Welcome to Grizzly Bear Blues’ top-10 Memphis Grizzlies of the decade! Here in Part III, we are going to take a look at the legendary Core Four and how they all fit in the top-4 players of the past 10 seasons of Grizzlies basketball.
First, some background. Through my seven years in the blogging business I have made lots of friends and worked with plenty of people who know all about the Memphis Grizzlies. I reached out to many of them, asking for help constructing this list through an official vote ballot. Those that opted to participate then submitted 10 names, with the only rule being that the player had to participate in the past decade for the Memphis Grizzlies, starting January 1st 2010 and ending December 31st, 2019 (the day of this posting). Players then got points for the position they were put in by the voter - 1 point for 10th, 2 for 9th, all the way up to 10 points for a 1st place selection.
25 total people, including myself, took part in the polling. Only my ballot will be public through the revealing of the top-10. The panel was as follows-
- GBBers Parker Fleming, Nathan Chester, Shawn Coleman, Ed Memphis, Greg Lubiani, Lauren Harvey, Greg Ratliff, and Justin Lewis.
- From 92.9 FM ESPN Memphis - Gary Parrish, Mark Giannotto, Jeffrey Wright, Connor Dunning, and John Martin
- From Sports 56 WHBQ Memphis - Peter Edmiston, Greg Gaston, and CJ Hurt
- GBB Alumni Matt Hrdlicka, Mark King, Andrew Ford, and Chris Faulkner
- Podcaster extraordinaire Keith Parish of Fastbreak Breakfast
- Grizzlies blog (Three Shades of Blue) alums Jonathan May and Jason “Fletch” Rosselot
- David Cobb of the Commercial Appeal
Here is the list so far-
Honorable Mention- O.J. Mayo (15 votes, 36 points
Tied at #10- Vince Carter and Tayshaun Prince (11 votes, 37 points)
#9- Ja Morant (11 votes, 40 points)
#8- Courtney Lee (15 votes, 52 points)
#7- JaMychal Green (19 votes, 61 points)
#6- Jaren Jackson Jr. (18 votes, 64 points)
#5- Rudy Gay (24 votes, 127 points)
Here we are. The high stakes medal round. Four spots, four iconic Grizzlies. Where do they fit?
Let’s begin with the Grindfather himself.
#4: Tony Allen (176 total points, 25 total votes- UNANIMOUS SELECTION)
Grizzlies stats: Seven full seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies (2010-2017). 462 games played (359 games started), 8.9 points per game on 47.4% shooting (26.9% from three), 4.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 14.6 PER, .109 win shares per 48 minutes
FIRST. TEAM. ALL. DEFENSE.
He was named that three times as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. And while his offensive stats most certainly will not jump out at you, his impact on the culture of the Grizzlies is undeniable.
From that legendary night against the Oklahoma City Thunder at the beginning of this decade to the end where a Memphis fan will almost certainly shout out “GRIT, GRIND” after hearing the words “ALL HEART” regardless of social setting, Tony Allen made the most of his opportunity with the Grizzlies. TA has no business being a franchise legend. For any other team in the NBA, discussing a statue or number retiring of a player with the statistical output of Tony Allen would be insanity. He’s just not worth it...
Except in Memphis. And that is all that matters.
Allen made the Grizzlies grit and grind. He was the unstoppable force behind the immovable object, shoving that thing through the mud on their way to a level of success many thought wasn’t possible for such a random collection of players. Culture, mentality, toughness...that’s how the work got done. And Tony Allen was the catalyst.
#3: Mike Conley (214 points, 25 votes, 4 1st place votes - UNANIMOUS SELECTION)
Grizzlies stats: 12 total seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies (2007-2019). 788 games played (759 games started), 14.9 points per game on 44.1% shooting (37.5% from three), 5.7 assists, 3.0 rebounds, 17.7 PER, .133 win shares per 48 minutes
Oh captain, my captain.
The Utah Jazz have not yet gotten to see the full benefits of having Mike Conley on their team. Between injury and transition time (12 years can’t be overcome in 12 weeks), Conley has struggled for his new squad that he is supposed to be a key part of the puzzle for heading in to the postseason this spring.
Here’s to hoping they get 2017 playoff Mike Conley. Because the Jazz may win the NBA Finals if that dude shows up.
His accolades and community work have been praised here, there, and everywhere. Rightfully so. But the best Conley basketball memories are the ones where he shows people just how good he can be. Like in 2015, when with a BROKEN FREAKING FACE he was, at times, the very best player on the floor alongside Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Or in 2017 when again, for stretches, Conley outplayed Kawhi Leonard and showed he could be elite.
In those moments, he silences critics saying he shouldn’t have received the investment of time or money that Memphis put in him. He was worth it and then some.
Best of luck, Mike. Here’s to hoping your 2020 ends a lot like Marc Gasol’s 2019 did.
Speaking of Big Spain...
#2: Marc Gasol (220 points, 25 votes, 10 1st place votes - UNANIMOUS SELECTION)
Grizzlies stats: Parts of 11 seasons played with the Memphis Grizzlies (2008-2019). 769 games played (762 games started), 15.2 points per game on 48.4% shooting (34.4% from three), 7.7 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 18.5 PER, .143 win shares per 48 minutes
The 2012-2013 Defensive Player of the Year.
The three-time All-Star.
The two-time All-NBA center.
The little brother who didn’t just step out of the shadow of his big brother...he took a giant leap.
While Pau Gasol went on to the Los Angeles Lakers and won titles alongside Kobe Bryant, Marc stayed in Memphis (longer than Pau, anyway) and established himself as the superior player...or at least the superior Grizzly. Marc the defender, Gasol the passer, Big Spain the destroyer on both ends of the floor...he was a force of nature when he was at his peak.
Marc’s inability to - or perhaps unwillingness to - take over games offensively hurt him on the ballot here - numerous voters had Marc at 4th, and one even placed him 5th, putting him out of reach of the #1 spot despite the accolades listed above. Gasol also isn’t quite the personality that the man who (deservedly) sits at #1 is and was, so despite Marc’s Memphis roots he is not viewed in the same light as his “brother from another mother”.
There’s no shame in second on this list, though. Marc Gasol has had an awesome NBA career as one of the best players not just in Memphis this decade, but the entire Association. The title run with the Raptors post-trade last season was icing on the cake.
And now...the #1 member of the Memphis Grizzlies the last ten years.
#1: Zach Randolph (227 points, 25 votes, 11 1st place votes - UNANIMOUS SELECTION)
Grizzlies stats: Eight total seasons in Memphis (2009-2017). 551 regular season games played (446 games started), 16.8 points per game on 47.6% shooting (22% from three), 10.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 19.5 PER, .137 win shares per 48 minutes
A blue collar player, for a blue collar city.
Zach Randolph and Memphis are a love story. One of retribution and redemption, charity and chants of Z-Bo that ring out through the halls of FedExForum. When Randolph came to Memphis, he needed a restart in the worst way. He was viewed as a player that was barely worth taking a flyer on - a talented scorer and rebounder, but not someone you could build a culture around.
Then, Zach grew up. And the Memphis Grizzlies were built around his unique skill set and tale of toughness.
Zach Randolph was far from perfect as a player...and he had plenty of flaws as a person too. But we all do. His city of Memphis does. And the success that Zach had - All-Star Games, and playoff series dominated - felt like the success of the guy sitting in the stands that had just lost his job, but was out searching for new work despite feeling rejected. The wins of Randolph were the wins of a community that desperately needed them - and he knew that, helping those in need in countless ways around the city.
As Zach rose, so did Memphis. When Z-Bo fell, an entire region fell. It happened naturally - which made is all the better. It was real. And those that doubt it, never got the chance to feel it.
Zach Randolph and Memphis. A love story for the ages.
So what have we learned?
- My list wasn’t far off. I had OJ Mayo, Tayshaun Prince, Courtney Lee, Jaren Jackson Jr., Rudy Gay, Tony Allen, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol as my top-ten. Replace O.J. with Ja (if you have to) and I am pretty much in lock step.
- It isn’t just skill in Memphis. Your personality, how you play the game, the quality of relationship you make across races and eras of fans...it all plays a part when being seen as a legendary Grizzly.
- What makes one “great” is up for debate. That’s part of the fun of these exercises. 25 voters, 25 different perspectives. 23 total players received at least one vote. The journey is not singular between just you and the team you follow - always remember that. You’re not alone.
Thank you so much for joining me on this journey. Check out our episode of GBBLive breaking down this list in depth, and stick with us at GBB as we begin the next decade of Grizzlies basketball.
From the GBB Family to yours, Happy New Year!
Stats provided by basketball-reference.com