Today marks the beginning of what we hope will become an ongoing tradition around the SBN blogosphere. Each site with a team in the playoffs will be posting a preview today for their respective team. These previews are an opportunity to catch up to speed on any team you may not have watched during the regular season. Below is Straight Outta Vancouver's Memphis Grizzlies preview. There's another post dedicated to links (updated as they come in) to the other previews. Be sure to check out everyone's contribution!
Team Record: 41-25
First Round Opponent: LA Clippers
How would you describe the Grizzlies in the regular season?
After the last year's incredible playoff run, Memphis was under greater expectations, and, for the most part, they met them. This is even more extraordinary considering that Zach Randolph, the team's biggest star and arguably one of the 4 best players in the last postseason, missed considerable time due to injury. Due to his absence as well as Darrell Arthur's season-ending injury, GM Chris Wallace brought in Marreese Speights, Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter, and Gilbert Arenas off the metaphorical scrap-heap. All of whom became pivotal role-players for a Memphis team that tied the Lakers for the 3rd-best record in an extremely deep Western conference. Additionally, almost every member of last year's squad improved their production, and Marc Gasol earned his first All-Star bid. This was easily the best regular season in franchise history.
What are the Grizzlies' strengths? Are there any areas that concern you?
This squad is similar to last year's model in that their biggest strength is defense, especially forcing turnovers (17.4 per game, 1st in the league) and getting out in transition. You can see every member of the team look to make an outlet pass the moment they swipe the ball from the other team. The Grizzlies also excel at scoring points in the paint. In Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, the team has two of the best post players in the league, and the wings constantly make backdoor cuts and get easy lay-ups and dunks. The team's motto "Grit and Grind" reflects the physical style that they play on both ends of the floor. Any game against Memphis is bound to be a rough game for their opponents. Finally, the Grizzlies have great depth, great chemistry, and strong coaching. Despite reports indicating otherwise, you can tell that this is a team that loves playing together. Lionel Hollins has done a remarkable job in creating an effective offense and defense, and the whole team has bought into his system.
Unfortunately, the team's biggest weaknesses are all on the offensive end. This is a poor jump-shooting team, especially from deep. The team compensates for this by attempting the fewest 3's in the league, but it can be problematic and create spacing issues if their opponents choose to pack the inside. The hope was that Gilbert Arenas could remedy this, and he's generally succeeded, but the team could really use another shooter. Also, Memphis sometimes struggles in the half-court. Randolph's return has improved the offense, but it's still a bit inconsistent. If the Grizzlies get knocked out of the playoffs, it's probably because they couldn't score in a half-court offense.
What is your likely playoff rotation? Who is likely to see their
minutes increase? Who might fall out of the rotation completely?
Considering that depth is one of the team's biggest strengths, it will be interesting to see what kind of rotation Coach Hollins uses. Since his return, Zach Randolph has been coming off the bench (except for the final game last night) and only playing about 25 minutes. However, you can pretty much pencil him in for at least 37 minutes in the playoffs. This will probably come at the expense of Dante Cunningham, Marreese Speights, and Quincy Pondexter. With Cunningham and Pondexter, Coach Hollins has a tendency to ride the hot hand. It's probable that they will alternate appearances. Barring injury, I'd be surprised if Hamed Haddadi, Jeremy Pargo, and Josh Selby got any minutes at all.
My best guess would be that Conley, Allen, Gay, Randolph, and Gasol are the starters, and Mayo, Speights, Pondexter, Cunningham, and Arenas spell them off the bench.
Who is most likely to step up their level of play? Do you have a
potential "breakout" peformer this postseason?
I have a good feeling that we'll be seeing more of last season's Zach Randolph. However, if I had to pick someone else, I'd argue that Rudy Gay is the most likely Grizzly to have a breakout performance. This will be his first time in the playoffs, and I imagine he's amped up after watching his team advance to the second round without him last season. Although his shooting percentages have been down this season, he's improved the other areas of his game (especially offensive rebounding), and lately he seems to have regained his touch. He's one of the league's best athletes and has an ability to knock down contested shots, and as we've seen time and time again, these attributes really impact the games where there are no easy baskets. There's a good chance that Rudy is an absolute monster this postseason.
How far can you realistically see Memphis advancing in the playoffs?
The West is a warzone, and it's going to be a battle just to get out of the first round. That being said, I think the second round (if we make it there) will be the barometer for Memphis this year. Although we dominated San Antonio in the playoffs last seaon, they're a lot better this year. Manu is healthy and they have the best reserves in the league. Further, they swept Memphis during the regular season. If we're good enough to beat the Spurs in the second round, I see no reason why we can't make it all the way to the Finals.