The Memphis Grizzlies don’t have a fleet of sharpshooters standing on the arc. They don’t have a stretch 4. They don’t have a dual point guard backcourt. Heck, their shooting guard can’t even shoot.
You know what the Grizzlies do have? The best record in the NBA.
And the Grizzlies haven’t gotten to the temporary top of the heap by picking on playground weaklings. This past week, they handled both defending conference champions (Miami and OKC), took out the league’s lone remaining unbeaten team (Knicks) and put an end to the premature party in Charlotte.
“We have been floating under the radar and just having a chip on our shoulders,” guard Mike Conley said. “We still have a chip. We still feel like we can play for something. We have a lot of goals to achieve.”
With the league-wide trend shifting toward score-first point guards, 6-7 power forwards and slim centers with sweet strokes, the Grizzlies are going against the grain. Their motto is “grit and grind” and they live up to it with a pit bull backcourt, an assembly line small forward and a pair of bigs who have figured out how to both play below the foul line without getting in each other’s way.
“The Grizzlies are a unique team,” Knicks center Tyson Chandler said. “They have two big bodies out there.”
In center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies certainly aren’t the only contender adhering to convention at the big spots. The Thunder, Lakers and Bulls all play that way for extended stretches.
The difference is that the Grizzlies don’t deviate. When opponents try to counter their size by going small at
either or both of the big spots, coach Lionel Hollins consistently doubles down and stays with his power tandem. He did it in last week’s convincing wins over Miami and New York, neutralizing the dilemma of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony at power forward alongside streamlined, athletic centers.
“We were able to play our bigs through most of the game. That was huge,” Hollins said after his team dispatched the Knicks. “If you play small, you have to give up something and they gave up a lot. … It was our advantage.”
Unless the Lakers figure things out, Gasol and Randolph are the NBA’s best big tandem. Gasol has become a top-three center; in addition to his 15.0 points, 7.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks, his 4.6 assists lead all pivots by far. Meanwhile, Randolph is an MVP candidate; he has had a double-double in every game, averaging 17.2 points and a league-leading 13.9 rebounds.