The Grizzlies are already exceeding expectations, but is this team sustainable?

You know how every year most of the NBA “gurus” say that the Grizzlies are going to have a down year, and then Memphis ends up making the playoffs…again? And then in the playoffs those same NBA “gurus” (who never acknowledge they were way off) say something like:

”This is a good Memphis team, they have played well all year”

”This Memphis team has no quit, grit and grind is so contagious”

“I love watching this Memphis team, nobody wants to see them in the playoffs.”

Give me a break.

All Memphis fans are used to, and probably tired of, hearing this type chatter. But that’s the reality of living in a small market with fringe-level star players.

This season has already proved a lot of doubters wrong. Dan Favale of Bleacher Report wrote on Thursday, “Face it: Most of were wrong about the Memphis Grizzlies. They are deeper than advertised, and Mike Conley and Marc Gasol are automatically worth 44-plus wins.” Memphis sits at 7-4, tied for third in the Western Conference right now.

After starting 5-1, expectations are high for this Grizzlies team that is firing on all cylinders even without three important rotation players. But what are the expectations? And are they too high, too low, or just right?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Lakers
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

No one is saying “The Grizzlies are NBA Finals locks.” That’s silly. But it is not out of the question to shoot for home court advantage, maybe a fourth seed in the 2018 NBA Playoffs. Or maybe you think that is too high as well. Based on what most NBA analysts predicted in the preseason, making the playoffs at all would be shocking to some.

Let’s keep it realistic, yet aggressive. My new expectation: The Memphis Grizzlies will win 48 games.

I want to make sure we are all keeping our emotions in check, that the 5-1 start that has blossomed to 7-4, has not caused us to shoot for the moon. A hot start in the right direction is so important in today’s NBA, so Memphis is in full control of their trajectory moving forward, but we all know the sad tendencies Grizzly teams have.

There will continue to be bad losses, games that make you want to forget you ever cared about the Grizzlies at all. And there will be extreme triumphs that remind you why the Memphis fans and community are so tight knit. Both of those have happened already in this young season.

Just three games into the 2017-18 NBA campaign, the Grizzlies had already defeated the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets. And then what happened?

A horrific loss to the now 2-10 Dallas Mavericks.

After another convincing win against Houston, Memphis blows a double digit leads in two straight losses to Charlotte and Orlando. And then there’s the loss to the Los Angeles Lakers where the Grizzlies looked awful for the entirety of the contest.

NBA: Orlando Magic at Memphis Grizzlies
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

So is this Grizz team legit, or just good at faking it in the spotlight?

There has been an unfortunate trend in recent Memphis seasons that they play down (and up) to their opponents’ competition level. It is really rustrating, but is also one of the ways that the Grizzlies are always interesting.

The point differential for this season so far is +3.5, top tier of the league, but will ultimately even out to be middle of the pack. Offensively, the Grizzlies are 26th in the league for points scored, no surprise there. It seems that the “new” offensive game plan that head coach David Fizdale has schemed is definitely improved from older generations of Memphis teams, but still not keeping up with the today’s NBA.

Defensively, this team has kept the identity that keeps the Grizzlies competitive each game. The Grizzlies held the Warriors to their second lowest points on the season, and the Rockets to two of their least efficient games.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Long term, this team is going to win. I have no doubt they will lose more games to bad teams, but it won’t be a nightly occurrence. Mike Conley isn’t even playing his best basketball, he hasn’t really put together a complete game yet. Marc Gasol is on a tear early and looks to be back in All-Star form. And the best news is that all three players on injured reserve: Ben McLemore, Wayne Selden Jr., and JaMychal Green are very close to returning to lineup.

Green could be back as early as Saturday night versus the Rockets. McLemore is rehabbing with the Memphis Hustle and is expected to return Saturday night as well (according to ESPN). And Selden has been seen warming up pregame with the team already.

Memphis is only going to improve with their additions, though it will take time to smooth out the team chemistry and rotations that work. Tyreke Evans is leading the bench as a legitimate 6th Man of the Year candidate, and Chandler Parsons has oddly been an important part of the rotation so far (the two games he has sat, 0-2 with losses to DAL and LAL). Chalmers is struggling a little, but is owning the backup PG role that is still a question mark moving forward, and Brandan Wright seems to have found his role.

Who knew we would be so high on the Memphis bench (3rd in points per game at 43.9) this early in the season, or at all? With the injuries finally going away, the Grizzlies roster will be full and we will all finally see what this team is capable of.

The expectations are high, but we have to be realistic in Memphis. Making the playoffs seems like the floor right now, so let’s milk this early season success as long as we can. The next game will be Saturday at the Houston Rockets, and this looks to be the first time we have a chance to see the full roster in action.


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