Team Name: Memphis Grizzlies
Last Year's Record: 40-42
Predicted Record: 48-34
Key Losses: Ronnie Brewer, Marcus Williams
1. What significant moves were made during the offseason?
The good news for Memphis Grizzlies fans is that the starting five, who posted fantastic +/- splits last year, remains intact this year. Many, however, question if that's also the bad news. The Grizzlies handed flashy small forward Rudy Gay a near-max contract extension on the first day of his restricted free agency this summer.
To avoid falling right back into rebuilding mode, the Grizz had to keep Rudy on the roster, but it was costly. Rudy Gay will be paid like a superstar and franchise player when, in reality, he's more of an inconsistent enigma who's a little risky since his game is predicated on freakish athleticism.
Owner Michael Heisley and GM Chris Wallace also gave a decent sized contract to Boston Celtics swingman and defensive specialist Tony Allen. Allen will hopefully shore up the Grizz defense, especially when O.J. Mayo is matched up against bigger scoring guards. Still it's not clear how the minutes will play out, since another offseason development was Mayo's failure at the point guard position in Summer League.
In the draft the Grizzlies picked up Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez, but also sold the pick that turned into Dominique Jones, who looks like a promising spark-plug off the bench. Xavier Henry is just now getting his season started, as he sat out Vegas Summer League over a contract dispute. Heisley attempted to make his rookies' salary contingent on performance bonuses, but caved in the day before training camp.
Greivis Vasquez was injured, though, so the Grizzlies found some backup point guard help in Acie Law. Law has looked great this preseason and, if he lives up to his status as a highly touted prospect, he could press Mike Conley for playing time.
2. What are the team's biggest strengths?
Undoubtedly the youth. Adding Tony Allen, Acie Law, and some new rookies was great, but if the Grizz want to make the playoffs, it's going to be through internal improvement. Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, and Marc Gasol all have plenty of room to grow as players and will hopefully make big strides, especially on the defensive end.
These young guys all are fantastic individual talents as well. The Grizzlies will have plenty of weapons in almost every lineup imaginable this season, and just about everybody can create their own shot. Defenses can't really stack against any single player because everyone is a threat to score. Also the Grizz love to use their individual skills out in the open court and are often bailed out off broken plays.
To be a little more specific, the Grizzlies best trait is definitely their offensive rebounding, led by All-Star power forward Zach Randolph. Z-Bo and Marc Gasol are both beasts on the boards and stretch the floor enough to create space under the basket for rebounders.
The starters are extremely efficient offensively because all five guy's skills merge nicely. Last season the big question was how everyone will get along with Zach "Blackhole" Randolph. Turns out Z-Bo is only a blackhole for missed shots; he and Marc have developed nice chemistry moving the ball between the high and low post. Conley and Mayo spread the floor, while Rudy slashes and finishes.
3. What are your team's biggest weaknesses?
Again, undoubtedly the youth. The Grizz are hoping to make a playoff push, but it's not entirely clear if they're ready just yet. Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, and Rudy gay don't seem to really fully understand themselves as players yet. Mike has trouble with being one-dimensional, broadcasting his intentions to either pass or score early in the play. Also he's still struggling to figure out how to apply his superior speed and quickness defensively. O.J. and Rudy don't really contribute in much more than scoring. Both need to rebound and pass much better.
Youth on the bench is the even bigger problem. All three of last year's draft picks are struggling to earn significant minutes in the rotation. Sam Young doesn't play the team game. DeMarre Carroll doesn't play the NBA game. And former #2 pick Hasheem Thabeet has barely been able to stay on the court for over 15 minutes this preseason due to foul trouble. Darrell Arthur and Acie Law are the old men off the bench, and they're 22 and 25.
While the Grizz's starters were great last season, the bench remains a huge question mark. Hopefully Xavier Henry outplays Sam Young, and hopefully Tony Allen can bring his Boston Celtics mindset down South. If those two can't be major contributors, the Grizzlies will struggle to be a playoff team in the West. Arthur and Law are also important, although they've looked great in the preseason.
Finally the Grizzlies constant struggle is defense. Mike Conley and O.J. Mayo are probably the worst defensive backcourt in the NBA, as well as one of the most undersized. Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol are solid one-on-one defenders, but aren't really rim protectors.
To get over their defensive issues, the Grizz really need to build a defensive identity as a squad. Youth and bad individual defense can be covered up, to some extent, by executing a scheme to perfection. Coach Hollins has stressed D this entire training camp, as has Tony Allen. Hopefully they can pull it together as a high-risk, high-reward unit with steals coming off gambles and good rotations, which will fuel their fast-break not unlike the Phoenix Suns last year.
4. What are the goals for this team?
General Manager Chris Wallace promised Grizzlies fans three years ago that he had a plan to get Memphis back into playoff contention within three years. Last year the Grizz flirted with relevancy before fading off late in the season.
After one more year of stockpiling young talent and with improvement to the core players, the goal this year is to make the dream come true and get back into the super competitive Western Conference playoffs. Realistically an 8th seed and first round exit is probably the upside for this unit, which lacks the true elite, go-to-guy teams need to survive in the playoffs.
While some Western Conference teams are definitely getting tougher -- like New Orleans, the Clippers, and Houston -- some of the old guard is getting ready to change. The Spurs seem very susceptible to injury. Phoenix might fall apart without Amare Stoudemire. If Denver jettisons Carmelo Anthony, they're probably just going to blow that team up.
So all in all, 48 wins is probably the goal. Some years that gets you into the playoffs, others it doesn't. Most importantly it gets the fans excited and makes Memphis relevant again, which, ultimately, is more important than getting smoked by the Lakers in the first.
5. Who do you want in fantasy?
Honestly, in most leagues, all five Grizzlies starters are probably rosterable, but none of the bench is going to be playing enough minutes to be worth your while. But that doesn't mean you want to target everyone.
Mike Conley: ESPN prerank - 95; ADP - 105
This looks like a deal, with Conley going a round later than his projected stats of 10.9 points, 4.7 assists, 1 three, and 1.2 steals have him ranked. Don't let it fool you. Conley is dropping for a reason.
Like I've hinted at other places, I suspect Acie Law will really push Conley for playing time, and that Conley might be moved for a veteran player with a bad contract (like Kirk Hinrich, for example) if the Grizzlies are in contention for a playoff spot.
O.J. Mayo: ESPN prerank - 43; ADP - 45.6
If O.J. is there where he's ranked, I think it's actually a surprisingly risky move. There's a distinct chance that Mayo could lose significant playing time to Tony Allen and Xavier Henry if his defense doesn't improve, and Juice's stats are heavily reliant on the fact that he racks up over 38 minutes per game.
That being said, if Mayo could shoot above 50% from the field with another year under his belt or bump his assists up to around 5 per game, he becomes a very attractive option even with a minutes reduction.
Rudy Gay: ESPN prerank - 42; ADP - 41.8
Unlike Mayo, Rudy Gay isn't at risk to see his minutes cut. If anything the new contract will mean he'll be taking more responsibility on the offensive end, which is both a gift and a curse. If he could average close to 22 points per game, Rudy would make up for his poor boards and assists. That being said, more shots normally means less efficiency, and a field goal percentage below 42% would kill Rudy's value.
Still I think I'd take the gamble here in the early 4th, and definitely late in the 4th. It's a great time to grab a small forward, since the pool of talent really drops off until you get to the big time sleepers.
Zach Randolph: ESPN prerank - 47; ADP - 41.5
This is a pick one situation: Do you trust Z-Bo? If you do, he's obviously a steal here, since he's likely to be the Grizzlies best fantasy player and put up top-30 numbers. 20 points and over 11 boards go a long way to those counting stats.
Others will look at Randolph's injury history and record of general boneheadedness getting in the way of his talent. If something stupid happens or he misses major time, Randolph's not a great pick.
Marc Gasol: ESPN prerank - 46; ADP - 51.2
Just like last year, I think Marc Gasol is the steal of the Grizzlies. I see double-doubles in Marc's future, with his boards climbing above 10 and a potential jump in his scoring. Think 16-10 with elite FG% and solid assists and blocks. If there's any player on the Grizz that's definitely constantly improving, it's the younger Gasol. Don't sleep on him, Gasol's a great pick anywhere in the fourth round and especially if he falls into the fifth.