Grizz hold best record in the NBA: Gasol, Lee and Udrih keys to early success

Posted on December 1, 2014

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By: Cameron Andrew

The Grizzlies currently stand at 15-2, the best record in the NBA. While the Grizz finished the 2013-14 season with a solid 50-32 record, good enough for the seventh seed in the playoff picture, they were far less dominant than the new and improved 2014-15 team.

The overall team play has stepped up a significant notch this year, however, the absence of injuries and personnel upgrades at the guard positions have been the key to the early season Grizzlies success.

NBA preseason title contenders such as the Indiana Pacers and Oklahoma City Thunder both suffered devastating injuries to their team superstars and are struggling to remain relevant. The Grizz have been fortunate to not have found the injury bug this year, even though they did find a nasty stomach bug that knocked out five guys for a showdown with the Raptors.

Courtney Lee is the only player to miss any significant time this year. He suffered a concussion against the Indiana Pacers that knocked him out for a week.

Staying healthy is going to be a huge factor in the success of this team going forward. Last year Marc Gasol missed 23 games, Mike Conley missed nine, Tony Allen missed 27 and Quincy Pondexter only played in 15 all year. With that many key players missing significant chunks of the season, taking the seventh seed in an extremely competitive Western Conference was an accomplishment within itself.

Gasol is the one we especially need healthy all season. He has been so far and is currently playing at MVP level. Averaging 20.1 points per game, almost five more per contest than his career high, Gasol is having the most productive offensive season of his career.

He is improving his offensive game all while staying the dominant defender he has always been, averaging 1.2 blocks per game, 8.1 rebounds and 1.2 steals, also a career high.

Courtney Lee and Beno Udrih have both also improved vastly not only form the 2013-2014 season but over their position counterparts, Jared Bayless and Nick Calathes.

Courtney Lee did play 49 games with the team last year after the trade which sent shooting guard Bayless to the Boston Celtics. However, Lee is significantly out performing Bayless’ statistics from the first two months of last season.

Before the trade Bayless was averaging 8.1 PPG while shooting .377 from the field and .301 from three point range. Currently Lee is averaging 13.3 PPG, shooting an impressive .532 from the field and .532 from downtown. The constant and efficient offensive production from Lee has played a huge role in the Grizzlies success.

Calathes played his first game after the suspension on Nov. 23 against the Los Angeles Clippers. Since then he has only played in one more game and is averaging 4.7 minutes in those two games and has missed the only shot he attempted while only dishing out one assist and committing one turnover. While it is possible Calathes could improve in the coming months and regain his role backing up Conley, Udrih has been performing too well to lose those minutes to Calathes.

So far this season Udrih has played all of the backup PG minutes, and at a high level. Averaging 7.4 PPG while shooting .505 and dishing out 2.8 assists per game as well. Calathes only averaged 4.9 PPG, shooting at a .409 clip also while adding 2.8 APG. Udrih is fitting well in the backup PG role and does a great job of keeping the offense flowing when the second unit is on the floor.

Calathes played his first game after the suspension on Nov. 23 against the Los Angeles Clippers, playing 8.1 minutes and missing the only shot he took. While it’s possible he could regain his role backing up Conley, Udrih has been performing too well to lose those minutes to Calathes.

If the Grizzlies can find a way to continue these early season trends they should be able to approach or surpass 60 wins and easily be a top two seed in the western playoff picture, setting up the potential for a long postseason run.

The Grizzlies next play on Dec. 3 at the Toyota Center against the Houston Rockets, and will be back in The Fedex Forum on Dec. 5 to take on reigning NBA champion San Antonio Spurs.

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