Are the Memphis Grizzlies the NBA’s dark horses?

The Memphis Grizzlies have for a long time been a team who has been tipped to challenge in the NBA, however they have fallen short come playoff time on each occasion. After the disappointment of last year’s first round sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, the Grizzlies had a rebuilding job on their hands. However, with some impressive acquisitions in the off-season, the Grizzlies have began to look like a team who can seriously challenge for their first NBA Championship, or at least improve on last season’s disappointments.

Memphis were extremely active in free agency, renewing the contract of star Point Guard Mike Conley, acquiring perimeter threat Chandler Parsons and also the hiring of new Head Coach, David Fizdale. Fizdale’s arrival has bought a change in style for the team, changing the familiar inside-first strategy to one which is more balanced, allowing for greater offensive freedom from behind the three point line. Despite the change in style, the Franchise’s ‘grit and grind’identify still remains, with the Grizzlies ranking 3rd in opponents points per game (97.3).

The start of the Fizdale-era has looked promising, with the Grizzlies finding themselves 11-8, and looking incredibly impressive on the road. Most notably, Memphis knocked off their arch rivals, the LA Clippers at the Staples Center, proving how formidable they can be. This year’s Western Conference is seemingly weaker than last year, and if the Grizzlies can get a high seed and importantly avoid Golden State, there is no reason why they cannot progress into the later rounds.

The playing style isn’t the only thing that has changed, the rotation has too. Zach Randolph, a stalwart in the Grizzlies starting five, has been moved to the bench in order to provide a well needed scoring boost to an inexperienced second unit. Z-Bo’s introduction to the bench has seen an increase in production from the reserves, with players like Troy Daniels, James Ennis and Andrew Harrison all coming up big in recent weeks. Bench production is something which Memphis lacked last season, and could prove pivotal come the end of the season.

Despite things looking rosy in Memphis, injuries are a major concern. With Chandler Parsons and Mike Conley sidelined, the Grizzlies are currently short-handed, and are expected to experience a difficult few weeks in terms of results. Conley, who became the NBA’s highest paid player in the summer, has elevated his game, shown in an increase in points per game from previous best of 17.2 to 19.2 this season. If the Grizzlies fail to keep these players healthy, they will be facing another early playoff exit.

The Grizzlies look well set to forge a serious challenge at the NBA Championship this time around, and if they can keep their key players fit come playoff time, nobody should overlook Memphis on claiming their maiden Championship.