2. Health of veterans Gasol, Conley at heart of Grizzly revival
As the Memphis Grizzlies Grit-‘n’-Grind era ground to a halt last season with the team missing the playoffs for the first time since 2010 and posting its worst record in a decade at 22-60, the aging duo of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley were at the heart of it.
Heel and Achilles injuries limited Conley to just 12 games last season and the Grizzlies were a disjointed lot without their long-time floor leader.
Gasol managed to get in 73 games last season, but shot a career-worst 42 percent from the floor while surrounded by journeymen and NBA G League recalls.
Conley and Gasol were both 2007 draft picks who traveled very different roads to Memphis. The Grizzlies selected Conley with the No. 4 overall pick that year, while Gasol went to the Los Angeles Lakers with the 48th overall pick in the second round.
Memphis got Gasol’s rights in a blockbuster Feb. 1, 2008, trade that sent older brother Pau Gasol to the Lakers. Gasol signed with the Grizzlies in 2008 and has been an institution since with three All-Star appearances and the 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year award.
Somehow Conley, in his 12th season, has been denied an All-Star appearance and has just one All-Defensive selection to his name, a sign both that the Grizzlies don’t get a lot of attention even when they’re good and that Conley’s career coincided with a golden-age of point guards, particularly in the Western Conference.
Conley, now 31, has taken a bigger offensive role this season, averaging 20.3 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6.6 assists and 1.2 steals in 33.6 minutes per game while shooting .414/.344/.813.
Gasol, who turns 34 in January, is putting up 18.5 points, 9.4 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.3 blocks in 35.1 minutes a night, shooting .474/.413/.733.
The rebound figure would be a career-high, topping the 9.3 he averaged in his second NBA season in 2009-10.
Not surprisingly, the Grizzlies still play it slow and easy, with the slowest pace in the NBA at 96.25 possessions per game.
Against a Memphis defense that is fifth in the league with a defensive rating of 104.9, the Nets will have to limit turnovers and bad shots as Memphis limits possessions with its walk-the-ball-up pace.