With the NBA offseason activity beginning to wane heavily this week, albeit for a few signings still up in the air- Brandon Jennings/Nikola Pekovic notably. And on the eve of the NFL and college football's annual takeover of all things media, I think it's finally time to make some predictions for the upcoming NBA season given that the majority of rosters are somewhere between working rough draft and fixed. Now before reading this column, I need you guys to realize a few things: 1) I'm making NBA predictions in JULY and literally ANYTHING can happen before the season to derail these predictions. 2) These are 100% serious. I am not here to troll or make fun of anybody. That would be churlish and a waste of time. 3) I encourage you to respond with how you feel about my predictions. So without further ado, I present to you a running column that will include a Fanpost for each and every NBA team, "The Flagrantly Early, Incredibly Half-Baked NBA Predictions Series."
When I heard that the Grizzlies train robbed a crumbling Denver for Koufos on draft night, I was astonished. They gave up an underwhelming Darrell Arthur who was cutting into Ed "Lefty" Davis’ PF minutes and some French draft pick that will probably never be in the league for a true backup center, who will make Marc Gasol better. It was absolutely Koufos was a solid player for Denver before George Karl buried him in the playoffs last season. Koufos rebounds at a top 12 rate, his PER is top 30 among centers (and let me remind you there are 30 teams in the NBA), and had 6 double doubles last season although there were 11 instances where he was one bucket or rebound away. Lucky for you, Grizz fans, this guy is going to be battling Marc Gasol every day in practice making him better. Further, there won’t be a drop off presence wise when Gasol sits out. There’s a lot of promise for Kosta Koufos this season, maybe he was the real "steal" of the draft.
No. 2: Mike Conley still won’t get any respect
Mike Conley was sensational during last year’s playoffs, and this is forgotten mostly because of the terrible taste left in the Grizzlies’ mouth after the Spurs swept them. In the first two rounds, Conley was visceral and he doesn’t get enough credit for it. Conley took- and made- all the big shots in the 4th Quarter. He shredded Chris Paul AND Eric Bledsoe for some huge plays down the stretch in that Clippers series. In the next round, he absolutelypillaged the Thunder’s rag tag crew that was Derek Fisher and Reggie Jackson. Nevertheless, just because the Spurs trapped, cut off, doubled, and overmatched a guy with phenomenal team defense, he gets a bum wrap.
Keep in mind Chris Wallace traded away the rest of the Grizz backcourt scoring when he swapped Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo for Tayshaun Prince and more minutes of Tony Allen. He forced this team to go ultra defensive, and the gamble worked out really well. It also put a ton of pressure on Conley to get buckets for his team, which he was very capable of until the Spurs overmatched him. I like Conley a lot this season; there’s a good chance he churns out a season similar to last when he performed top 10 in PER, Estimated Wins Added, and Value Added amongst PGs. Conley was 1/8 point guards to do that, but had the lowest usage rate by far of any of them. Mike Conley will have another great season, but like it’s been ever since he entered the league Conley won’t get any respect.
No. 3: Grizz have reached their ceiling, will regress
If you ever want to sound smart in a sports debate, mention regression to the mean. It’s the idea that when one team achieves above their projection for season, they will generally regress to their previous average performance in the following seasons. It is based on the premise that greatness is finite, and no man or team can sustain great performance forever. The Memphis Grizzlies cranked out the #1 defense in the entire NBA last season- albeit at the expense of a bottom tier offense. But it is hard to see how much further this team can go up; it seems as if they’ve hit their ceiling. Memphis is capped out and was unable to add anybody new who can shoot outside of Nick Calathes. So I don’t know how they get better; the defense will carry them again, but you don’t think every other team will now game plan for a slugfest when they have to play the Grizz?
I like the Memphis front office, and I think they put the Grizz in a great position to win. But cutting ties with Lionel Hollins for his assistant Dave Joerger was not an improvement- just a side step. Then you throw in the fact that Z-Bo is older meaning he will wear down quicker, and that puts a mountain of pressure on Marc Gasol and Mike Conley to carry things offensively. Realistically the Grizz are going to regress slightly because that’s what happens. The highest level never remains sustainable. Yet, it won’t keep them from competing again this season. Let me remind you, defense wins championships or so they say.