The Core 4 put together some stellar individual seasons. Zach Randolph was an automatic double-double, and even had a few 20-10 campaigns. Mike Conley’s emergence as a star in the 2016-17 season is the best offensive showcase of any player in franchise history. Marc Gasol’s All-NBA, Defensive Player of the Year, and All-Star seasons are phenomenal, as he has the most impressive collection of accolades in franchise history. Tony Allen also boasted numerous seasons where he was the best perimeter defender in basketball.
Ja Morant’s rookie campaign will also fall in line here as one of the greatest seasons in franchise history, as will Jaren Jackson Jr.’s sophomore season.
However, what if I told you there were Grizzly seasons that deserve the same level of recognition?
Yes, there are a few seasons that are just as good, if not better, than any individual Core 4 season. Like I’ve been saying though, that’s not a slight at the Core 4. It’s more about the recognition and appreciation of great players that have repped Beale Street Blue.
The primary reason for this, aside from their standing compared to the Core 4, is tied with the team’s success. Neither of these years were as successful as any season from 2010-2017. However, we shouldn’t let it rob these players from the greatness they achieved in their respective campaigns.
2) Pau Gasol, 2005-06
Statline - 20.4 points, 8.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.9 blocks, shooting line of 50.3/25.0/68.9
Despite the brilliance of the Core 4, Pau Gasol’s All-Star season still stands as the greatest statistical season in franchise history.
Of all players that averaged at least 20 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1.5 blocks, Gasol is one of 13 players to do so — some notable names include Kareem Abdul-Jabaar (6 times), Kevin Garnett (6 times), Chris Webber (4 times), Giannis Antetokoumpo (twice), and David Robinson. When looking at the advanced metrics, among the franchise leaders, his season ranks 1st in win shares (12.0) and VORP (6.0), as well as 2nd in BPM (5.5) and 3rd in PER (22.7).
Not only did Gasol become the first All-Star in franchise history here, but he also took a legitimate leap as one of the top power forwards in basketball. He tapped in to a more aggressive side — in more ways than just growing out his hair and a beard — to become the leader of a Grizzly team looking to finally make postseason noise. He willed the Grizzlies to the playoffs, even though they lost starting point guard Damon Stoudamire around the new year to injury.
In addition, at that time, the conference’s top 3 were division winners. So, a 44-win, Northwest-winning Denver Nuggets was a 3-seed, while a 65-win Mavericks team was the 4 seed. You can already guess who the Grizzlies had to take on.
Who knows? Maybe in today’s playoff format, the Grizzlies would hold home-court advantage over a weaker Denver team, and a second-round playoff run would give Pau’s legacy here a little more validation.
Though he never experienced playoff success as a Grizzly, you can’t deny Pau’s greatness in Memphis. Seasons like this one validate it, highlighting why it’s okay if you want to list him among the greatest Grizzly’s ever.
1) Mike Miller, 2006-07
Statline - 18.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, shooting line of 46.0/40.6/79.3
Though it wasn’t better than Pau Gasol’s All-Star campaign, this season from Mike Miller may be the most underrated great season in franchise history.
He put on the best shooting displays we’ve seen in Memphis in the 2006-07 season. It’s also the best season from any wing in the franchise’s history.
There have only been 18 seasons where a player averaged at least 18 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, and shot 40% from 3 on at least 3 attempts a game. Some players in that company include Steph Curry (3 times), Kevin Durant (twice), LeBron James, Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Ray Allen...
and Mike Miller.
Among those seasons, Miller fired the 5th-most three’s per game at 7.1 — which still stands at the top of franchise record. On top of that, among the Grizzly players who shot more than 3 three’s a game, Miller’s 2006-07 run ranks 6th in percentage, just behind Wesley Person, Mike Conley, and 3 other seasons from him.
You can point to it being a “good stats, bad team” case, but it is an accurate representation of who he would’ve been in today’s era, of who the Grizzlies have needed from the wing for the past decade, and of who would be perfect next to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant.
Put this Mike Miller in today’s NBA; he was a 6’8” wing that can fire 3’s at an elite clip, put the ball on the floor, crash the glass, and attack the rim.
This Mike Miller — not the older, but admirable, one from 2013-14 — probably would’ve helped the Core 4 bring a title to Memphis. His production here and skillset is what was expected in the Chandler Parsons signing.
If the Grizzlies somehow landed a big wing that can shoot 40% from 3 and score 18-20 a game, while serving as a community rebounder and secondary playmaker...that kind of player with Jaren Jackson Jr., Ja Morant, and Brandon Clarke is lethal, and it may help the Grizzlies’ championship aspirations come true.
We may look back 5 years from now and fail to recognize how Dillon Brooks began to fill the perimeter void left from the Rudy Gay trade. Or how Jonas Valanciunas rivaled Zach Randolph’s rebounding numbers, even with a smaller sample size. Or how Justise Winslow or De’Anthony Melton stringed together statlines that showcase their Swiss-army knife versatility. Or how a future piece on this team flew under the radar to help fulfill the Kleiman and company’s championship goals.
As we move on through this #NxtGen era, Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and perhaps Brandon Clarke will soar among the greatest Grizzly rankings, putting together seasons and performances that capture the love of the fanbase, and local and national media alike. In the midst of that, there will be more of these underrated campaigns, and that’s fine ... just don’t let them go unrecognized and under-appreciated.
Stats found on basketball-reference.