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Memphis Grizzlies: Two Top Three Picks Away From Being Really Good…

You might not realise this – and I couldn’t blame you if you didn’t – but over the last six weeks, the best team in basketball hasn’t been the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, or San Antonio Spurs, it’s been the Memphis Grizzlies.  Ok, maybe not quite the best (that’s probably the Dallas Mavericks, see below), but pretty freaking close.  In their last 20 games, the former Canadian franchise has won 15 times for a sterling .750 winning percentage.  Over the course of the season, that winning percentage would have the Grizzlies tied for second with the Celtics in the NBA.  It’s a winning percentage that translates roughly to 62 wins over an entire season.  Or, in other words, a winning percentage that is, very, very good.  Basically, what I’m saying, in my long winded, non-lyrical way, is that Memphis has a surprisingly strong team.

Memphis, like Phoenix, is making a late charge for the playoffs and unlike the Suns – who look like first round fodder, the Grizz, could actually take a bite out of any first round opponent.  I don’t think it’s likely that they’d beat San Antonio, Dallas, or the Lakers, but the point is that with Zach Randolpoh playing the best basketball of his career, solid production from the overpaid Mike Conley, and superlative wing defense from Tony Allen (Seriously go read some Grizzlie fan pages, he’s apparently the best cover guy since Deion Sanders.  It’s a bit insane…), the Grizzlies are a foe nobody wants to meet.

What’s interesting to me about this, isn’t that the Grizzlies are good, but rather that the Grizzlies are good despite getting virtually nothing from the second overall pick in the 2009 draft and the third overall pick in the 2008 draft.  Seriously, nothing.  This season the two top picks have combined to score 658 points for the Grizz, while grabbing 205 rebounds and blocking 34 shots.  That’s 10% of the Grizzlies points, 8% of their rebounds, and 10% of their blocks.  It’s a pittance for two top three draft picks, and frankly I was cherry picking their three best categories.

Of course, the Thabeet pick was so bad that it not only cost Memphis a chance at a productive player, but, when they had to send a pick to Houston to get the Rockets to take the clueless center off their hands, it cost them a pick in this year’s draft.  Two years after picking Thabeet the Grizzlies had to give up a first round pick to UN-pick him!  That’s basically unprecedented for a top three pick.  It’s so bad, that in a recent BS Report, Bill Simmons (2/25) postulated that it was the worst pick in NBA history.  His argument centered on what a team ultimately received for a terrible pick (ie, Kwame Brown might have been horrific, but at least he was eventually traded for Caron Butler) and I think Simmons certainly has a case.  For me, Bowie and Darko are still worse because of who was picked just after them, but I concede that Bill’s point about the absurdity of it costing you a pick to dump the number two choice in the draft, has merit.

The OJ Mayo pick wasn’t quite as bad, but they still were trying -desperately it would seem – to ship him to Indiana on deadline day, in a deal that might have gone through if Mark Cuban hadn’t complained about collectively owned New Orleans taking on money in a previous trade.  What’s worse, is that the second or third best player from the 2008 draft was actually selected by the Grizzlies, when they picked fifth and took Kevin Love.  But then, in typical Chris Wallace fashion, they traded Love and Mike Miller for third pick Mayo.  Hard not to dream about what would have happened if they’d just kept Love.  They could have kept Gasol and had a front-line of Rudy Gay, Kevin Love, and Pao Gasol.  I’m not sure what defense they’d have played but they sure would have been pretty to watch.  Of course, if the Grizzlies had really desperately wanted to deal with Minnesota, they could have had the Wolves pick Russell Westbrook, who went fourth…

Anyhow, If the deadline day deal with Indiana had been completed, that would have meant that just three years out from two top five picks, the Grizzlies would have nothing to show for them.  Actually, they’d have worse than nothing, because they owe Houston that pick.  So, they’d have a first round debit to show for two top three picks.  That’s pretty shocking.  Absurdly shocking even.  Clipper-esque one might say.

Look, there’s no doubt that Michael Heisley is in the pantheon of bad NBA owners (and it’s starting to become something of a squishy club), so it’s possible that he thinks that’s what you’re supposed to do with great draft picks, but if I owned that team, I’d be pretty damned pissed that I didn’t have Kevin Love (or Westbrook) and Steph Curry to show for my 2008 and 2009 drafts.

Of course, if I owned the team I wouldn’t have Chris “The Yang to Red Auerbach’s Yin” Wallace as my GM… and the Grizzlies would also still be playing in the most beautiful city in North America… So, yeah.

Unrelated… and possibly only interesting to me (and Mark Cuban)

Did you know that when Dirk Nowitzki went down with his knee sprain against the Oklahoma Zombie Sonics, the Dallas Mavericks were 24-5.  That was two days after Christmas.  On New Year’s Day, having already lost two straight without their best player, Caron Butler went down to a season ending knee tear.  Thus began a streak where the Mavs, largely without their two best players, lost 10 of their next 13 games.  Things looked bleak in Mavs-ville, but then Dirk finally convalesced and the Mavs rattled off 10 straight win.  They finally lost at Denver on February 10th, but then they recovered to win another eight straight.  If you eliminate that 13 game stretch in which they were missing either Dirk, Caron, or (mostly) both, the Mavs have won 42 of 48 games.

That boys and girls is a .875 winning percentage.  Do you know how many teams in history have had an .875 winning percentage?  One.  You might have heard of them.  They were the 1996 Chicago Bulls and they won 72 games.  I’m not saying the Mavs would have won 72 games if Dirk and Butler don’t get hurt, I’m just saying it might be time to sit up in class and pay some attention to the Dallas Mavericks.  They are good, perhaps crazy good.

Whenever  we – the collective infinite “we” – list the potential title contenders in the NBA, the Mavs are usually on the outside looking in, or at best they’re the “and, oh maybe, I guess, the Mavs…”

Everybody loves the Spurs, because they actually have the NBA’s best record; everyone loves the Celtics and Lakers because, obviously, they’ve won the last three titles; they love (or, more accurately, love to hate) Miami because they’ve got two of the five best players; and they love the Bulls and the Zombies, because they are shiny, new and young, but man, you had better keep an eye on those Mavs, because even without Butler, they are playing ridiculously good basketball.  Watch out for them.

And for the love of all things holy and sacred, would somebody outside Dallas please start mentioning Dirk in the MVP conversation with Derrick Rose and LeBron James.  Seriously, without him in the lineup, the Mavs are 2-7, with him they are 43-9.

Just sayin’

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  1. March 5, 2011 at 10:22 am

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