Welcome to the first installment "The Friday Three!" I will use this space as a means to talk out some of the most interesting/concerning questions about the Grizzlies on my mind heading in to the week ahead. There is plenty to question with regard to Memphis as Training Camp wraps up this weekend and preseason gets under way.
1. How Will Matt Barnes Be Utilized Consistently?
The obvious answer to this question is on the wing, where Matt has spent much of his career. Barnes, whether he starts or not, figures to be a big piece of the Grizzly puzzle. The organization would not have made just a big deal about the acquisition otherwise. He adds even more tenacity and experience to a veteran roster with a noted nasty streak. His willingness to shoot the three (and recent evidence that he can shoot it pretty efficiently) theoretically creates spaces for bigs like Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to work with, and Barnes playing with Brandan Wright and Mike Conley could produce a potent pick-and-roll kick-out pass offensive attack on the wing.
But that particular set can be done with Barnes at the 4 as well. Matt has shown the capacity to defend small-ball 4's in the past and his versatility can make Memphis that much more dangerous on both ends of the court. A Conley/Lee/Allen/Barnes/Wright lineup, for example, is one that could create problems for opposing offenses depending on the match-up. You have three threats from range in Conley, Lee and Barnes, a pick-and-roll savant in Wright and a good-to-great cutter to the basket in Allen. So much of the offensive spacing issues coincide with not having more than two shooters on the floor for Memphis. Barnes at the 4 alleviates that some.
Depth behind Gasol, Randolph and Wright has been an early concern of many Grizzlies fans. Jeff Green will likely see opportunity at the 4 and is physically larger than Barnes, but that tenacity Barnes demonstrates leads to effort that can negate that size issue some. While JaMychal Green and Jarnell Stokes still occupy roster spots, I would not be surprised to see both Green and Barnes get those minutes at the back-up 4 as the season begins, with Wright seeing more time there against larger lineups.
A benefit of depth- the ability to play the match-ups.
2. What Will It Cost to Keep Courtney Lee?
As I said to our own Kevin Yeung on Twitter and Matt Moore of CBSSports.com on GBBLive this week, for some reason I always assumed that the Grizzlies would likely move on from Courtney Lee this off-season. I had hoped that Lee had found a permanent spot in the Bluff City, but his journeyman career (and the idea of max player cap space) led me to think that he may be departing.
In hindsight, this is likely not the case...if the price is right. Frustration about shot volume and shrinking from the moment from time to time aside, Lee provides a skill that Memphis lacks in three-point shooting and is a plus defender on the wing. He has experience in the playoffs and is capable of going on smoking hot shooting streaks- who else on the wing for the Grizzlies is capable of doing that?
With the rising salary cap, Lee is no doubt going to receive a raise from his current $5.65 contract. How much of a raise bears watching, though; $8 or $9 million feels right for a player of Lee's talents and contributions, and that stands in line with the growth of the cap. Especially with Danny Green taking a "hometown discount" of 4 years, $40 million to stay in San Antonio with the Spurs, a 4 year $32 million contract with Lee should be a reasonable expectation, and for Memphis he'd be worth the cost, and would allow for Memphis to still add another piece or two in free agency if a big splash is not possible.
3. Is Memphis' Injury Prevention Training This Week a Sign of Things to Come?
The Memphis Grizzlies went out to Santa Barbara, California for Training Camp this week specifically so they could work with P3, or Peak Performance Project. The goal of the visit, the first of its kind with P3 for an entire NBA team, is to test players to see where they are most susceptible to injury given their body makeup, how the players move and explode throughout their play, and any issues of abnormalities with their movements. The Grizzlies being on the cutting edge of technology with regard to injuries is not surprising; Robert Pera has said he is willing to invest in these sorts of things, and he is putting his money where his mouth is in this case.
However, the investment of time and resources in this type of injury prevention is hopefully the beginning of a larger trend for the Grizzlies this season. The key Grizzlies, or "Core Four", are not getting any younger, and Mike Conley (the youngest member of the groups consisting of himself, Tony Allen, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol) has worn down as the past two seasons have gone on. Tony had hamstring issues last season, and the grind of the season took its toll on Marc and Zach as well.
As the season goes on, whether or not Head Coach Dave Joerger manages minutes for this group of guys will remain a focus. On back to back sets, it would make sense to give Tony Allen a night off given the depth of the wing position. In games where small ball fours are consistently what the other team trots out, perhaps Marc or Zach can get a breather and allow for Jeff Green or Matt Barnes to eat some of those front court minutes. Conley especially can afford to catch a breather on long road trips and stretches of 4 or more games in a week or so; Russ Smith would benefit from opportunity, and the veteran Beno Udrih can spot start in a pinch against lesser competition.
For this Grizzlies team, seeding is less important than health. When complete and healthy, they can compete with anyone in the Western Conference. When missing a "core" piece, they will struggle to get out of the first round. Lose two or more, and the playoffs come in to question in general. A loss or two during the regular season due to inexperience is worth the piece of mind an in tact roster can bring come late April.