By Ryan Eisner
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Article first appeared on 9/18/09