23.) The Memphis Grizzlies

Welcome back friends to the third annual installment of my NBA League Pass Rankings. For those new to the process, forget power rankings. Forget Vegas Over-Unders and salary cap gymnastics. Here at Knicks at Night we dive into the teams one by one to answer one simple question. If you’re shelling out the money for a League Pass subscription, which of these teams are worth that top 5 night-in, night-out slot and which of these guys are absolute, unwatchable garbage people?

Is this the highest the Grizzlies have ever ended up on this list??

Well, after a summer that saw star point guard Mike Conley become the highest paid player in basketball and another max contract thrown down for Chandler Parsons (gosh he is just alarmingly handsome), there’s a reason to think the Grizzlies may have just bought their way out of being boring called forever.

The one thing they did to put me off a little was release head coach Dave Joerger who literally broke down after going to war with his guys against San Antonio. Not only did Joerger keep the Grizzlies motivated after being DECIMATED by injuries last season, but he’d also managed the all-important task of convincing Zach Randolph his bully-ball post-up game would work best in a bench role as the team’s back up center. It’s a crucial move in today’s NBA; slow-footed, post-up guys like Pau Gasol and Nikola Vucevic can’t keep up with starting guards, but they can anchor a team’s bench offense and murder second units if they’re not too proud to accept the demotion. It remains to be seen what style new head coach David Fizdale will employ, but if he can keep Randolph coming off the bench, he should be able to help Memphis keep pace with some of the league’s faster, more efficient offenses.

Of course, when you throw out ludicrous, new salary-cap level money to a couple of players, its harder to do team construction on the fringes of the roster. The Grizzlies still have the Grindfather Tony “First Team All Defense” Allen and ageless wonder Vince Carter, but for the most part their team is made up of younger, athletic guys who have yet to carve out a real place in the league like Tony Wroten, JaMychal Green and this year’s draft picks Wade Baldwin and Deyonta Davis. If one of these guys could take a big leap, or at least turn into a somewhat respectable Three-and-D option, it would go a long way towards giving the stars on this roster a little help.

None of this is going to matter if the franchise’s most important player, Marc Gasol, isn’t healthy over the course of the season. Gasol underwent surgery in February to repair a navicular bone in his foot. While he’s expected to participate in training camp, and while the Grizzlies have a fine back-up in Brandan Wright, foot injuries are notoriously dangerous for big men and the Grizzlies playoff hopes lie almost entirely with Big Spanish. Simply put, there’s no center in the league who combines the kind of defensive presence with the slick passing skills of Gasol and Memphis has spent years turning him from a Big Mac guzzling teenager to a former Defensive Player of the Year capable of also anchoring a league average offense.

The Parsons acquisition will go a long way towards giving them a little more shooting and scoring punch. If Fizdale plays he and Allen at the 3 and 4, they should be able to switch assignments defensively and provide Conley with the kind of space and off-ball cutting to run a much improved offensive unit. And, with defense practically baked into this team’s collective identity, it wouldn’t be surprising for this to be one of the most exciting, talented iterations of the Grit and Grind Grizzlies we’ve seen. 23rd may be a little low, and I am excited to see how these guys look with a bonafide 40% three point shooter on the floor, but until it looks like Parsons and Gasol are healthy and the team is meshing, I have to hold off just a little.

Last year’s ranking: 28 (-5)

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