A contender grows in Memphis

No team has started better than Memphis, and the Griz could hold it together

Updated: November 16, 2012, 11:54 AM ET
By Tom Haberstroh | ESPN Insider
Memphis GrizzliesChris Graythen/Getty ImagesThe Griz are quietly as good as anyone right now. But the price tag awaits.

While everyone's eyes are glued to the turnover in LakerLand, there's a star-studded small-market Western Conference team quietly playing like a lovable juggernaut that far too many people are sleeping on.

Yes, the Memphis Grizzlies should be on your short list of NBA title contenders.

Oh, you thought I was talking about the Oklahoma City Thunder?

Oklahoma City should most definitely be included in the mix for the Larry O'Brien trophy. But everyone knew that after the Thunder reached the NBA Finals with a fleet of All-Star caliber players still wearing diapers by typical title-team standards. But the Grizzlies? Now that's a bandwagon you can jump on.

It's easy to see why Memphis could cruise comfortably below the radar. The Grizzlies didn't sign a big-time free agent like the Heat did with Ray Allen. They didn't trade for a transformative star like the Lakers did with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard. They did … well, nothing.

Memphis' biggest offseason moves were non-moves. The Griz decided not to bring back restricted free agent O.J. Mayo and they opted not to break up their talented, yet expensive starting lineup -- even with the understanding that the franchise, one that exists in the 29th smallest TV market, is headed toward stiff luxury-tax hits in 2013-14.

The Grizzlies stood pat for the most part and while they didn't win the offseason, they're winning a lot of actual basketball games. Interestingly enough, it's not entirely because of their defense.

Memphis isn't changing its identity as much as it is expanding it. Led by supreme defender Tony Allen, the 2011-12 version of the Grizzlies thrashed opponents with their suffocating defense and used their hyperactivity to generate easy buckets in transition on the other end. The offense was suspect at best.

This edition of the Grizzlies? They are one of four teams that rank in the top 10 in both offense and defense, but here's the thing: their offense has been better than their defense.

Consider some keys, and questions about whether this is all sustainable:


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