The season is approaching the 1/4 mark and the results really could not be better. Anyone who says they expected this is either crazy, lying or both. After 17 games the Memphis Grizzlies are 12-5, with two road wins over the Jazz, a win over the Nuggets, 76ers, and wins at the Bucks and Minnesota. After that opening night disaster vs the Pacers, who would have reasonably believed this? More importantly how is this happening and can it be sustained?
The first part of that question is pretty simple to quantify. The defense of the Memphis Grizzlies is simply the best in the NBA. This isn’t hyperbole. The starting 5 of the Memphis Grizzlies have the best scoring defense of any starting 5 in the league. This was accomplished mostly without the assistance of JaMychal Green, who missed about 4 weeks with a broken jaw. This has been with 19 year old rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. playing the PF along with a rejuvenated Marc Gasol at the center. Combined they are stuffing the paint. So far Jackson is setting block numbers for a rookie that haven’t been accomplished since the Admiral David Robinson entered in the league in the late 80’s. The Grizzlies are simply making it really hard for teams to score consistently.
The second part is trickier. Mike Conley has simply been brilliant coming off a heel injury. He looks fresh and rested. The concerns about losing a step from the injury appear to be unfounded. In fact, Conley looks as good as he has since before his injury vs the Trail Blazers in the playoffs in 2015. Will he still look this good in March? Can a 34 year old Marc Gasol keep playing like one of the best players in the league? Will his legs still be able to hit threes at this pace come April?
The most obvious fact is that if either Conley or Gasol experience a significant injury, the current pace will not be sustainable. However, the depth of the team with Shelvin Mack allowing Conley to play off the ball and Jackson allowing Gasol to play away from the basket has helped take some pressure off the vets. The addition of Garrett Temple and Kyle Anderson have allowed the team to endure the expected loss of Chandler Parsons to his annual season ending injury due to gingivitis and the unexpected temporary loss of Dillon Brooks to a freak MCL sprain. We knew the team was deep, we didn’t know the chemistry would come so fast.
So here we are, in a place I never thought we’d be. The best record in the Western Conference almost 1/4 way through the season. I’d be lying to say I would’ve predicted it. The truth is I’d bet my house we won’t be able to sustain this pace, but we’ve proved one thing. We can play with anyone in the NBA. Which is saying something given that I thought the most drama we’d have is whether or not we’d win too many games to keep our 1st round draft pick. These Grizzlies are good. Really Good. I’m so glad I was wrong.