It’s September. Football has started back up, so that means that NBA basketball is just around the corner. The Grizzlies will have their training camp and media day in the next couple weeks, and the preseason will follow that.
There’s been a lot of shifting in the Western Conference, and now many critics think the Grizzlies will fall behind. Zach Randolph has departed, and Tony Allen has too. There’s also been new additions. Tyreke Evans, Mario Chalmers, and Ben McLemore (who is already injured) will join the ranks for Memphis. The health of Chandler Parsons will greatly affect Memphis’ success this season, as well as the performances of leaders Mike Conley and Marc Gasol.
All that, plus JaMychal Green still hasn’t resigned with the Grizzlies (although it’s believed he will). That leaves the Grizzlies with more questions than answers entering this season, it seems.
Before things kick into high gear, here are my three predictions for this season, and my reasoning behind them:
#1: The Grizzlies WILL make the playoffs
ESPN predicted at the beginning of August for the Memphis Grizzlies to win a mere 34.6 wins and to fall to 12th in the Western Conference. Every year, it seems that national analysts underestimate the Grizz, and they always end up rising above the odds.
Will this year be a repeat of that?
I think it will be. With the way the roster is currently constructed, the Grizzlies would have to go through a ton of injuries to win less than 35 games. They still have the powerhouse duo of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. It’s expected for Chandler Parsons to come back at full health, and Memphis has now added key role players like Mario Chalmers, Tyreke Evans, and Ben McLemore who can help contribute.
Will it be tough in the Western Conference? Of course. But it’s tough every year, and this season will be no different. It’ll be a fight for positioning, no doubt. And presuming that the Golden State Warriors get the #1 seed, Memphis will need to do their best to get the #7 seed or above, or getting through the first round will seem almost impossible.
So while national analysts talk about the Warriors, Spurs, and other Western Conference teams that appear flashier from the outside, the Grizzlies will stay in the background but continue to be a threat in the playoff standings. And barring an injury tsunami, I predict they’ll win at least 40 games.
#2: Mario Chalmers will return to his former Grizzlies glory
When Mario Chalmers played in Memphis a couple seasons ago, he quickly became a fan favorite. He fit into the Grizzlies’ second unit nicely, and it seemed that Memphis’ backup point guard situation had finally been resolved. In his 55 games with the Grizzlies, Chalmers averaged 10.8 PPG in 22.8 minutes per game. He fit in well with the Grizzlies’ system, and it seemed Chalmers had found a long-term home in Memphis.
But then, disaster struck.
In a season that for the Grizzlies was riddled with injuries overall, Chalmers ruptured his Achilles. As a result, he disappeared from the NBA scene for over a year after the Grizzlies released him.
But now he’s back and with the Memphis Grizzlies once again. And just like when he arrived in Memphis last time, there’s a gap at the backup point guard situation, and Mario Chalmers can fill the void.
There surely are concerns that he will not play to the level he once did. However, I predict that Chalmers will play close to the level he did before with this (theoretically) faster-paced Grizzlies team. He’ll be able to help space the floor and provide some extra scoring off the bench for Memphis. Hopefully, he will score at least 8 points a game and provide some positive relief in the backup point guard department.
#3: Mike Conley will have the best overall season of his career
It’s all set. Zach Randolph is gone, and Tony Allen has left as well. Marc Gasol is by Conley’s side as his co-captain. But in the end, this is Mike Conley’s team. He’s the point guard commanding the court, and his level of play this season will determine the Grizzlies’ season.
Last year, Conley averaged 20.5 PPG (highest in his career) and 6.3 assists. Conley also shot 40.7% from beyond the arc, another career-high stat. He’s got to find a way to top, or at least match, those stats this season. For the Grizzlies to get good playoff seeding, Conley is going to have to truly take leadership of this team beside Marc Gasol now that the “Core 4” is gone for good.
If anyone can do this, it’s “Captain Clutch”. I’ve watched him play through countless injuries, including a broken face, and still play well. But that’s another thing...Conley has to stay healthy this season. That’s why Memphis’ backup point guard situation must be addressed (like I previously said, hopefully Mario Chalmers can help with that). It’s paramount to protect Mike’s health leading up to the playoffs.
In a way, this is a new chapter in Mike Conley’s career. And I predict he’s up to the challenge and will have his best season yet as a Memphis Grizzly.
Opening night will be here soon, and then it will be time for the Grizzlies to once again prove the nation wrong and rise to a new challenge in the stacked Western Conference.