We’re inaugurating our NBA player projection system, CARMELO, with 2015-16 season previews for every team in the league. Check out the teams we’ve already previewed here. Learn more about CARMELO here.
The Memphis Grizzlies have emerged from the NBA-best West to reach the playoffs in eight of 15 seasons, including the last five. This past spring, they played the Warriors as tough as anybody, forcing Golden State to come back from down 2-1 in their conference semifinal series. This year, the Grizzlies have a good chance to reach 50 wins for the fourth straight season, thanks mostly to their defense. They’re strong and deep in the low post, they have a core that has played together for years, and they’ve added more than they subtracted in the offseason.
FiveThirtyEight’s CARMELO projection system expects them to go 51-31.
The biggest obstacle Memphis must overcome to contend for a title is its barely above-average offense. The Grizzlies took the second-fewest threes in the league last season, which should have limited them to the highest-percentage shots, yet they still ranked near the bottom of the league in accuracy. And for all their low-post strength, they hardly ever tried to dunk. The Grizz usually have to find points the hard way, which eventually undid them against Golden State last year — their effective field goal percentage was well below the worst regular-season mark in the league in each of the series’ last three games. The same weakness could undo them against the very best Western teams in the playoffs again.
With the help of CARMELO, here’s what’s in store for the key Grizzlies in 2015-16:
Mike Conley remains Memphis’s best offensive player, but his defense has dropped off in recent years. He’s playing fewer minutes, and, when he’s on the floor, he’s getting fewer steals — which we like quite a lot around here.
Since coming to Memphis from Boston, Courtney Lee has been a solid but unspectacular No. 2, with good shooting efficiency and few turnovers — but also a low usage rate.
Another former Celtic, Jeff Green was a regular contributor last year. But his days of above-replacement-level contributions could be over.
On this veteran team, few veterans are as veteran as Zach Randolph. He showed no ill effects of aging last year — instead, he got better. Players like him, though, usually drop off quickly after a decade or more of low-post wear and tear.
Always a top-notch defender, Marc Gasol is increasingly comfortable shouldering a big part of the Grizzlies’ offensive load. He used the ball — shot it or turned it over — on nearly a quarter of possessions last year, while increasing his shooting accuracy and assist percentage. Is he on track for more improvements, like Larry Nance, or a Brad Miller-like rapid decline?
To bolster its veteran-heavy, defense-heavy, frontcourt-heavy roster, Memphis added … two veteran defensive forwards. Matt Barnes has aged well, as his 3-point-heavy style often does.
Brandan Wright should guarantee little defensive drop-off when he spells starters, but he’s another low-usage, high-efficiency player on offense. Memphis has too many of those and not enough players setting them up.