Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Season Preview: Memphis Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies are dangerously close to showing us all that their 2010 run deep into the Western Conference semi finals, was nothing but a fluke. They are close to weaning themselves from the national spotlight, back into the dark realms of NBA obscurity and obsolescence. After upsetting the leagues best regular season record holding San Antonio Spurs, then taking the Oklahoma City Thunder to 7 games 2 seasons ago, this Grizzlies team seamed to be quickly headed in the right direction. However with a disappointing first round exit just a season ago, and the loss of key player O.J. Mayo, the jury is again out on this squad and their ability to compete on the highest platforms.

This is where Memphis really excels. The organization has put together a starting lineup that is as dangerous as any in the NBA. No disrespect to the Lakers or Heat, but Memphis' starters have a combination of youth, size, and talent that make them relevant in NBA series. When healthy, this team can get up and down the court, defend extremely well, and their incredible ability to rebound may be the key that pulls it all together. The size up front with Gasol and Randolph, is the reason that this Grizzlies team is actually one that is better suited for a 7 game series, than they are for the long hall of a NBA season. Though Memphis can run with the best of them, they are actually at their best when the game slows down and they can set their defense and rebound the ball. Offensively they are best in the open court, but this also starts with rebounding, which starts with defense...

Here is where the most glaring issues lie for the Grizzlies. Their bench has taken major dips since that squad that took OKC to 7 games a couple years ago. That team had Shane Battier who the team let eave to go to Miami, and that team also had O.J. Mayo, whom the Grizzlies let leave for the Dallas Mavericks. This has reduced their second unit, to Marreese Speights, Jerryd Bayless, Wayne Ellington, Tony Allen, and Tony Wroten. This is a significant decrease in talent from the team they were successful with just two seasons ago. However they still remain young and optimistic about the ability of this team to gel and defend the paint. The most significant of these bench players, may be NBA journeyman Tony Allen. Who is willing to do the dirty work for a team and defend the opposers best perimeter offensive weapon. I also like Darrell Arthur as a spark off the bench for this team. He is extremely talented and should add to his rookie campaign of 10ppg and 5 rpg.

Chemistry and perimeter shooting will again be the issues for the Grizzlies. Starting with perimeter shooting, losing Mayo certainly did not help. He was the teams best threat from the perimeter, and adding Bayless is not the answer. The Grizzlies will need to create room inside for Z-BO to operate without constant doubles teams and zone defensive schemes. Memphis did add Ellington in the off season, but his NBA career has been underwhelming up to this point.
The teams chemistry issues are really centered around two players. Rudy Gay, and Zach Randolph. The two really haven't spent a ton of time on the floor together, and they both like it that way. Gay is the teams Max contract humbled superstar, and the team will go as he goes. However Randolph is the teams best one on one player, and a double double machine. It will be challenging for Conley Jr. to keep both of these guys happy and away from each others throats. However the teams head coach Lionel Hollins has quoted as saying that the key to success and chemistry for his squad will be, passing.  The Grizzlies last year were 25th in half court offense, 21st in spot up offense, and 28th in isolation. Gay is not a great iso player, and even though Z-BO is at times, he needs space and time to be effective. With the talent Memphis has, they are probably best moving the ball in the half court, and taking advantage of easy baskets created by their defense.

I think the grizzlies win the division. The only team in their way is San Antonio, and I think that this will be the year San Antonio is riddled with injuries stemming from their old age. Though I do see the Grizzlies winning the division, I think their far from the best team in the division. They again will have an early playoff exit, that will be highlighted by Gay and Z-BO blaming each other and one will ask to be moved. Their inability to score in the half court will not go away this year, they just don't have a dominant one on one player and those are greatly needed in the western conference playoffs. I think this season will end rocky for Memphis, and by this time next season, that team will look completely different.

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