The Grizzlies Are Gritting ‘N’ Grinding Against the Grain

    The 'Grit 'n' Grind' era is alive and well in Memphis. With stars like Mike Conley and Marc Gasol looking healthy again and rookie Jaren Jackson Jr.

    December 4, 2018

    The ‘Grit ‘n’ Grind’ era is alive and well in Memphis.

    With stars like Mike Conley and Marc Gasol looking healthy again and rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. making an immediate impact, the Grizzlies are 13-9 and poised to remain competitive in the West.

    Conley appeared in just 12 games last season and struggled, potentially showing signs of decline. He also suffered a season-ending Achilles injury, making his future prognosis even more difficult to predict.

    But this season, Conley is once again assembling a case for an All-Star selection. He’s averaging 21.1 points per game, good for seventh among point guards. His assist percentage, at 33.9 percent, is close to his career-high 2016-17 level of 34.5 percent. His assist to turnover ratio is 3.3:1, good for the second-best mark in his career.

    Gasol is having a similar resurgence. After grumbling through 73 games last season, where he feuded with ex-coach David Fizdale and shot a career-low 42 percent from the field, the big man is back to being a two-way force.

    Season Points FG % 3-Point % Rebounds Defensive Rebound % Defensive Rating
    2017-18 17.2 42.0 34.1 8.2 25.3 108
    2018-19 (through 22 games) 18.0 47.1 41.6 9.4 27.3 102

     

    The 33-year-old Gasol is also the early favorite to win Defensive Player of the Year due to his productivity. He’s anchored Memphis’ defense, which is back to its stingy ways.

    After ranking 13th in opponent points per game and 17th in opponent field goal percentage last year, the Grizzlies are currently third and 11th, respectively, in those categories.

    Jackson Jr. is the final piece of Memphis’ defensive revival. He’s been an immediate starter after being taken fourth overall in the 2018 draft and is averaging 2.0 blocks per game. Among players with at least 17 games played (the equivalent of qualified stats over a full NBA season), Jackson Jr.’s 103 defensive rating is tied for 14th in the league.

    The most encouraging thing about Jackson Jr. is his early growth. After struggling through six games in October, he caught fire last month. If Jackson Jr. continues to grow, the Grizzlies will be able to ease the burden on their aging stars and keep them fresh for the length of the season.

    Jaren Jackson Jr. Splits Points FG% 3-Point % Rebounds Blocks
    October (6 games) 11.5 46.3 15.4 5.2 1.0
    November (15 games) 14.7 54.1 43.2 4.4 2.4

     

    Gasol, Conley and Jackson Jr. are ranked third, sixth and 20th in defensive win shares among qualified players, according to NBA.com/stats. However, it isn’t just defense powering Memphis in the early part of the season.

    The Grizzlies aren’t a juggernaut offensively, but they’re efficient. Memphis plays at the slowest pace in the league, but ranks 18th in field goal percentage, allowing the team to make the most of its limited possessions. The Grizzlies have lacked outside shooting for a long time and they still don’t take a lot of 3s, but Gasol and Garrett Temple are mitigating that with their high efficiency.

    Memphis is 25th in 3-point attempts per game, but sixth in 3-point percentage. Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff has the Grizz playing efficiently on offense while maintaining its identity as a tough defensive unit. The addition of Joakim Noah should bolster that side of the ball.

    Memphis’ dynamic duo is healthy, its rookie is playing like a star in the making, and the entire team plays with a swagger that’s reminiscent of past Grizzlies squads. If the Grizz can maintain their defensive effort and get any type of contribution from Kyle Anderson or Chandler Parsons moving forward, they’ll remain in the postseason mix.

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