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Memphis Grizzlies Preview: Ten Predictions for the Year

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Will Marc Gasol shoot threes? What wing combo should play the most minutes together? Where will the Grizzlies finish the season? All this AND MORE, inside!

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

1). Marc Gasol Will Attempt Between 40 and 60 Three Pointers - We all saw the video of Gasol taking three pointers at an open practice, but I think he's still at least a year away from adding it to his repertoire. But make no mistake: the natural progression of Gasol's game is to add a three point shot.

(Editor's note: Our own Andrew Ford examined Gasol's 3-pt shot last year.)

I had a Twitter Archivist dig this up to prove I'm a Gasol three pointer truther:

truth

Having a center that can shoot threes unlocks paths to offensive efficiency that the Grizzlies have lacked. But the problem is that moving Gasol out to the three point line fundamentally changes the way the Grizzlies' offense functions. If Gasol is at the three point line, he isn't at the free throw line, or in the low post.

Gasol is usually quicker than the big guarding him, but driving past that big from the free throw line is a one dribble move. Doing so from the three point line is a two-to-three dribble move.

If you don't think this is a big deal, then let me remind you that Rudy Gay was not comfortable executing a two dribble move, and the Grizzlies' current shooting guard is most comfortable off of one dribble.

Still, Gasol can find enough three pointers by trailing in transition - those he isn't leading - and stopping at the three point line. Perhaps Joerger draws up the random out of bounds play where Gasol sets screens above the line, and then has the option to shoot it if he feels the defense going with the guard.

2). Brandan Wright Will Struggle, at Least Out of the Gate - There seems to be a small confusion of what Brandan Wright is. He is athletic, but that does not make him a stretch four. He can jump out the building, but that does not mean he is a rim protector.

Wright's teams corralled exactly the same number of rebounds with him on the court as off the court last year (he is neither bad nor good in this department, but literally average for his teams). Play Wright alongside either Gasol or Randolph, and the Grizzlies should be fine rebounding the ball.

But what if they want to play small with Wright and Matt Barnes or Jeff Green? This may make for a more offensively viable unit, but it will also mean, for the first time in the Grit and Grind Era, that the Grizzlies will risk being beaten on the glass. You can't be all things all the time. These are the trade offs the Grizzlies face this year.

And then you have rim protection. Though an athletic big, Brandan Wright has not been a good rim protector to this point. Per Nylon Calculus "Rim Protection" stats, he only contested 54.9%, below average for a center, and far below the 64.3% that Koufos contested. To put this in real number, for every ten shots at the rim they each faced, Koufos "contested" one full shot more than Wright.

Wright isn't the rim protector Koufos is. For Wright to prove an upgrade over Koufos (and I'm not sure he is), he must make up the gap in other ways.

3). Lineups Featuring Z-Bo and Wright Will Be a Big Part of the Problem -  First, a word on Z-Bo's career and what is at stake (Copyright: Bill Simmons) for him this year. Even if he regresses a bit, Zach Randolph will still have virtually no historical precedent.

Last year, Randolph gathered 11.2% of available offensive rebounds, and had a Usage Rate of 24.3%. Rounding those numbers down, here is the list of the thirty-four year olds (Randolph will be thirty-four this year) who have collected 11% of offensive rebounds while also having a Usage Rate of 22% or greater. It's, um, rarefied air. It's two dudes, one of whom may have actually subsisted on rebounds (the other is Kevin Willis).

There is virtually no historical analog for aging bigs who both pound the offensive glass and function as an offensive hub.

And that's kind of scary.

But I am inclined to believe that the league has not seen many players with Randolph's unique combination of skills and body type. Though his OREB % has declined the last four years, it has not suffered a steep decline in any one year, and I don't see a reason to assume Randolph will suddenly lose the ability to gather offensive rebounds.

Another reason to assume Randolph's overall numbers will not fall precipitously is that he will play the bulk of his minutes next to Marc Gasol. Gasol makes the game so easy for Randolph. He commands the attention of the other team's best post defender, and is a willing passer when Randolph has position.

The main question Randolph must answer is whether he can be an efficient scorer with Gasol on the bench (Hrdlicka's note: Conley should always be on the court any time Gasol is off. Unless C.J. McCollum has broke Conley's face again, then he can rest for exactly one minute). Brandan Wright is purely a finisher, and is only dangerous within arm's length of the rim.

Unfortunately, this is also where Randolph thrives. Randolph took over 40% of his shots within three feet of the rim last year (aka, Brandan Wright's arm length), and that focused shot selection was the main reason you didn't hear whispers that Randolph had lost a step.

How do you craft a functional offense with two of your players needing to occupy the same space? There is no easy answer.

The defense is equally problematic. Neither Randolph nor Wright protect the rim, and I am skeptical that Wright can guard stretch fours (Hrdlicka note: I am skeptical because I am ignorant of whether he has done it before. Generally seven foot tall gentlemen haven't, but perhaps Wright can).

Some of the answer is probably to use Randolph to guard centers, keeping him closer to the rim. This also keeps Wright in the same defensive role as when he plays next to Gasol.

Another part of the answer is to play Randolph less, though not much less. Randolph played just 32.5 mpg last year, his lowest as a Grizzly. Taper this too much further and you risk Randolph's temper.

But when there are this many questions, the answer may be to just table the lineup altogether, which is a pretty nice segue to....

4). Of all the Young Players, JaMychal Green Will Get the Most Minutes - This is about role. While I continue to believe in Jordan Adams, the team will have to shoehorn him into the lineup, and that hasn't been something the Grizzlies, or Dave Joerger, have done.

They play young guys when they need to, and it seems as if JaM Green falls into this category. The rotation is largely set. The one spot up for grabs is the backup four position, which is sort of weird.

Here's why: Gasol and Randolph will play, conservatively, 32 minutes nightly. That's 64 of 96 possible minutes. Add in, conservatively, 16 for Brandan Wright. That leaves, at most, only 16 minutes. The Grizzlies have two small forwards (three, if you count Vince Carter, and I do) capable of sliding up to power forward. Can they get by with Jeff Green and Matt Barnes playing sixteen minutes of power forward?

Yes. Does this open some minutes on the wing for Jordan Adams? Yes.

Would it be nice to have a "real backup power forward"? Again yes, and I actually think JaM Green is pretty good.

But there is always a trade off. If the Grizzlies choose to take a dogmatic approach to positions, they are effectively choosing JaM Green over Jordan Adams, which is a shame because I think Jordan Adams will make a fine shooting guard one day.

Just like I think JaM Green will make a really good situational center. Yes, you heard that right. Playing JaM next to Wright or Randolph doesn't fix your rim protection problems, but it does allow you to switch more, which is one way to paper over the lack of rim protection when Gasol is out of the game.

JaM unlocks a Draymondian defense where Memphis could switch everything without giving up rebounding. And Green's relative inability on offense doesn't hurt quite as bad if he is playing next to something like Conley-Adams-Barnes-Green.

The very sad part of the preceding paragraphs is that none of it will happen and I just wasted your time. Let's talk about something fun.

5). In Eight Months, Mike Conley Will Be the Highest Paid Point Guard in the NBA - The highest paid point guard in the NBA is Chris Paul, who will make $22mm in 2016. Damian Lillard has already put pen to paper on his maximum extension, starting at $21mm.

These are currently the point guards slotted to make the most in '16-'17.

Then there's Mike Conley. With more than seven years experience, Conley will be eligible for a larger max salary than Lillard, starting somewhere in the neighborhood of $25mm/year.

Last year, I thought the starting point for Conley would be around what Lillard makes, but I'm starting to think that even that number is low. In the context of 2016 free agency, where every team has the potential to acquire max cap space, and there are scant few players better than Conley (and no point guards), Conley could get $25mm.

I could see a scenario where he signs for less than the max, but this would be grace no team deserves, and would be entirely at Conley's discretion.

Take it to the bank - he certainly will - Conley will be the highest paid point guard in the NBA.

6). The Grizzlies Will Not Field a Top Five Defense - This is a matter of personnel. It would not be hyperbole to call having Kosta Koufos as a backup center an irreplaceable defensive luxury.  Wright perhaps allows for a smoother path to offensive efficiency, however his presence is a clear step back on defense, and makes pairings with Zach Randolph seemingly problematic.

Though losing Calathes won't be felt in the win loss column, it will be in the Grizzlies' defensive rating, especially given who his replacements are. Factor in a much needed reduction of Mike Conley and Marc Gasol's minutes, and here is my expert analysis: playing worse defensive players means you will have a worse defense.

I don't mean to imply that the Grizzlies will be a bad defensive team, just not elite. Which means...

7). For the Grizzlies to equal last year's win total, they must field a top ten offense.

8). Here's How They Do It. - I don't know who should start on the wings. I think any pairing that moves Tony Allen off of the other team's best scorer is probably not optimal. But here's what I'll say: the pairing I hope plays the most together is Courtney Lee and Matt Barnes.

The Los Angeles Clippers have been the best offense in the league the last two years - better even than the vaunted Warriors - and the Grizzlies can cobble together a diet version of the Clippers offense.

The Clippers' blueprint is simple: surround a Chris Paul/Blake Griffin pick and roll with two shooters in the corners and a supreme dunker on the baseline. Defenses are left with impossible decisions. Sink into the paint and CP3 steps into an open three.  Come out hard on him and suddenly Blake Griffin has the ball, charging towards the rim.

Griffin's passing is quietly the key. The second he gets the ball, he can diagnose which defender is rotating towards him. Rotate from the near corner and a shooter has an open three. Come up from the baseline, and Griffin throws the lob. Defenses can rotate from the far corner off Matt Barnes, a more difficult pass to execute, but not for Blake, who is among the best passing bigs in the game.

Does this sound familiar? Because it should. Sub in Conley for CP3, Gasol for Griffin, Courtney Lee and Matt Barnes for J.J. Redick and.... Matt Barnes, and crucially, Brandan Wright for Deandre Jordan, and you have Clippers Lite.

The underrated part of the Wright acquisition is that it quickens the pace of Gasol's interior passing. Throwing a lob to Brandan Wright sheds crucial fractions of seconds from a play that had previously required Koufos or ZBo to catch, gather, and go up with. This small change can have a huge impact; it is the difference between an open dunk and the defense recovering.

9). The Grizzlies Will Win 52 Games, Will Finish Third in the Southwest Division, Will Get the Five Seed, and Will Lose to the Spurs in the First Round-

The Rockets are for real. They will win the Southwest.

The Spurs are the Spurs. If you don't think they finish with more than 52 wins, see previous sentence.

The Spurs will beat the Grizzlies in the playoffs. They have the bigs to defend ours, and they will have the best player in the series - Kawhi Leonard.

10). I Will View This Type of a Season as a Success, But Almost Everyone Else Will Not - Such is fandom.