The Memphis Grizzlies were supposed to be the final 'Spoiler Alert' -- saving best for last or something like that. But they've ended up right here, pretty much smack dab in the middle of the lineup. I'd like to note that I'm still very much committed to finishing the series, problem is that I won't be around to do it. Learn why and read the longest freaking Memphis Grizzlies preview on the internets over the jump.
On Thursday your favorite Grizzlies blogger will be on a long flight to the Balkans for an in-semester college study abroad. That's why I'll be doing the Grizzlies preview early, I don't want to just leave all my small but hardy fanbase out in the cold. And I should still be around on occasion, posting periodically, albeit likely in brief spurts. The reality of the matter, however, is that the bulk of content will be either automated or run by written by a new partner.
Said new partner isn't written in stone, but it should be someone that you all are now somewhat familiar with from past posts. He'll do a great job, and should be around even after my return, which will be November 5th -- just five games into the season and one day before a contest against the NBA Champion Lakers.
Glad to have that out of the way. Now let's get down to business -- here is your 2009-2010 Memphis Grizzlies preview in extended 'Spoiler Alert' format.
The funny thing about a stick of dynamite is that it pretty much always looks like it's ready to explode. Keep that bit of advice in mind as you continue to read.
The Memphis Grizzlies made two different types of additions this season. First, the rookies. The Grizzlies drafted Hasheem Thabeet, who I've openly lamented and insulted in the past and warmed up to in the now, second overall, then went on to take forwards DeMarre Carroll and Sam Young with their next two picks. I believe the draft was one of the best in the NBA despite a pretty weak class, and the Carroll-Young combo has the potential to be the Grizzlies defense-offense bench of the future.
The second set of acquisitions were a tad bit more controversial, and by a tad bit I mean they were damn near as controversial as it gets in the NBA. First the Grizzlies traded Darko Milicic for Quentin Richardson, who then went on a merry-go-round through the NBA, for Zach Randolph. And we all know Zach Randolph. Then the Grizzlies signed walking media magnet Allen Iverson, who's been dancing between wise veteran, distraction, and too hurt to know what the hell he actually is.
Playing with Zach Randolph is a tad bit like playing with a safety valve that's a tiny bit too wide -- as in it sucks everything in and spits it straight back out. You could feed Randolph with every possession and he would use every single one if you wanted him too, and he'd probably shoot about 45% from the field while doing it. Problem is you can't really win many basketball games that way.
And we have no idea what playing with Allen Iverson is like. It used to be pretty cool if you were Eric Snow and hated shooting. Chances are that it's not so cool if you're O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, or Zach Randolph, who all like to get involved in the offense, which means shoot the ball every chance they get. Last season it was a little more like playing with an angry wasp with no stinger. He still looked menacing, but was more of an annoyance then a legitimate threat.
As far as losses go, the Memphis Grizzlies gave away one of their best players in terms of PER in Hakim Warrick. This was a stupid loss. There were no minutes around for Warrick, but he is a talent with legitimate value. You have to hold onto him and make a trade. Otherwise there were no other losses of great importance -- Quinton Ross, Darius Miles, and Greg Buckner all made ignominious exits, thanks for nothing ya'll.
Breakout- Nobody- With Zach Randolph stealing rebounds from Marc Gasol, and Hasheem Thabeet stealing some time, I don't see a second year breakout. With Iverson stealing isolation looks from O.J. and Rudy, I don't see either meaningfully increasing their statistics. And with both A.I. and O.J. clamoring to bring it up the floor because they too are "point guards," I don't see Mike Conley being much better than an end of the roster contributor.
Bust- Rudy Gay, Allen Iverson- Don't let anyone fool you, I don't see either of these players putting up significantly better stats than they did last season, but both will get drafted ahead of their position on the player rater at the end of the season. The Grizzlies just might boast five fantasy worthy guys, but none of them look to be better than a top 40 player, which isn't good news for owners.
Useful- O.J. Mayo, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley- Again don't look for a breakout. If Randolph is healthy he could, theoretically, break the top 50, and he's usually great trade bait for less wise fantasy players who salivate over the 20-10 points and rebounds. That makes him draftable, but not a real target. Look for O.J. Mayo to basically duplicate his rookie season stats in a per 36 sense, with a potential boost in assists and field goal percentage. The problem is that fantasy stats aren't calculated by per 36, which means that a minutes drop will offset any gains and might actually reduce his value. Finally Mike Conley seemed poised to break out this season, but Iverson is almost undoubtedly going to depress his value.
The Grizzlies are stacked with weapons on offense. The problem is that none of them are standouts. Allen Iverson used to be, Rudy Gay was supposed to be, Zach Randolph thinks he is, and O.J. Mayo isn't there yet. So while the Grizzlies have a whole bunch of scorer, they also have a whole bunch of players who are probably better suited to be second or third options, or a spark-plug off the bench.
Now this approach has worked in the past, for instance on the Pistons of yore. With Rip Hamilton, Chauncey Billups, Rasheed Wallace, and Tayshaun Prince (in order of offensive importance) the Pistons rode a bunch of solid offensive players to dominating the Eastern Conference during the pre-James to early-James era. The difference is that the Pistons were expertly coached and had a near legendary floor general in Billups.
Mike Conley might be a better passer than Billups, but he's certainly not better at commanding the game. For this approach to be successful somebody is going to have to assert themselves as the player who decides who shoots. Allen Iverson is too prone to calling his own number, O.J. Mayo isn't an NBA point yet, and again Mike Conley won't be in the position to take control.
So despite having a ton of weapons, a realistic take means that the Grizzlies will probably struggle with chemistry on offense all season. I still like them to outplay their offense last season, which was borderline atrocious, but the pundits are probably right in assuming that this team won't maximize their talents. "Skill overlap" is the buzz phrase for this season's Grizzlies, who will commonly have too many isolation players on the floor at any given time during the season.
And this problem might only be compounded by running the fast break offense. This strategy typically requires a steady hand at both point and shooting guard. The Grizzlies have that, but Rudy Gay is really their only finisher. Breaking teams definitely are better off with athleticism at both forward slots, and maybe even with a bit at center for good measure. Running constantly will get the fans out of their seats and get the Grizzlies a bunch more points this season, but I'm not convinced that their efficiency will benefit significantly.
This is not an area where the Grizzlies will have to worry about skill overlap. The Grizzlies really have a limited amount of defensive talent, especially in their starting unit. Mike Conley is acceptable, O.J. Mayo is generally considered below average with potential, Rudy Gay is in the same situation, Zach Randolph is known to be especially useless on defense, and Marc Gasol is definitely below average for a starter. This unit is really quite bad defensively, though they should rebound well.
The second unit is better balanced. DeMarre Carroll has shown extreme willingness to play tough as nails, Sam Young is acceptable, Darrell Arthur brings energy but is limited technically, and Hasheem Thabeet somehow became an underrated defender despite being drafted solely as a defensive stopper. Both Iverson and Marcus Williams are question marks, but should be pretty decent. Unlike the first team, this unit has capable stoppers, but will struggle on the boards.
But the funny thing about this defense is that it could go both ways, particularly if the Grizzlies stick to their plan of running the floor. If you think back to the 'We Believe' Golden State Warriors, they similarly had a team of sub-par defenders who oftentimes looked lost and helpless. But counter-intuitively they were really a decent defensive team, mainly because they rebounded and gambled on steals that turned into very, very easy offense. If the Grizzlies follow this model they could be a surprisingly efficient defensive team.
ESPN: 25-57, Hollinger 27-55: Are you surprised that ESPN isn't high on this team? They're not exactly the image of stability or reliability. You see experts don't like to take many huge chances -- perhaps rightly so, because they can't really be blamed for it with this Grizzlies team. Yes, yes, they're being particularly harsh, but they do have a point. It isn't often that a bunch of unproven misfits come together and make a big splash in there first season.
Still don't they have to make a bigger splash then this? Thinking back to the dynamite metaphor, by definition an explosion has to create some noise, right? I think so. This team barely lost anything in the offseason -- failing to trade Hakim Warrick was more of a no gain than an actual loss since he would have created a major logjam for Sam Young, Darrell Arthur, and DeMarre Carroll. I mean, really, how could this team have only added between one and three wins?
Sometimes I feel like the experts spend so much time watching the good teams that they lose perspective on just how bad your team needs to be to only win 27 games. Last year the Grizzlies barely had three NBA caliber starters. They had Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry in a platoon, both playing fairly effectively but providing no leadership. They had Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo; these two were starters, but aren't ready to be focal points of an offense, and certainly aren't ready to face consistent double teaming. Darrell Arthur was not a starting caliber player. Marc Gasol was solid on offense and decent rebounding, but useless defensively.
This season Conley, Mayo, Gay, and Gasol have all not only matured but also improved tangibly. Conley clearly shoots better. Mayo is moving the ball more often, though he's turning it over too often. Rudy Gay is stronger and better prepared to drive consistently, which is necessary for a team's best slasher. Marc Gasol dropped weight, presumably to play the pick and roll better.
And as bad as Zach Randolph can be at times, there's no way he's worse than Arthur was on either end of the floor last season, and there is no way he's as physically incapable of defending as Hakim Warrick. He isn't great and his stats are inflated well over his actual value, but he's much better than what the Grizzlies had. Last season the Grizzlies didn't have much in the way of guard play off the bench -- even Marko Jaric had to play. This season A.I. might fill too much need, but at least he's filling needs.
I don't think me or any other Grizzlies fan is asking for the world here; I'm asking for respectability. I don't want to see the other team's scrubs beating our starters at the end of games. I don't want to see decent play for half a game followed by a blowout third and fourth quarter; I want to see a team that is trying to win.
And I think that I'll be rewarded for my dedication. This season's Grizzlies don't even need to climb all the way into the playoffs, but they need to get their foot on the first rung of the ladder. This season's Grizzlies will be a stick of dynamite in both senses. Some nights they'll look god awful, other nights explosive, most nights they'll just look like themselves -- mostly dormant but constantly dangerous.
My Predictions: 34-48