Last year, the Memphis Grizzlies were the seventh seed that no one wanted to play. This year, at 15-3, they’re one of the best teams in the league.
“I think a lot of it has to do with our health and having our core guys available,” Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said on The Doug Gottlieb Show. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have that all year last year. We had to kind of keep our head above water for most of the year and then we finally got healthy at the end. But this season, it seems like we’ve gotten it going from the beginning. From day one of training camp, we came in focused and had everyone healthy and ready to go. I think that’s helped us get out to a good start.”
Memphis, which ranks second in the league in scoring defense (93.1 points per game), is 8-0 at home and 11-1 against the Western Conference. If early results are any indication, the Grizzlies will be one of the top seeds in the West come playoff time. Unfortunately, they could wind up facing Oklahoma City in the first round.
“I think if that happened, we’d be feeling a little bit of what teams felt when we dropped to the seventh seed (due to injury),” Conley said. “I don’t think anybody wants to have to deal with Oklahoma City as one of those lower seeds in the playoffs because they’re definitely a lot better than that.”
Memphis is led by its usual cast of characters, including Marc Gasol, who is averaging a team-high 19.4 points per game. Gasol, always one of the most skilled big men in the league, is now playing like one of its most active. No, the Spaniard did not suddenly discover new skills at the age of 29, but he did lose some weight.
“It almost made him more athletic in a sense,” Conley said. “He can run a lot better, I think his conditioning is a lot better – and with that being said, I think it allows him to play harder for longer stretches in a game. As you can see, I think he’s having the best season of his career – and rightfully so. The way he’s worked on his body and his game, he deserves everything he’s getting.”
The same can be said for Conley, who is averaging 16.2 points and a team-high 6.3 assists. While Conley has always been well-respected within the league, it seems that fans are finally realizing just how good he is.
“Yeah, ironically, it has changed a little bit for me over the past year or so,” the 27-year-old said. “I think teams throughout the league knew what I was about and what I could do, but I think a lot of fans and just general public probably didn’t know my name or what I can do on the basketball court. And now it’s starting to change a little bit. I’m starting to see different coverages defensively that I haven’t seen before. They put their best defensive perimeter player on me some games. It’s not normally what I’m accustomed to. It’s a new start for me. I’m excited for that.”