The Memphis Grizzlies’ Worst Season: 2018

Since moving after the 2001 season, the Memphis Grizzlies have, in 21 seasons, managed to avoid the status of a true Dumpster fire.

And since teams that moved do not, for this feature’s purposes, count, that means we’re not really going to be talking about the worst of Grizzlies basketball.

The Vancouver Grizzlies were awful for their first six years. They won 15, 14, 19, 8 (in 50 games in 1999), 22, and 23 games in those first six campaigns.

This in turn means that there are four seasons in six worse than the worst in the next 21.

A Brief Note on Methodology

The Grizz have gone 22-60 three times in Memphis. We’ll use Net Rating as our first tiebreaker here.

Since Memphis had a minus-5.4 Net Rating in 2007 and a minus-6.5 clip in 2008 and 2018, that leaves us with a runoff of sorts.

2018 “wins” because Memphis was fourth-worst in the league. They were seventh-worst in 2008.

So let’s look at the crash landing of the Grit N’ Grind era.

The On-Court Record

Coach David “Take That For Data” Fizdale never endeared himself to the Memphis front office.

A managerial class so deeply rooted in analytics was never going to love Fizz.

And indeed, as soon as Fizz started out 7-12, he was gone.

Coach J.B. Bickerstaff took over and the wheels fell off entirely as the team went 15-48 the rest of the way.

And that 7-12 start? It was a 7-4 start. Memphis lost eight in a row, choosing to be different this time and collapsing at the start of the season rather than at the end as they’d done in 2016 and ’17.

They lost their next eight out of nine to start the Bickerstaff era with what turned out to be a 1-16 stretch.

The Grizz topped that between January 31 and March 15. In that stretch, Memphis lost 19 in a row.

And just for fun, Memphis went and lost 140-79, a 61-point margin, against Charlotte on March 22. That was a defeat of such magnitude that it was singlehandedly responsible for 0.75 of Memphis’ non-pace-adjusted 6.2 points in average margin of defeat.

If ever a team wasn’t as bad as a 60-loss record, the 2018 Grizz were it.

And this is the low point of the squad’s Memphis fortunes! The Grizzlies may not be good—just one Western Conference Finals in the 27-year overall history of the franchise, in 2013—but there are far worse teams out there.

The Featured Players

Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies

Memphis ran 24 players out in total. Injuries decimated this squad. Mike Conley played just 12 games. Tyreke Evans played in just 52. MarShon Brooks appeared in seven. Marc Gasol was practically a workhorse playing in 73 contests.

Only one player—rookie Dillon Brooks—played all 82 games. Unfortunately, he stunk, posting .024 WS/48 and minus-1.2 VORP.

Other than Mario Chalmers (.021 WS/48) and Ben McLemore (.023), nobody else was complete garbage, at least nobody else who played any kind of rotation minutes.

Memphis just didn’t have any star power besides Gasol thanks to the roster looking like a MASH unit.

Brooks, for his part, stunk for four solid years, and once he finally posted semi-respectable numbers (.087 WS/48) in 2022, he got hurt and only played 32 games.

The Coach

Fizdale was bad, the kind of coach who would’ve been better off coaching in the Seventies rather than the New Tens.

Bickerstaff was even worse, the kind of guy you wonder how he keeps getting coaching opportunities when he’s terrible for team chemistry and dumb as a brick in terms of X-and-O game planning.

Bickerstaff led Cleveland to a 44-38 record in 2022. But that was a Cavs team that finished the season 9-17. Then they dropped two play-in games to miss the playoffs entirely. You can’t tell me they wouldn’t be a whole lot better with a competent guy at the helm. I’d bet good money Bickerstaff’s going to be fired either midseason if Cleveland struggles or afterward when he can’t get them out of the first round.

No wonder Memphis stunk with him on the sideline.

The Aftermath

It didn’t take long for Memphis to return to respectability. Ja Morant was their prize for the 2018 tank job. Add a developing young roster and the Grizz returned to the playoffs in 2021. They won 56 games and a first-round playoff series in 2022.

And all it took was the complete collapse in one terrible season of the old order that had made seven straight trips to the playoffs, including one the year before the 22-win debacle.

As “we stunk but it was worth it” goes, that’s even better than the average for this feature so far.

NEXT: Miami Heat, or “how to make the most of a bad injury situation when you’re not San Antonio.” Stay tuned and thanks for reading!