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NBA Team Previews: 2009 Memphis Grizzlies Preview

Ryan Eisner

Ryan Eisner

Ryan has been writing for Rotowire since 2007. He currently writes about baseball and covers the White Sox.


MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
By Ryan Eisner
RotoWire Writer


STATE OF THE FRANCHISE


The Grizzlies entered the 2008-09 season with low expectations, and they failed to meet even those. They did not finish with the worst record in the league, but they easily could have - their once-formidable offense finished 29th out of 30 teams. Coach Marc Iavaroni was canned in late January, and replaced by retread Lionel Hollins. Third-year player and superstar-to-be Rudy Gay seemed to take a step back in his development. Mike Conley stayed healthy the whole year, but he only showed flashes the form that made him a top-five selection in 2007. Rookies O.J. Mayo and Marc Gasol may have been the team's only pleasant surprises.


Then the Grizzlies had their second straight offseason of significant change. Draft day saw Hasheem Thabeet, DeMarre Carroll and Sam Young arrive, and Darko Milicic and Quentin Richardson depart shortly thereafter. General manager Chris Wallace finalized his seemingly eternal courtship of Zach Randolph, then pulled off one of the bigger surprises of the offseason, signing Allen Iverson to a one-year deal in September. The team has a pretty good nucleus in Conley, Gay, Mayo and Gasol, and it will be interesting to see how the vets fit with their younger colleagues. They will have scorers at all five positions, but how will they mesh?


While the Grizzlies may return to their high-flying heyday, they should not be considered a playoff contender.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION


The Grizzlies played much of last season without much of a bench, so they had four players average more than 30 minutes a game, and both O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay frequently played close to 40. Mike Conley, Jr., should start at the point even with Allen Iverson now in town. Plan on Conley getting 25-30 minutes per, and Iverson getting slightly less (20-25). The same will likely ring true at the center position, where incumbent Marc Gasol will start, but Hasheem Thabeet will still see a healthy amount of time. Their split will likely depend on the situation, Gasol coming on when scoring is needed, Thabeet when they need to put the breaks on the opposing offenses. Gasol should see 30 minutes consistently, and Thabeet's cap will be in the low-20s.


Mayo and Gay, last season's workhorses, will probably see the most minutes again this season, but their per-game averages should probably be closer to 35 than 40. Marko Jaric backs up Mayo at the two, but he will get less than 10 minutes in the games he gets to take off the warm-ups. Sam Young will probably serve in some sort of defensive specialist role behind Gay, and 15 minutes per game will be a luxury. Gay can also slide over to the two when the team goes big, and over to the four when the team goes small. Speaking of the four, this was the only spot last season to lack a 30-minute man. Newcomer Zach Randolph should change that. He has averaged no less than 34.4 minutes per game since his second season in the league, and he should see 35-37 this year between the four and the five. Darrell Arthur, last season's starter at the four, will probably be one of the first guys off the bench, and he should see 20-plus minutes. That number should increase if/when Randolph gets hurt. DeMarre Carroll will be third-string, and he should see 10-15 minutes split between the three and four. Marcus Williams, Steven Hunter and Hamed Haddaddi should be DNP's most nights.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS


Center:


Marc Gasol: Gasol went from throw-in (when the Grizzlies dumped brother Pau to the Lakers) to one of the league's top rookies in less than 12 months. He saw a lot of time in the frontcourt when Darko Milicic struggled with injury and ineffectiveness, and his scoring averaged in the double-digits for every month but December (when he averaged 9.5 ppg). Gasol's scoring picked up (as the entire offense did) over the season's final two months, and he averaged 14.3 points in his final 24 contests. His progress reportedly continued this summer, as he played for Spain in Eurobasket. The Griz acquired Zach Randolph and Hasheem Thabeet in the offseason, but that should not affect Gasol too much. He should still put up numbers suitable for a second center in most leagues, and he has tremendous upside in keeper formats.


Hasheem Thabeet: Many fans in Memphis clamored for one of the draft's elite guards, but the Grizzlies instead selected the big man out of Connecticut. Thabeet's game is defense; he averaged 4.5 blocks in his final collegiate season, and he changed many others that did not get recorded in the box score. Thabeet runs very well, and he can defend the perimeter as well as the post. Notice how we have not talked about his offense yet? There's a reason. His decencies on that side of the court, especially his post-up game, were his biggest knock coming out of school, and some analysts wonder whether his offensive game will ever develop. Thabeet will likely sit behind Marc Gasol at the five, but he should still be a resource for blocks and boards.


Hamed Haddadi: Haddadi spent almost all of the 2009 either in the Developmental League or as a DNP. He showed a shimmer of promise in late-season action, but the Grizzlies' frontcourt became a bit more talented over the offseason. Barring injury, he should just be a depth guy again in 2009-10.


Steven Hunter: Hunter missed the whole 2008-09 season with a knee injury, and he only serves as center insurance for 2009-10.

Forward:


Rudy Gay: Gay's 2008-09 season can be seen as something of a disappointment. It's wasn't that his numbers dipped that much from the previous season; he just didn't take the big leap forward many expected. Newcomer O.J. Mayo stole some shots from behind the arc (Gay went from 4.8 three-point tries per game to 3.1), but Gay's steals, blocks, assists and rebounding all stagnated or dropped from the season before. Still, Gay finished the season strong, making more than 50 percent of his shots in nine April games. He was also a standout in Team USA workouts this summer, and he reportedly gained 20 lbs of muscle. He may still be in the top tier of forwards yet, but he should start getting closer.


Sam Young: Young probably should have been a mid-to-late first rounder in the summer's draft, but he fell to the 36th overall pick. Most considered him a plus-defender coming out of college, but he is not a great ball handler and most of his offense comes from a mid-range jump shot. Young should see time in defensive situations, but he should not be counted on for a lot in his rookie season.


Zach Randolph: General manager Chris Wallace finally got his man in Randolph, and the Grizzlies got their first 20/10 player since Pau Gasol in 2006-07. Those numbers should be easy to repeat in Memphis, where a low-post scorer is hard to find. Off-the-court issues will forever accompany Randolph, as will his inability to play a full season (he only played 50 games last year). He and Allen Iverson present some very big chemistry questions heading into camp, and a Grizzlies-style losing streak may be tough to stomach.


Darrell Arthur: Arthur had some decent games as the Grizzlies' starting power forward in 2008-09, but the then-rookie still only averaged 5.6 points per contest. He will lose significant minutes to the likes of Zach Randolph and Hasheem Thabeet this year, which will make him more of a role-player with little fantasy upside.


DeMarre Carroll: Carroll is an energy guy who should provide some frontcourt depth. He played in a high-octane offense at Mizzou, which could translate well to what the Grizzlies are trying to do.

Guard


Mike Conley, Jr.: At first glance, Conley's 2008-09 stats don't look very different than those from his rookie season. But look at his splits from after the All-Star game - 14.6 points, 5.6 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.7 3PM. More importantly, Conley played 82 games last year after sitting 29 the year before. Zach Randolph should be a new option to dish it to in 2009-10, and the expected progressions of Rudy Gay and O.J. Mayo should also help Conley. AI is in town, but Conley should still see enough time to be productive.


Allen Iverson: Iverson was left unsigned into September, as many teams were reluctant to sign an aging former star used to dominating the ball. The Nuggets became a Western Conference power after Iverson left early in the season, and the Pistons fell from Eastern Conference relevance after he arrived in Motown. He can still score, but it's unclear whether he can fit into the smaller role that awaits him.


Marcus Williams: He should be the sparingly used, third-string point guard. O.J. Mayo may see more time at the one than Williams.


O.J. Mayo: In most other seasons, Mayo would have been Rookie of the Year. Mayo opened the season with a 25-game double-digit scoring streak, and he scored 20-plus in 36 contests. On a down note, his field goal percentage continually declined, and he closed out the year shooting 43.8 percent. Most of that was probably fatigue, as Mayo's 3120 minutes ranked third in the league last year. The field goal percentage should rise, as he is now used to that sort of workload. In addition, the team's acquisition of Zach Randolph will take some of the onus off Mayo to score on every possession.


Marko Jaric: Jaric's top accomplishment in 2008-09 was marrying supermodel Adriana Lima. He was used sparingly in his first season with the Grizzlies, and little should change this season. He is a reserve guard who will be lucky to get a few shots per game.

Sleeper:


Marc Gasol: Gasol's job security seemed shaky at the beginning of the summer after the team acquired both Hasheem Thabeet via the draft and Zach Randolph via the Clippers. But after pausing and allowing both of those transactions to settle in, it still looks like Gasol will be the starting center, and he may be one of the more affordable 11-point, 6-rebound pivots in the league.

Bust:


Allen Iverson: Iverson is coming off career-worsts in points per game, three-pointers made and steals, but he remains a flashy name to the casual fantasy hoopster. The Grizzlies have already promised Mike Conley, Jr., the starting point guard spot, so Iverson could see those career-lows dip again. And if the Grizzlies fall far from contention (which they likely will), do you really see them sacrificing Conley's development so Iverson could get a few extra minutes of playing time?


Article first appeared on 9/18/09