Out west the Spurs and Thunder seemed poised to hold the top. Offseason moves had some analysts thinking the Nuggets would be the team to beat and many thinking the Lakers would get Kobe another ring. However, the team with the best record out west currently in the Grizzlies. A good question to ask is if they are for real. I’ll give a nice waffly answer.
To start, as they’ve been playing, the Grizzlies are absolutely a contender. Let’s use the Grizzlies through their first 11 games. Numbers via The NBA Geek. The numbers for last night’s defeat of Cleveland still haven’t been crunched.
The Grizzlies currently have three players at star level in Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph. And it turns out two star bigs and a star guard seems to work well out west for getting a title lately.
What’s more, the Grizzlies seem to have the luxury of very few if any bad players. When we break down the players getting major minutes, only Marreese Speights is really playing that poorly. He’s been pretty bad his entire career, so my advice to the Grizzlies would be to give up on him. He’s not a huge hindrance though.
On the other hand, is this just a mirage? The answer is: it’s complicated. If we examine Mike Conley we see he’s playing the best of his career. Now, he’s young and entering his prime. It’s also possible he’s on a hot streak. Of course, even if he regresses, he’s been an above average guard his whole career. And Arturo has recently been postulating that a top guard really isn’t needed to win a title.
Alright, that brings us to the real question about the Grizzlies legitimacy, their two bigs. Are Randolph and Gasol really a title worthy front court? Here it gets more fuzzy. When the Grizzlies upset the Spurs two years ago (which Arturo predicted, just saying) it was on the back of Randolph playing like a star. He was a bit off last year but he appears to be back (for which my fantasy squad is grateful*) The question of if Marc Gasol is a star big is a bit murky.
It turns out most of Gasol’s impressive numbers have in fact gone down. Two areas have shown improvement. His shooting has returned to his early days with a TS% near 60%. Additionally his assist to turnover ratio is ridiculous for a center right now. I’ll need to check history, but I’m not sure if this rate of passing, shooting and holding on to the ball is sustainable for a center. That said, Gasol has flirted with this level of play in 2010, so maybe he can keep it up.
For due dillegence, let’s also check out Randolph’s numbers in Memphis.
Randolph has actually done the opposite of Marc. His normally good scoring, passing and turnovers have all gone down. However, his rebounds, blocks and fouls have all improved. Again, it is questionable if he’ll be able to keep up these numbers.
Fred Bush’s warnings about regression to the mean for players with early games is important. Conley, Gasol and Randolph are all playing out of their minds right now. And while we’ve seen Gasol and Randolph play very well in the past, we haven’t seen them do it this way. It will remain to be seen if they can keep it up. If they can, then they have a ready made recipe for success I wish George Karl would follow (fun fact, Randolph and Gasol play 62% of the top 20 lineup minutes together as per 82games. Playing good bigs together wins!) If not, well they still have a very good team that has shown that even without a star it can rack up the wins.
* I have a confession to make. While Randolph has helped out my team (I came so close to beating Greg Steele last week!) I actually intended to make Ari Caroline overpay for him to free up more bidding space. I overestimated how high Ari would go. Now you know!