With the end-of-season awards discussion in full swing, four Grizzlies merit consideration: Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, and Tony Allen.
As thousands of words are being written, published, Tweeted, and scoured over in regards to the annual end-of-season awards discussion, let’s add a few more thoughts on whether or not the Grizzlies’ Core Four deserve end-of-the-year accolades of their own.
Marc Gasol and Mike Conley: All-NBA Third Team
While Gasol’s defense slipped slightly below his usual All-Defense level of play, Big Spain turned in the best offensive season of his career with career highs in points (19.5) and assists (4.6) per game. Most importantly, he kept the Grizzlies and their offense afloat when Conley went down with an injury in December. Plus, he’s still the anchor of a top 10-level defense.
Depending on whether or not voters classify Anthony Davis as a center (He played the majority of his minutes there, so do with that what you will), there is one open All-NBA center spot left after Davis and Utah’s Rudy Gobert take the first two slots in some order. That leaves Gasol, DeAndre Jordan, DeMarcus Cousins, Nikola Jokic, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Hassan Whiteside in a battle for the final spot.
With all due respect to the rest of the deserving candidates, in my hopefully unbiased opinion, the last remaining spot comes down to Gasol and Jordan, with Gasol’s importance to the Grizzlies outweighing Jordan’s hyper-efficient high-flying act as the Clippers third banana. Without Gasol, the Grizzlies stall out on offense and collapse on defense.
As for Conley, the race for the final two guard spots is Mad Max and Furiosa racing across the desert levels of intense.
If you assume Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Stephen Curry, Isaiah Thomas, and John Wall are pretty much locked into five guard spots, that leaves the remaining guard place down to a battle between Conley, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Damian Lillard, and Klay Thompson.
If Paul had been healthy all season, this isn’t even a discussion. Same for Lowry. They both sit on the border of what is an acceptable amount of missed games for the All-NBA discussion. Even with the injury, I think Paul earns this spot due to just how great he was in the 61 games he played this year.
Conley backed up the Most Expensive Contract in the NBA with a career-year, averaging 20.5 points (a career-high), 6.3 assists 3.5 rebounds (also a career-best mark), and 1.3 steals, providing steady leadership on offense and defense, and being the glue that held together with another Grizzlies playoff berth. But I do not think it’s quite enough to overcome Paul’s resume.
Tony Allen: All-Defensive Second Team
The Grindfather, now 35-years-old, somehow improved on his All-Defensive Second Team numbers from last season. His defensive box plus/minus (1.4 to 2.4) and defensive win shares (2.9 to 1.9) each went up, and he once again led the league in steal percentage (3.1).
He earned that spot last season over several equally-qualified candidates thanks to the voters giving him the benefit of the doubt in a close race. Somehow, I think he’s going to end up missing out on the honor this season despite arguably being more qualified.
Patrick Beverly, Danny Green, and Chris Paul seem to all be solid bets to make the two squads, as does Andre Roberson, but he will probably be slotted in as a forward. The last guard spot could conceivably come down to Allen, Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Klay Thompson. If the tenacious Celtics duo cancels each other out, then Allen could earn a Second-Team slot. If not, Bradley might be voted in.
Zach Randolph: Sixth Man of the Year
It really seems like this might finally be Andre Iguodala’s year to win the award, as Rocket teammates, Eric Gordon and Lou Williams will likely cannibalize the “best bench scorer” votes.
Guys like James Johnson and Enes Kanter certainly deserve a shout on the ballot for the year’s best sub, but Zach Randolph is just as deserving of that third slot on the ballot.
It is not always a smooth transition for former All-Stars to move to an off-the-bench role, but Z-Bo took his new position with the team in stride. He stabilized the bench units on offense, bringing his usual nightly double-double threat (14.1 points and 8.2 rebounds per game) in nearly 25 minutes of action off the pine.