Just before the big championship game in Hoosiers, Preacher Purl delivers the following prayer:
“And David put his hand in the bag and took out a stone and slung it. And it struck the Philistine on the head and he fell to the ground. Amen.”
For many, many years this was the mantra of the Memphis Grizzlies. Grit, grind, and fling stones at the giants. Every fan base wants their team to win, but most of the time, especially in smaller markets like Memphis, fans are content with a team that they can just be proud of. And if their team steals some games they aren’t expected to win— even better.
However, if this Memphis Grizzlies team has proven one thing over the course of this season it’s that they are ready to become Goliath. This is a team that currently sits at 38-18, which gives them the best start in franchise history. They are only 1.5 games behind the Clippers for third place in the Western Conference and only 5 games behind the Spurs for first place.
If this NBA season were a season of Survivor, the Grizzlies would be in the best position possible for the remaining 26 regular season games and the subsequent playoffs. They have asserted their power and proven to be a contender, all while flying under the radar from a reasonably safe distance. But now it’s time for the final stages of their transformation from David to Goliath to come to fruition.
And a transformation is what the fans are currently seeing. The Memphis Grizzlies have now won eight games in a row and are 9-3 since divisively trading Rudy Gay to Toronto.
Fittingly, the Grizzlies have recently elected to do exactly what a team trying to make such a metaphorical transformation would have to do: go big. The Grizzlies strength has always been its frontcourt, but they haven’t always consistently played like it. Recently the offense has run primarily through all-star forward Zach Randolph and recent all-star center Marc Gasol. And the results have been frightening—for opposing teams.
Since the Rudy Gay trade, the average margin of victory for the Grizzlies has been a little over eight points per game. In that same time, Memphis has also assisted on over 60% of its made field goals, which ranks them sixth in the league since the trade. By comparison, in the 45 games leading up to the trade, the Grizzlies ranked 25th in assists-to-field goals made. Basically this means that with Rudy Gay on the floor, the ball stops in his hands more often than not. And when you have a guy like Rudy Gay attempting over 17 shots per game and having an off night, it often spells disaster for the team.
The key is that these offensive improvements have been made all while maintaining the team’s trademark lockdown defense. On the season the Grizzlies have held opposing teams to under 100 points in 48 of their 56 games, which is the best in the NBA. Trailing only Chris Paul, Mike Conley is second in the NBA in steals per game at a career high 2.25. Meanwhile Marc Gasol is just outside of the top 10 in blocks per game.
Still not fully convinced this team has transformed? In a somewhat strange twist of fate, defensive-minded Tony Allen lead all NBA guards in field goal percentage during the month of February at 58%.
The fact is the Rudy Gay trade may have been the chrysalis the Grizzlies needed to get over the hump. A prime example of the impact of the newly acquired wings is seen in the recent franchise-record 24-point comeback win over the Dallas Mavericks. In the past when the Grizzlies faced a deficit, Rudy Gay would always try to put the team on his back and shoot the team back into the game. This may have been Coach Lionel Hollins’ orders, or it may have just been natural due to Gay being the highest paid player.
Either way, despite being unbelievably talented, Rudy Gay just was not that guy. The structure of the current roster and the inside-out style of play much more resembles that of a Goliath. It also somewhat resembles the Detroit Bad Boys of the late 1980’s. But that’s another post for another day.
Here’s to hoping that Goliath doesn’t always get upset.
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