Everyone outside of Alamo City—and XN Sports—had the Memphis Grizzlies trouncing the San Antonio Spurs in last year’s Western Conference Finals. Reality drew a different picture.
Though the Grizz were swept by a resurgent Spurs team, most games were close and competitive enough to suggest that the squad was but some spacing issues away from causing a bigger late-season ruckus. Understanding that, management won the rights to Mike Miller (to add some shooting) and Kosta Koufos (to give their top-10 NBA player Marc Gasol a breather) but they also inexplicably let go of coach Lionell Hollins.
The notion is that new coach Dave Joerger will hit the ground running pretty well but his ability to adapt on the fly could turn out to be a thorn in their paw come playoff time. Despite that, Memphis will remain a deadly opponent in the coming season.
Points Per Game: 27th
Points Allowed Per Game: 1st
Rebounds Per Game: 11th
Notable Additions: Kosta Koufus, Mike Miller (on certain nights)
Notable Losses: Lionel Hollins
Conley is arguably one of the game’s best two-way players and has secured himself a place among the top-15, perhaps top-12 point guards. He’s also a cream of the crop fantasy option. On top of 2012-13 being his best offensive year, he’s a master thief who pesters opposing point guards to the point of abuse. He can post very good all-around numbers, something like 15 points, six assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals, 1.3 three-pointers per game, but has yet to have a year where all of his highest numbers are met across the board. For example, he shot 86.1 percent from the free-throw line two years ago but has never been able to emulate that again. The two years prior to last he was able to average 6.5 assists per game. Last year he achieved 6.1. He still has room to grow and should do that.
Bayless has been a increasingly effective weapon for Memphis. He is a capable point guard but can also work at shooting guard alongside Conley. His field-goal percentage could use a nice boost especially since the Grizz have such a hard time scoring. With more weapons on their roster, Bayless should be in good shape to work on it.
Shooting Guards: Tony Allen, Mike Miller, Jamaal Franklin (Quincy Pondexter, Jerryd Bayless) – Grade: B+, especially if Pondexter is allowed to play the 2 at times and Bayless continues to do so in spurts
Tony Allen is so good defensively he’s somehow surviving an era where shooting-deficient two-guards like himself are going extinct. Still, his presence on the court posts too many problems for his team when it comes to postseason matchups. That’s where Mike Miller, Jamaal Franklin, Jerryd Bayless, and, maybe even, Quincy Pondexter come in.
The four are all passable-to-expert shooters who can make life in the paint less crowded for Z-Bo and Gasol. A lot of this season’s success will come down to the effectiveness of Memphis’ shooting guards and whether or not new coach Dave Joerger can work them into an inside-first offensive system. Rumors go that Pondexter can find himself some minutes at shooting guard this season. That can turn out to be a deadly Plan C or D for the Grizz.
Small Forwards: Quincy Pondexter, Tayshaun Prince, Mike Miller, Tony Gaffney – Grade: B
Age will be the deciding factor at the 3. Prince proved he can still defend wings with the best of them but looked out of place on offense and defense in last year’s playoffs. With more familiarity, he should still be a nice option at small forward but continues to pose spacing woes for a Memphis team that has too many of them. Miller provides a solution to some of those spacing issues but it’s hard to know if his body won’t self-combust before the All-Star break.
Pondexter is a little undersized at small forward but is a decent defender, can create his own shot, and can absolutely shoot from outside of the half moon.
As mentioned earlier, Pondexter can even find himself playing shooting guard at leisure junctures. A breakout season for him could bring up the report card at small forward for the ursines.
Zach Randolph will continue his reign as Mr. Double-Double (with David Lee and others, of course). But a long season last year certainly caught up to him in the playoffs. Randolph is now 32 and has never been one to be in supreme NBA shape. Less than the 34 minutes he averaged last year can be a possibility now that Ed Davis is starting to emerge as an accountable backup.
At 25 minutes a game, Davis can make the leap to be a strong 10-10 candidate. He’s also someone who can block and steal the ball well.
Behind him are Jon Leuer and Willie Reed who are largely unproven but offer their own upside. Leuer’s upside is greater than than of Reed but both can work out to be nice big bodies to throw at teams like San Antonio and Golden State (or for hacking reasons at a guy like Dwight Howard).
Centers: Marc Gasol, Kosta Koufos – Grade: A+
The most sound and reliable one-two punch at the 5 in the league. Neither of them are 20-10 guys but they’re dedicated students of the game, can anchor a defense, and bring a calm to their work that is important for crunch time situations. Gasol, of course, is infinitely more skilled than Koufos but can be sure that, at least defensively, not much will be lost when his replacement takes the court. With less minutes on his legs, Gasol might see his field-goal numbers climb above 50 percent again and might find more energy in him to chase down more than eight rebounds an outing.
Coach: Dave Joerger – Grade: B
Joerger has an interesting resume and has proven himself to be the reason behind Memphis’ elite defense. In that regard, their pedigree should remain intact under him. But it remains to be seen how he can handle rosters, minutes, schemes, injuries, the media, all while trying to give this Western powerhouse some semblance of an offense. Time and a highly competitive division aren’t on his side.
Team Grade: B+ to A-