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State of the Grizzlies: Still a Little Weird.

Hamed Haddadi closes his eyes and dreams about the days to come while slamming home a righteous dunk.
Hamed Haddadi closes his eyes and dreams about the days to come while slamming home a righteous dunk.

Even though Chip Crain of 3 Shades of Blue took to the official Grizzlies boards to say we don’t know what we’re talking about, it’s clear that the Grizzlies still have some holes in the roster as they transition into the no man’s land between Summer League and the start of training camp.

Right now, it looks like the starting five for the Grizz next year will be made of familiar faces: Mike Conley, Tony Allen, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol. After the jump, we’ll look at the rest of the roster and take a look at where the team may have problems going into the upcoming season.

At the time of this writing (in Memphis, mind you, not New York, but hey, who’s keeping track?) the rest of the roster currently looks like this:

At backup point guard, we’ve got the newly-signed Jerryd Bayless probably getting the lion’s share of minutes, along with rookie Tony Wroten. If coach Lionel Hollins’ past is any indication, the turnover-prone Wroten will probably be kept on a short leash and will play very limited minutes. Wroten showed his great court vision in Summer League – the Memphis Flyer’s Chris Herrington pointed out that Wroten’s assists were all very productive, with 9 out of 20 setting up dunks – but it seems like the Conley/Bayless duo will probably be on the ball a good majority of the time.

The Conley/Bayless/Wroten triumvirate leaves Jeremy Pargo completely out to dry. He’s made great plays and made terrible ones, and one gets the sense that with enough playing time he could be a quality NBA point guard, but Lionel doesn’t trust him, and it’s unlikely that he’d get the backup nod over Bayless and unless Wroten is terrible, I’d think Lionel would want to play him as the third point guard. (Remember when the Grizzlies almost beat the Thunder with Ish Smith as their third point guard? The improvements over that roster’s bench are really, really impressive.)

At any rate, the point guard situation is good, even though it’s crowded. I’m not one who lamented the loss of Grievis Vasquez, though. No matter who ends up getting the backup minutes, it’s going to be good for Mike Conley to have better backup guards behind him – he won’t have to play 40 minutes a night in November and December the way he has in the past.

Things get weird at the shooting guard and small forward spot.

Josh Selby is coming off a great Summer League performance and a great stint in the D-League last year, both of which proved that when he’s hot, he’s a great high-volume, instant offense scorer. He could be exactly what the Grizzlies need to replace the never-happy OJ Mayo: a dynamic scorer off the bench that can be thrown into the game at any time to put up points. His defense isn’t very good, and last year he was very turnover-prone at the backup point guard spot, but this year with Bayless on board there’s a lot less pressure for him to be a ball handler.

Wayne Ellington was just acquired from the Timberwolves in a trade for Dante Cunningham. He’s a shooter on a short, inexpensive contract. One wonders, though, whether having another shooting guard on the roster is really as valuable as having someone bigger. Cunningham was able to fill in at the 3 and 4 spots. As it currently stands, Rudy Gay and Quincy Pondexter (who is only 6’6") are the only people on the roster currently able to play at the small forward spot – and Pondexter spent some serious time last year defending wing players. Cunningham’s size and energy made him a valuable backup big man (except in the playoffs, when he ran around like a latter-day DeMarre Carroll) – and with both Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur coming back from major injuries, who will back up Speights and Gasol if both of those guys go down? I suspect that the Grizzlies may deal Pargo and someone else for a backup big, someone to fill in at the 3/4 spot.

At the power forward and center spots, the Grizz are making a pretty sizable gamble that Zach Randolph is going to return to 100% of what he was before his knee injury, and that Darrell Arthur can have another successful, injury-free season the way he did in 2010–2011. Both of those things remain to be seen. Arthur was dynamic in the 2011 playoffs against the Spurs and Thunder, but that was the last time he played in a pro basketball game. I suspect it’ll take him a while to get back into real basketball shape.

Randolph is an even more worrying question mark at this point. He played well in the playoffs, but it was clear that he had no lift, and that he still didn’t trust his knee. Maybe he’s going to come in this year and kick ass right out of the starting gate – I sincerely hope so, because I love the big guy and love having him on my favorite team – but his injury was serious (even if he didn’t have to undergo surgery) and there’s no way to know how quickly he’s going to truly recover.

One obvious way to alleviate this situation would be to re-sign Hamed Haddadi to soak up some minutes as a backup center. There’s no doubt that Haddadi plays with great energy, and in limited minutes he’s a very efficient player. (He’s also very efficient at fouling people, but there’s always a little bad with the good, isn’t there?) He’s also just so damn big that he creates problems for teams trying to play big frontcourt lineups against the Grizz (see: last year’s game at the Lakers). My personal favorite Haddadi-ism is in the closing seconds of close games when Hollins puts Haddadi as the man covering the inbounds pass. It’s like trying to throw a basketball over a tree. Always fun to watch.

This team is improved from last year in some ways, but in some ways, things are still a little weird. Once the Grizz figure out who’s going to play behind Rudy Gay (assuming he doesn’t get dealt between now and the beginning of the season – which I think is a safe assumption) and Hollins clears the logjam at the backup point guard and shooting guard spots – and I hope he clears it by letting the young guys play some minutes and develop, but time will tell – and hedge their bets against another Arthur or Randolph injury, we’ll be in good shape to be an even better team than last year.

Those are some fairly hard to solve roster problems, though. One wonders if the pending ownership change will limit the amount of serious moves the Grizzlies are willing to make. I certainly hope not, because this is close to being the best team the Grizzlies (Vancouver or Memphis) have ever put out on the court.

You don’t have to live in Memphis to be able to see that. (Some of us do, though, Chip.)