The Memphis Grizzlies get no love. Despite being one of three remaining undefeated teams at 6-0 as of Friday, the Grizzlies continue to garner little public attention. The struggling Cavs, exciting and impressive Warriors, suddenly defensive minded Rockets and fun-loving Kings have captured the media attention, but the Grizzlies will quietly continue to play their “grit and grind” style and keep churning out victories.
Simply put a team that plays at a slow pace, prioritizes defense and lacks a premier star in the league just isn’t a “fun” team that draws the attention of fans and thus the media. Consider that last season the Grizzlies played at the slowest pace in the league and ranked third in the league allowing 94.6 PPG. So far this season (a very limited sample size) the Grizzlies are playing at the ninth slowest pace in the league while ranking first in points allowed per game at 86.2. If pace and scoring weren’t enough to dissuade fans from taking a high level of interest with the Grizzlies perhaps their lack of an NBA star will. Would you rather watch Steph Curry firing heat check 3s and Blake Griffin throwing down thunderous dunks or Zach Randolph pounding into a defender’s chest under the block to get a bucket going to his left? Most casual fans would opt for the likes of Curry and Griffin, although Z-Bo getting an inch off the ground to grab his 15th rebound is quite vexing.
However, the “grit and grind” and blue collar mantra this team has embraced is a perfect embodiment of the city of Memphis and the Grizzlies. The Grizzlies roster offers little in the way of flashy play, instead displaying defensive prowess, a workman-like attitude and extreme toughness.
Z-Bo has transformed himself into the ultimate blue collar player after the dark days of his early career with the Jail Blazers and his lost years chasing stats on bad Knicks and Clippers teams. Z-Bo punishes defenders on the block with an old-school ruggedness centered on strength, leverage and creative footwork. He has finally found his niche with an organization and a city that appreciates personality of toughness and adores his physical style of play.
Tony Allen is the quintessential “grit and grind” player compensating for a lack of overall skill and below average shooting with an edge and aggressiveness that makes him the best perimeter defender in the game while also allowing him to not be a complete offensive liability. Allen’s defensive technique is excellent, but what truly makes him such an effective defender is his energy and willingness to compete. Allen has made himself into a suitable offensive player as well through his savvy cutting and ability to finish at the rim while marginally improving his jumper.
Mike Conley is, I think, the most underrated player in the NBA. Conley isn’t among the best PGs in the league with Westbrook, Paul, Parker, Curry, etc., but he is firmly entrenched in the second tier. Conley is a heady defender adept at pick pocketing opposing players, while also possessing the passing and shooting ability to be the Grizzlies’ floor general. Conley’s finest skill is his ability to finish with either hand at the rim. Conley finishes as well as anyone in the league with both hands as he has a very effective floater and series of push shots around the rim.
The player that makes everything work this Grizzlies team, however, is center Marc Gasol. I consider Gasol to be the best big man in the entire NBA due to his diverse set of skills and how he has developed his game for the system Memphis deploys. Gasol’s help defense and awareness as the last line of defense is what makes the Grizzlies so formidable defensively. Consider that Gasol won the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year despite finishing just 12th in the league in blocks which is an indication that his defensive impact could be attributed to other aspects. He is strong rebounder despite his number not being spectacular. His numbers are compensated due to his constant work as a help defender and playing alongside Randolph.
Offensively, Gasol works the high post rivaled only by the Bulls’ Joakim Noah as a passer and offensive initiator. Gasol has finished the past two seasons with 4 and 3.6 APG which ranked first and second, respectively among centers. His high to low post passing allows the Grizzlies to be at least a middle-of-the-road team offensively despite logging heavy minutes playing with Randolph and neither player being a real perimeter threat. Gasol’s passing abilities allow the Grizzlies to play two non-shooting bigs and still maintain adequate spacing. He also has the capability to score from the block with an array of post moves and creative turn-around and hook shots. Finally, Gasol’s offensive game is balanced by his much-improved mid-range jumper. Gasol’s numbers will likely never match those of other big men around the league due to the Grizzlies style of play and the sacrifices he make to play within the system that allows Memphis to thrive.
 Whether Gasol’s shot classifies as a jump shot is debatable as it remains unclear if his feet actually leave the ground.