I really enjoy the greatest Grizzly’s concepts this blog has done over the past couple months. The “All-Decade Team” Joe Mullinax comprised with both local media and GBB members was spectacular. In addition, Justin Lewis and Shawn Coleman’s “Greatest Grizzly Tournament” with over 15,000 fan votes was phenomenally run.
The debate and conversation are great. It seems to revolve around the same concepts. How do you rank the Core 4? Who’s number 1? How high is too high for Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant?
In the midst of it, a lot of solid players are left out of the conversation, like they were never even on the team. In the process, they become a bit underrated.
While I love the Core 4 and this current young core more than anything I have in sports, I want to shed light on great players that often get slept on in Grizzlies’ history. What were some of the most underrated, great seasons in Memphis history?
(Yes, I used Memphis, since my first collection of basketball memories came at this point).
Honorable mentions: Lorenzen Wright, 2001-02; Kosta Koufos, 2013-14; JaMychal Green, 2016-17; Courtney Lee, 2014-15; James Johnson, 2013-14.
10) Jason Williams 2002-03
Stat-line: 12.1 points, 8.3 assists, 2.8 rebounds, shooting line of 38.8/35.4/84.0.
It may not be recognized within the Grizzlies fanbase, but Jason Williams wasn’t necessarily the “White Chocolate” J-Will in Memphis that he was in Sacramento — contrary to the highlight tapes that still surface the internet to this day. However, J-Will put on the best passing clinic in franchise history during the 2002-03 season.
His assist average still stands as the highest regular season tally in franchise history. Not to mention, he also amassed a whopping 25 games with 10 or more assists, tying with Stephon Marbury for the most games with double-digit assists that season. That’s impressive, given the difference in pace and number of possessions between then and now.
The Grizzlies, to this day, haven’t had anyone that dished out assists at the volume Jason Williams did. And that’s not a slight at any of the point guards they have had over the years, including Mike Conley and Ja Morant. Conley sacrificed assists so Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol could work in the post. With Morant, most rookies don’t average 8 assists; only 6 in NBA history have averaged at least 8.3 or more. However, given how he delivered as a playmaker and scorer this season, he should surpass this number quickly.
Will this record stand? I don’t think so, especially with a passing wizard like Ja Morant on the roster. For now, seasons like this one push Williams into the top-15-20 discussion among Grizzly greats.
9) Mario Chalmers 2015-16
Stat-line: 10.8 points, 3.8 assists, 2.6 rebounds, 1.5 steals, shooting line of 41.7/32.6/82.7
The horrid 2017-18 season masks how good of a player Chalmers was in Memphis. He was acquired early in the 2015-16 season, and the Grizzlies became instantly better. The Grizzlies finished the season 36-20 with Chalmers in the lineup, which is a pace of a 53-win team. Though the Grizzlies had similar success throughout the GNG era, he showed what the Grizzlies could be with a legitimate backup behind Conley.
Chalmers boasted the 6th-best scoring average (10.8) and 3rd-highest assist average (3.8) among all reservers in franchise history. They also could thrived when he shared the floor with Conley. The duo of Conley and Chalmers had a net rating of 14.7 in 200 minutes together, allowing the Grizzlies to explore the option of putting Conley off the ball.
For the first time in Grizzlies history, they had a backup point guard that could play alongside Conley, or replace him if an injury popped up. It sucked that we didn’t see it come to fruition in the playoffs, since Chalmers ruptured his achilles at the end of the season.
8) Shane Battier 2001-02
Stat-line: 14.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 1.6 steals, 1 block, shooting line of 42.9/37.3/70.0
If Pau Gasol was Ja Morant, then Shane Battier was Brandon Clarke. Pau garnered most of the attention, as he ran away with the Rookie of the Year award, and quickly became the Grizzlies’ best player. Battier, like Clarke, quietly stuffed the stat sheet and solidified himself as a cornerstone piece alongside the team’s bright young rookie.
While the Grizzlies have had exciting prospects come through, Battier has stuck as one of the best rookies since the team moved over to Memphis. He’s behind just Pau Gasol, OJ Mayo, and Ja Morant in points per game. He’s also 3rd in win shares (4.8) and in Box Plus/Minus (0.5) among all Grizzly rookies.
Among all rookies that season, Battier was 2nd in scoring, 3rd in win shares, 3rd in rebounds, 2nd in steals, and 2nd in 3-point percentage. With the talent in that class, it’s impressive that Battier ranks so high — even more impressive for Memphis to have 2 top-flight rookies in one draft class.
One of the first things that popped into my mind when I saw his numbers were how they’d be perceived in the modern NBA. With numbers like these, he would’ve been a hot commodity in today’s league. He was a big wing that can knock down outside shots, defend multiple positions, stuff the stat sheet, and serve as a secondary playmaker.
7) James Posey 2003-04
Statline: 13.7 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.7 steals, shooting line of 47.8/38.6/83.0
Like Battier, one of the first things I noticed about this season from Posey was how awesome he’d in today’s NBA. He was a 6’8” wing that can spread the floor, defend multiple positions, and score at an efficient rate.
To this day, Posey’s season ranks among one of the best in franchise history, as he’s 6th among win shares (10.0) and 12th among BPM (3.7).
In this particular season, the Grizzlies made a huge leap to win 50 games and make the postseason for the first time in franchise history. Posey played an instrumental role in this playoff push. He finished in double-digit scoring 56 games, including 4 30-point performances. He also had a whopping 22 games with 3 or more steals.
Posey distinguished himself from the pack of solid wings, emerging as the team’s 2nd-best player. He received the second-most first-place votes for Most Improved player that year, ironically behind Zach Randolph.
If Posey’s tenure in Memphis was longer, he would probably be in that tier with Rudy Gay, Mike Miller, and Shane Battier in the greatest Grizzly ever discussion.
6) Jonas Valanciunas 2019-20
Statline: 14.9 points, 11.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.1 blocks, 58.6/36.7/73.2
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: Valanciunas put together one of the most spectacular rebounding seasons in franchise history. That’s no knock at Zach Randolph, who Valanciunas told me he molded his game after.
He was just that damn good this season.
His 11.2 rebounds ranks 4th in Memphis history, and it’s more impressive considering there’s a minutes difference between 8-11 in the other 3 seasons from Randolph. Valanciunas leads all players in rebounds per 36 minutes (15.4) and rebound percentage (22.4).
In addition, Valanciunas became the first player in franchise history to log consecutive 20-rebound games. That’s impressive, given they had arguably one of the best rebounders of the century on the roster for almost a decade.
Valanciunas collected buckets at an efficient clip. He possessed the 3rd-best in true shooting percentage (63.1), only behind teammate Brandon Clarke and 2005-06 Jake Tsakalidis. Of the players with a true shooting percentage of 60 percent or higher, he’s 3rd in scoring behind Mike Conley (2016-17) and Mike Miller (2007-08).
Like I said last week, Valanciunas deserves your attention.
All of these players played valuable roles for some of the franchise’s playoff teams, or they provided excellent value as young players. Not to mention, they rank among even members of the Core 4, or the Grizzlies’ young trio, for individual season success.
Am I saying they should be pushing for the top 5-6 spots? Not necessarily. However, they deserve to be considered in the top 10-15 greatest Grizzlies ever.
Tune in tomorrow for part 2 with the 5 most underrated great seasons in Memphis Grizzlies history.
Which of these seasons did you find more impressive?
This poll is closed
Jason Williams 2001-02
Mario Chalmers 2015-16
Shane Battier 2001-02
James Posey 2003-04
Jonas Valanciunas 2019-20
Stats found on basketball-reference.com