When you really get down to the basics, basketball is a simple game. If you can dribble, pass, and shoot, then you can become a good basketball player.
However, there was a time when the game of basketball did not require these three things from every position. For the most part, it was only guards and wings that truly needed to be capable of handling the basketball, passing, and shooting. Power forwards and centers, on the other hand, merely needed to be good rebounders and have the ability to score in the paint.
But in an NBA—and basketball in general—where versatility is now the name of the game, everyone must be capable of dribbling, passing, and shooting. The dream of position-less basketball where every player on the court is a playmaker that can do those three things is what most teams in the NBA now aspire to accomplish.
And it’s a dream that the Memphis Grizzlies are closer to realizing than most people may know.
For the better part of the last decade, there has been a shortage of playmaking when it comes to the Grizzlies’ offense. Even when they were at their Grit ‘N’ Grind peak, the Grizzlies’ offense would usually devolve into nothing but Conley-Gasol pick and rolls and some Zach Randolph isolation at the end of games.
And predictability bred stagnation, which is why it was never unusual to see the Grizzlies go five minutes without making a field goal. After all, when your team really only has two players that can create for others, you are pretty easy to defend (Over the last decade, the Grizzlies’ best ranking in offensive rating in the NBA was 13th in 2015).
But after a quite productive off-season, a deficient offense may no longer be a significant problem for the Grizzlies. While the Grizzlies may still hang their hat on the Grit ‘N’ Grind identity of the past, their offense is in a better place to embrace the ball movement and unselfishness of the modern era of the NBA.
When you look at a potential starting lineup that could include Mike Conley-Garrett Temple-Kyle Anderson-Jaren Jackson Jr.-Marc Gasol, there are no apparent weaknesses with this group. To be sure, they has the potential to be one of the best defensive lineups in the NBA. However, they could also be one of the—if not the—best offensive lineups that the Grizzlies have ever had...or at least the most unselfish.
Though it may not technically be “position-less basketball”, every single player in this potential lineup is a playmaker that can create opportunities for others. When healthy, Conley is one of the best pick and roll creators in the league. The Grizzlies’ two major off-season acquisitions Kyle Anderson and Garrett Temple are also excellent facilitators who are both capable of playing point guard. As (hopefully) the perfect modern big man, Jaren Jackson Jr. has the ability to do nearly everything. And even as he starts to somewhat regress, Marc Gasol is still an outstanding passer who can also create for himself in isolation.
A group like this may not be the most talented lineup the Grizzlies have ever put on the court, but they do bring playmaking versatility that the Grizzles have never really had before across all five positions.
The Grizzlies’ bench will also have more playmaking than it has in years past. With Jevon Carter and Andrew Harrison, the Grizzlies will have two options as the backup point guard that could also possibly play together in the second unit. Although they both could potentially start in place of Garrett Temple, Dillon Brooks and Wayne Selden Jr. can thrive in the second unit as players who can create and get to the rim at will. And when you consider that Chandler Parsons still has the ability to be an effective secondary playmaker, the Grizzlies should have a second unit that will match up well with the other bench lineups in the league.
Obviously, the Grizzlies have more players that can create for others than ever. However, there is another offensive area in which the Grizzlies will find greater success.
“Wait, they have shooting?!”
Since 2011, it has almost become a running joke about how the Grizzlies never have enough shooting. Over the course of that time, the Grizzlies have been dead last in the league in 3PM three different seasons and were 29th in two different seasons. They did rank 15th in the league in 3PM during the 2016-2017 season as the Fizdale Effect took hold. Yet they fell back to 24th this past season.
As a wise old man who I was about to play pickup ball with once asked me, “Why can’t they just get SHOOTERS?!”
Well they now have them.
During the Grizzlies’ “best” shooting season in 2016-17, they had four players (Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Vince Carter, and Troy Daniels) who shot above 34% from three while taking more than three attempts per game. As the Grizzlies enter the 2018-19 season, they will have seven players (Gasol, Dillon Brooks, MarShon Brooks, Parsons, Conley, Temple, and Selden) who did this the previous season. And that’s not even counting free agent acquisition Omri Casspi who shot 46% from three on limited attempts in 53 games with the Golden State Warriors last year.
The Grizzlies will certainly not be able to keep up with the three-point shooting of the Warriors or the Houston Rockets, but they should be capable of taking—and making—more threes than they ever have in the past.
As usual, you have to slap a big, fat “IF HEALTHY” sticker on this entire premise. If Mike Conley and Marc Gasol cannot remain healthy or play up to their usual standard, no amount of playmakers or shooters will matter for the Grizzlies.
The ship will go as the captains go, and if the captains aren’t there, then the ship will sink.
That being said, the Grizzlies put together the best team they possibly could under the circumstances of this off-season. As a result, they now have perhaps the best combination of playmaking and shooting than any team in franchise history has ever had.
The Grizzlies may not make the playoffs next year. Depending on the circumstances, they may not even be very good. However, they have a chance—even it might be small— to be great on both sides of the ball.
And that is something truly exciting.