Concern remains, but with Fizdale, Conley, and Gasol in the fold for the foreseeable future, real progress can occur as the Grizzlies modernize. But the margin for error moving forward with regards to improving the roster is very, very small.