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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

SDH Presents the NBA's Worst to First for December: 6. Memphis Grizzlies

Overall Win/Loss Record (as of December 31st):  19-9, second place Southwest Division

This Month:
Team Statistics and League Rank (as of December 31st):
  • Points Scored: 94.7 (22nd)
  • Points Allowed: 90.0 (1st)
  • Team FG%: .434 (23rd)
  • Opponent’s FG%: 430 (22nd)
  • Rebounds per game: 43.2 (11th)
  • Opponents rebounds per game: 39.4 (1st)
  • Turnovers per game: 15.2 1(8th)
  • Opponents turnovers per game: 17.0 (2nd)

Individual Statistical Leaders (as of December 31st):
  • Scoring (ppg): Rudy Gay (18.1)
  • Rebounds per game:  Zach Randolph (12.5)
  • Minutes per game:  Rudy Gay (36.4)
  • Assists per game: Mike Conley (6.3)
  • Field Goal Percentage:  Zach Randolph (.494)
  • Steals per game: Mike Conley (2.4)
  • Blocked Shots per game: Marc Gasol (1.8)

Worst Player of the Month: Rudy Gay

December was a rather rough month for Rudy Gay as he struggled with his shot shooting just .394 from the field as well as his scoring dropping from 18.7 in November to just 16.7.  His perimeter touch seemed to have also left as he was dead cold from outside shooting just .233 from beyond the arc.  Such problems have been fodder for all the critics, haters and trolls who have continuously lobbied to send Rudy Gay packing out of Memphis.  The Grizzlies may not have much of a choice either as Gay's contract puts them WAY over the luxury tax threshold forcing the team to pay twice as much for every dollar over the cap.  After slightly sliding in December after having the best record in November and with huge tax penalties looming, it seems as if Rudy Gay will soon bid farewell to the city he has called home for the past seven years.      
First Player of the Month: Zach Randolph

Last season, it was an almost certainly that Zach Randolph would be traded after an injury riddled season that saw him post his lowest numbers since his rookie year. Now he has returned to Memphis healthy and stronger and has gone on an ongoing campaign to silence any doubters or skeptics who may have though that he was over the hill.  It seemed as the winter weather of December did not even phase the burly power forward as he was just on an offensive tear as he led the team in scoring averaging close to 18 points per game.  In addition of being the Grizz's prime source of offense, Z-Bo was also an immovable anchor in the paint ashe dominated the boards by grabbing a little over 12 boards per game as well. As a result of his stellar performance, Randolph has certainly elevated himself as the Grizzlies' primary scoring option leaving another player who had that title left out in the cold.   

Last November, the Memphis Grizzlies for the first time in franchise history started with the best record in the league and seemed to have the makings of a new championship contender.  Then as soon as they rose to the top starting the season 12-2, the Grizzlies got knocked of their pedestal following a phenomenal November with a rather lack luster December losing four of their first six games.  Ironically their first loss came courtesy of the previous holder of the Southwest Division crown, the San Antonio Spurs, as if the older Spurs gave the young Memphis a little smack across the face for being so insolent (12/1/2012).  After being roughed up by the Spurs, the Grizzlies bounced back winning the next two games against the Phoenix Suns (12/4/2012) and the New Orleans Hornets (12/7/2012).  Unfortunately, the bliss from those victories were short lived as Memphis would go on to lose their next three games against the Atlanta Hawks (12/8/2012), Phoenix Suns (12/12/2012) and Denver Nuggets (12/14/2012).

Memphis managed to bounce back yet again from that little three game slide by winning four straight right after--three by double figure margins--and it looked as if the Grizz were on their way back to returning to the top spot in the West.  Unfortunately, they could not maintain the streak as they would lose rather embarrassingly against the Houston Rockets (12/22/2012), followed by a ten point loss to the Philadelphia 76ers (12/26/2012). Memphis broke that short two game losing steak by downing the Denver Nuggets in a hard fought defensive battle (12/29/2012); however; they finished December and entered the new year on a sour note with a heartbreaking five point loss to the Indiana Pacers (12/31/2012).  Despite finishing December with a 7-7 record, the Grizzlies still were able to maintain one of the top records in the league regardless of the slight set back they suffered to finish 2012.  Unfortunately, the situation has gotten more complicated for the Memphis Grizzlies as they would have battle through the rest of the season as a "middle of the pack" team in a conference that has little opportunity for upward mobility.

From sitting up at top of the mountain, Memphis now finds itself treading water trying to keep their heads above water in a ruthlessly competitive Western Conference where placing is everything.  As of December, the Grizzlies have found themselves in fourth place in the Western Conference behind the Los Angeles Clippers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and the San Antonio Spurs, giving them home court advantage in the first round if the playoffs were to start today.  Due to the rather poor showing in December, the Grizzlies lost their advantage of being on the top and, barring something cataclysmic to happen to the three teams ahead of them, they have pretty much lost it for good.  With the strength of the three top teams in west, the Grizzlies are basically stuck in the middle with no other place to go but down.  It has now become a game of survival for the Grizzlies as they have a hungry Golden State Warriors team nipping at their heels while trying to stay afloat and one false move can send them deeper  into the abyss.

To make matters even more complicated, the Memphis Grizzlies have found themselves in quite the financial crunch as they are a small market basketball club with limited resources in terms of television revenue and have one of the highest payrolls in the league.  With the new salary cap rules coming into place next season, Memphis will find themselves paying double four every dollar spent that is over the salary cap in luxury tax penalties.  And unlike the teams in big media markets such as Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Boston, and Miami, the Grizzlies do not have the television revenue capable of covering such expenses thus opening them to a severe monetary loss.  That first place finish at the end of November was the only lifeline they had to keep that team together and with that gone, the window of opportunity for a potential NBA Finals appearance has all but been closed.  Grizzlies' front office will be forced to make some very hard choices as their team struggles to hang on their foothold in the West while shouldering an immense financial burden to go on top of that.

Expect the Grizzlies front office to pull the trigger on some lopsided trades in order for them in order to cut payroll in order to stay below the luxury tax threshold.  As their chances for a championship have all but evaporated, it has become more difficult to justify a roster that has four players making 10$ million or more with one being owed 80$ million for the next four years.  It is a no win situation in Memphis right now as they are feeling the squeeze financially while at the same time, one the basketball side, have to keep teams who are gaining on them at bay as they try to hold on to what little ground they have left.  Survival will be the priority for a team that finds itself closed off from advancing any further in the West after tragically slipping from the summit and having to fight for what little scraps that are left.  Hopefully once the playoffs arrive, Memphis will hopefully advance further than the first round for at least they will have something to show for all their struggles and sacrifices.