The Memphis Grizzlies could be a sleeping giant

Marc Gasol from Spain of Memphis Grizzlies during the charity and friendly match Pau Gasol vs Marc Gasol, with European and American NBA players to help young basketball players and developing teams in Fontajau Pavillion, Girona on 8 of July of 2018. (Photo by Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Marc Gasol from Spain of Memphis Grizzlies during the charity and friendly match Pau Gasol vs Marc Gasol, with European and American NBA players to help young basketball players and developing teams in Fontajau Pavillion, Girona on 8 of July of 2018. (Photo by Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images) /

The Memphis Grizzlies have enough to make even super teams give their best efforts on a nightly basis.

The Memphis Grizzlies were just above .500 at 7-6 when guard Mike Conley underwent a season-ending surgery to repair a bone intrusion in his left heel. Already coming off two straight losses, Memphis proceeded to lose 15 of its next 17 games. Just a few days away from Christmas, it started to become clear that, at 9-23, the Grizzlies were not going to have a very good season.

It only took six post-Conley games for the Grizzlies to can head coach David Fizdale, however — aided by a feud with Conley’s co-star, Marc Gasol. Memphis had already let Zach Randolph and Tony Allen walk in free agency last summer. “Grit ‘N Grind” was evolving into something a lot less fun and a lot less impressive.

For the first time in seven seasons, an identity-less Grizzlies were headed for the lottery. They did a wonderful job making sure they got there, too. Conley’s absence already made them bad enough. But why just be bad when you can be super bad?

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Gasol played 73 games, and he was good. Shooting 42 percent from the field and 34.1 percent from 3 wasn’t so good, but he did attempt a career-high 320 3-point shots — which was just 14 less than he attempted in his previous nine seasons total. He also recorded his highest rebound-average (8.1) since the 2011-12 season.

Gasol was about the only stability in Memphis last season, though.

Memphis’s second-best player last season was Tyreke Evans. It seemed as though Evans was a lock to be moved by the Feb. 8 trade deadline, especially considering Memphis held him out of the five games leading up to it. The Grizzlies couldn’t get the deal they wanted, so Evans stayed put. He played in just six post-deadline games, ensuring Memphis got the pick it coveted.

Memphis ended up with the draft’s fourth overall selection and went on to select Jaren Jackson Jr., a ready-made modern big man out of Michigan State that could realistically contribute right away. Jackson will have to find ways to consistently contribute on the offensive end, but there is no question that he will be a defensive presence on Day 1. He showed as much during the Summer League.

Jackson’s addition alone, paired with a healthy Conley and Gasol, make the Grizzlies intriguing next season. Jackson has the tools to guard multiple positions and can space the floor offensively, making him an easy fit next to Gasol in the frontcourt. He could play the 5 in smaller lineups, too.

Memphis’s “floor spacer” at the 4 last season was JaMychal Green, who canned just 33.9 percent of his 2.3 3-point attempts per game. Jackson shot 39.6 percent on 2.7 3-point attempts in his lone season as a Spartan. And, as shown in the highlights above, can get scorching hot from deep. At least one statistical projection system predicts he could become the best 3-point shooter in this draft class.

That unique set of skills will give Memphis a new look, which finally allows them to make the full transition to the modern NBA — post-Grit ‘N Grind. Jackson’s addition will probably be the most impactful of the newcomers, but there were two other notable acquisitions that could play a big part in a possible playoff run: Kyle Anderson and Garrett Temple.

Anderson will not be a top option offensively. He is not the type of player to give the ball and expect a bucket and not an above average shooter from deep. Anderson is more of a glue guy — a player that is going to move the ball and score efficiently inside the arc.

Last season with the Spurs, Anderson ranked in the 90th percentile in assist percentage among forwards, per Cleaning The Glass. He shot 43 percent in the mid-range (82nd percentile) and 68 percent at the rim (78th percentile). On defense, San Antonio was four points better per 100 possessions with Anderson on the court. He ranked in the 96th percentile in steal percentage and 92nd percentile in block percentage among forwards. It’s not hard to see why Memphis went after him.

Conley, Anderson, Jackson, and Gasol seem like locks to start at this point. The starting shooting guard position will likely come down to second-year player Dillon Brooks and recent addition Temple.

An eight-year veteran, Temple did next to nothing up until the 2015-16 season when he was in Washington. Temple was solid for the Wizards and cashed out on his play — netting a three-year, $24 million deal with Sacramento. Now with Memphis, Temple will be able to play with some more experienced talent. He has never been that efficient shooting from the field, but Temple has hit 38.3 percent from deep the past two seasons and can hold his own defensively.

Brooks, the 45th overall pick in the 2017 draft, offers a bit more upside offensively but will probably not be as good of a defender. As such a late pick in the draft, Brooks was a surprise last season — averaging 11 points per game and starting in 74 games.

Brooks had shooting splits of .440/.356/.747 last season. If he can become a little bit more efficient, Memphis may not have any choice but to start him.

The Grizzlies’ bench has some interesting pieces, too. Alongside either Brooks or Temple, Memphis will have its choice of Andrew Harrison, Wayne Selden, MarShon Brooks, and rookie Jevon Carter — one of the draft’s best defenders — in the backcourt. Memphis’s $24 million man Chandler Parsons should get a chunk of reserve 3/4 minutes while Green and Ivan Rabb soak up the remaining time.

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In 2016-17, Grit ‘N Grind’s last march, Memphis ranked top-10 in defense, top-15 in net rating, and top-20 in offense — good enough for the seventh seed in the West. Things have changed out West — hi LeBron! — so time will tell if results like that get the job done.

This group is far from being considered a threat, but the NBA world has seen what a Conley and Gasol-led Grizzlies team can do. Throw in Jackson, some more youth, and a modern approach, and Memphis has a good shot at the playoffs.