There is a saying that speed kills. Lately in the NBA, that has been the case.
Teams are playing at a faster pace than ever before, as big men are no longer being counted on to just stand in the low post, catch the ball and lay it in around the basket. Teams are choosing to run the floor and fire the ball down the court for transition buckets or open three-point looks. Big men are looking to shoot the ball and be a part of that game more than ever before, as the power forward position is essentially becoming nonexistent, as small forwards are playing the stretch four role more than ever before.
The game of basketball is evolving, but not every team has bought into the hype just yet.
The reigning NBA champions play at a fast pace and like to wreak havoc on offense, but Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter are not stretch forwards and athletic transition specimens by any means. The San Antonio Spurs are that one team that plays multiple styles, but do not look at that as an identity crisis. Head coach Greg Popovich is just a genius.
The team in the NBA that has not left the old two-towers philosophy and cannot operate properly at a high pace is the Memphis Grizzlies.
Big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are not going to be blazing up the court looking for transition finishes and three-point shots. Sure, point guard Mike Conley has great speed and quickness and would love to utilize that even more in the offense, but ultimately he is not looked at as the No. 1 option on that end of the floor for his team. Rather, Conley is there to distribute the ball and play to the strengths of his teammates while taking shots when needed. Randolph and Gasol are the strengths of the Grizzlies, and as long as those two players are there, the Grizzlies will not be running like they are in a track meet.
So does that mean Memphis is supposed to just stand there and be outscored night after night because the team refuses to play at a faster pace? The beauty of this is that the Grizzlies do not have to conform to the speed demons of the league because of one main factor: defense.
The Grizzlies play such spectacular defense that they can afford to be more efficient on offense and play a slower, more half-court style that usually is more efficient due to the quality of inside shots. Conley, Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince and Gasol headline a defensive unit that can guard anyone and slow down any offense. As long as the Grizzlies can continue to run back on defense and establish position, the team will be just fine competing with even the best speed freaks the league has to offer.
Defense wins championships. Yes, the phrase is old, but it is still fact till proven otherwise, even in the era of basketball that has had an unprecedented “need for speed.”