NBA Preview: Memphis Grizzlies
With the second team in the Southwest Division, I will be talking about the Memphis Grizzlies. After signing PG Mike Conley to a record breaking contract during the offseason, Memphis hopes to get back to being a formidable team in the Western Conference. Last season, after going 41-30, Memphis limped into the playoffs and finished with a 42-40 record and the seventh seed in the West. Injuries were a catastrophic part of that, and Memphis played the 67-15 San Antonio Spurs without Mike Conley and C Marc Gasol, and relied on Jordan Farmar (who had been out of the league for a few seasons) to carry point guard duties, 38 year old C Chris Andersen to start, and aging SF Vince Carter as well. What do you think happened? Yep, they got swept. This year, Memphis believes they can crack the top four in the conference again with the West falling apart outside of the Bay Area.
ADDITIONS: SF Chandler Parsons (Dallas), G Troy Daniels (Charlotte), SF James Ennis (New Orleans), G Tony Wroten (New York), G Wade Baldwin (draft), F/C Deyonta Davis (draft), PG Andrew Harrison (free agency)
SUBTRACTIONS: C Chris Andersen (Cleveland), SF Matt Barnes (Sacramento), PG Jordan Farmar (Sacramento), PG Ray McCallum (Detroit), G/F Lance Stephenson (New Orleans), G Xavier Munford (Los Angeles Clippers), G Bryce Cotton (Europe), PG Mario Chalmers (free agent)
RE-SIGNED: PG Mike Conley
The subtractions l listed seem to be bigger than they really are, especially when you look closer and notice the biggest name is Lance Stephenson. Stephenson had a good run in the postseason (or as good as any Grizzly did), but his maturity level may just make him not cut out for the NBA. Matt Barnes is also a pretty good player, but he is at the latter stage of his career and he won't do anybody any harm as long as he is in Sacramento. The rest of the guys were signed at some point during the season to cover up the losses that the Grizzlies faced on the injury front, and now that those guys are back these losses become relatively irrelevant.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Newcomer SF Chandler Parsons is the player to watch, mainly because he is supposed to be the difference maker here. Memphis has been under Lionel Hollins and Dave Joerger, a super gritty, defensive team, but now they are trying to provide a little bit of offense in the mix as well. Parsons is like a poor man's version of Nicolas Batum, who is a poor man's version of LeBron James, but that gives the Grizzlies a play-making forward who will play defense and use his athleticism to beat out players. Parsons has always had injury trouble, but that theme is nothing new in Memphis. It will be interesting to see if he actually makes a difference in Memphis, or if they win about 48 games like usual.
BIGGEST CONCERN: Injuries are always a concern in Memphis, but I'm going with one of the biggest factors that leads to injury, age. Three of the five starters (and Vince Carter) are over the age of 30, and two of them are older than 34. The guys that back them up are more of the opposite, really young. Sure, Conley, Gasol and Parsons are in their primes (and that's why they are the most important players here), but everybody else is either really young or really old. PF Zach Randolph got away last season relatively injury-free, but G/F Tony Allen didn't, and neither did Gasol, Conley or 29 year old F/C Brandan Wright. Parsons, who is 28, also got hurt in Dallas. Memphis got younger, but they also got more inexperienced, which may be a problem should the older players, well, show their age.
BIGGEST UNKNOWN: Who is the focal point of the second unit? Even if Memphis were to put Tony Allen on the bench and start either Jordan Adams, Troy Daniels or rookie Wade Baldwin, he is not an offensive threat to help with bench play. None of those guys are yet either. Vince Carter is old. Deyonta Davis is not even 20. Brandan Wright is just an athletic player who will put up eight points and maybe get eight rebounds. JaMychal Green was Memphis' second best player after all the injuries, but they went 1-14 (including playoffs) when he was their second best player, so he should not have that role again. Don't get me wrong, Memphis has a solid second unit and a lot of quality pieces, it's just none of those guys are focal points, meaning big minutes for the injury prone Conley, Parsons and Gasol along with the aging Randolph. They need to find a scoring threat from the second unit to relieve the pressure on the starters.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE: C Marc Gasol, PF Zach Randolph, SF Chandler Parsons, SG Tony Allen, PG Mike Conley
ROTATIONAL PIECES: PF JaMychal Green, F/C Brandan Wright, G Wade Baldwin, G Troy Daniels, G/F Vince Carter
ROUNDING OUT THE ROSTER: SG Jordan Adams, F Jarell Martin, PG Andrew Harrison, PF Deyonta Davis, G/F Wayne Selden
PREDICTION: My solution for Memphis' second unit problem is to go get PG Mario Chalmers from free agency. He has NBA rings, experience, and can put up some points from time to time. He is also Conley insurance (although that didn't work last year when he was lost for the season too). Even without Chalmers, Memphis should make the playoffs as a lot of the teams in the West don't seem ready for postseason success, including the Denver Nuggets, Minnesota Timberwolves and Los Angeles Lakers. I like Memphis somewhere in the 4-6 range, and around 48 wins.