Is it reasonable to expect this season's Grizzlies team, as presently constituted, to make the playoffs? Why are we even asking this? Because of an implication in yesterday's Commercial Appeal that the roster isn't talented enough to earn a post-season birth:
The situation is such that Hollins again strongly suggested that Griz management should consider tweaking the roster. The bench just isn’t good enough.
In fairness to coach Lionel Hollins, he isn't quoted making this case, but it is implied, and he has made similar comments earlier this season to the effect that if the team doesn't make the post-season it will be because they aren't talented enough to do so.
In other words, the 7th and 8th playoff seeds — at least — are very much up for grabs, and the Grizzlies — who have played slightly better than their record (a +0.2 point differential) and have a much easier schedule going forward than they've had to this point — should be poised to claim one of those spots.
ESPN.com's John Hollinger calculates playoff odds based, primarily, on how well teams have faired against their schedules and how they're likely to fair against their remaining schedules. As of this morning, he's got the Grizzlies as having a 52.5% chance of making the post-season.
As for the bench: While it certainly isn't a good bench, it has been far, far better than last season, with the additions of Tony Allen and Xavier Henry adding good depth on the wings, Greivis Vasquez emerging as a viable back-up point guard, and Darrell Arthur finally becoming the solid reserve power forward the team always expected him to be. The regression-that-didn't-seem-possible by Hasheem Thabeet has left the team hurting (even more) at center behind Marc Gasol, but the team's depth problems are far less troublesome than they were a year ago.
Last week, Hollinger did a piece ranking bench production around the league, placing the Grizzlies 20th out of 30 teams. Again, not good, but good enough. And with O.J. Mayo now in the sixth-man role, he should be a Top 5 player in the league at that role. The fact that he hasn't been may be largely on him, but it sure isn't a talent problem.
If this team were maximizing its ability but just weren't talented enough to compete at a playoff level, then you would expect them to be playing well against mediocre and poor teams but falling short against elite teams, when talent disparities would overcome such non-talent factors as focus, effort, and preparation. Instead, it's been the opposite.
The Grizzlies are 2-4 against the league's five sub-.300 teams but are 4-4 against the league's five teams with winning percentages above .700, two of those losses in overtime (against San Antonio and Boston).
No one should accept the excuse that this Grizzlies team isn't talented enough for a playoff run. Obviously, we don't know how many wins a playoff berth will require this season (though it seems likely it will be several games fewer than last season's 50), but, barring significant injury, a losing record for this Grizzlies team would be underachieving.
Some fans might remember that this story is a repeat engagement. Last season, when the Grizzlies got into a groove, pushing their record as far as 25-19 at one point and igniting a playoff conversation among fans and the media, Hollins, instead of challenging himself and his team to keep it up, suggested that the team was overachieving and probably wasn't ready for the playoffs. Soon after, the team lived up to that prophecy, hitting the skids and falling out of the race.
We don't need a repeat this season. While no one would suggest that this roster couldn't or shouldn't be improved, it is absolutely talented enough for a playoff run. Owner Michael Heisley set that goal for the season and it is a reasonable one. Instead of trying to bottle up expectations, everyone in the Grizzlies organization — top to bottom — needs to embrace that goal and challenge themselves to meet it. Pre-emptive excuse making should have no place here.
TICKET GIVEAWAY: We have two lower-bowl tickets — very, very good seats — to Saturday night's game against the Dallas Mavericks to giveaway. Follow this link to enter to win the tickets. The drawing will take place tomorrow morning and you will need to be able to pick up the tickets at the Flyer offices before 5 p.m.