After going 11-4 over their past 15 games, the Memphis Grizzlies appeared to be a team that would once again be a tough playoff opponent in the Western Conference. Their physical, defense-oriented approach bares a stark contrast to the up-tempo, perimeter-shooting focus that the NBA seems to be shifting towards.
Their hopes of deep playoff contention were thrown out the window, however, with the news that star center Marc Gasol will be out indefinitely with a broken right foot. The absence of their starting center will cause an enormous void on both the offensive and defensive end and it may ultimately mean the closure of the team's championship window, especially if Mike Conley decides to head elsewhere in free agency.
The team's already slim chances at title contention may have evaporated, but they still have a very good chance of making the playoffs. While some will suggest that they tank for the remainder of the season, that option is simply a viable one with this roster at this point in the season. At 30-22, even if they lose every single game for the remainder of the season they would finish with a 30-52 record, which would have been good for just the seventh-worst record in the league last year.
Without Gasol, the team will sorely be lacking size down low. JaMychal Green should be seen as one of the biggest beneficiaries of Gasol's absence, but at 6'9 he won't be able to hang around with the Dwight Howard's and LaMarcus Aldridge's of the world. Brandan Wright should be back relatively shortly, but he's never been known for playing extended minutes and he has a rather lengthy injury history of his own. Aside from those two, Ryan Hollins should see a bit of added work, but he's limited on both the offensive and defensive ends and shouldn't be relied upon for more than a few minutes per game.
Currently sitting right around $10 million over the salary cap, the team is going to be limited in their replacements. Much like the Clippers with Austin Rivers, their best bet may be to look to the NBA D-League for help.
Alex Stephenson - Iowa Energy
The Grizzlies wouldn't have to look far for their best option as their own affiliate, the Iowa Energy, possess one of the best D-League players available to them. Stepheson has been one of the more dominant big men throughout the entire season and was recently rewarded for his work with his placement in the upcoming D-League All-Star Game.
He's an absolute nightmare on the boards and seems to grab anything that's within his vicinity and he's also a pretty reliable on the ball defender. He's not going to be a rim protector in the order of Gasol, but he's also not going to be overpowered by players that are bigger than him. On the offensive end he gets a decent portion of his offensive through put-backs, but he also has a couple of reliable post moves that he can turn to when he's called upon. He's also a viable option on the pick and roll, something coach Dave Joerger has used Ryan Hollins for to the benefit of the Grizzlies, and is a solid finisher in traffic.
Jordan Bachynski - Westchester Knicks
Recently chosen as a replacement for the Eastern Conference All-Star team, the Knicks turnaround this year has been highly influenced by the breakout season of Bachynski. He's limited athletically, but he makes up for it with consistently knowing where to be on the defensive end. His size, as well as this level of awareness, has allowed him to overcome any athletic deficiencies on his way to become one of the more feared shot blockers in the entire D-League.
Offensively he does the bulk of his work close to the basket, but he has the ability to step out and hit a mid-range shot or two each game. His shooting still has some work to go, but it's enough of a threat that it doesn't allow defenses to stray away from him when he leaves the post. In addition to that, Bachnyski showcases skilled passing both with his back to the basket and when he's in the high post. He has some work to do as far as his rebounding and boxing out, but playing next to a guy like Zach Randolph may cover that weakness a bit.
Micheal Eric - Texas Legends
Yet another D-League All-Star, Eric has spent parts of two NBA seasons with the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Milwaukee Bucks. Though those stints weren't long, he has shown that he has what it takes to catch the eye of NBA scouts. Injuries (including four surgeries on his right knee) have limited him from jumping to the next level consistently, but he's been able to make his presence felt with the Legends throughout the year.
He's not going to be a player that commands touches in the post, but he has a couple of go-to moves up his sleeve if his number is called. Most of his offense will be right around the rim, however, which might cause for a difficult transition to the NBA on that end. Defensively he's able to handle himself in the low post and he's not a player that will be bullied. His long arms allow him to disrupt shots, as well, so he could be a decent counterpart to the type of game that Randolph plays on that end. He still has some work to do on both ends of the floor, but he's someone that could come in and provide some low-post defensive immediately.