By Ryan Eisner
General manager Chris Wallace hit the restart button on February 1, 2008, when he traded Pau Gasol, the team's most recognizable player and its leading career scorer and rebounder, for virtually nothing. The rebuilding process went full-blown on draft day, when Wallace traded Mike Miller, the team's second-best scorer, and a few others for Marko Jaric, Greg Buckner, Antoine Walker and the draft rights to O.J. Mayo. The Griz then acquired the rights to touted Darrell Arthur for a pair of draft picks.
So the youth movement truly begins in Memphis; the team's average age is 23.9, and eight players will be younger than that on Opening Day. Hakim Warrick, drafted in 2005, is the longest-tenured player on the roster. He, along with fellow youngsters Mike Conley, Jr., Rudy Gay and the rookie O.J. Mayo should form a core high in offense but low in the standings.
Center is tricky, as the Griz enter the season with two unproven guys (Hamed Haddadi and Marc Gasol) and everyone's favorite, Darko. If the Achilles problem from the summer is not an issue, Milicic should be on for about 25 minutes, with Haddadi and Gasol seeing up to 15 each. The roles of these three could fluctuate throughout the season.
Rookie O.J. Mayo may not start from Day 1, but should eventually, and see 30-35 minutes himself. Again, Lowry and Crittenton can support him, but Marko Jaric should be his largest threat to playing time at the two. Jaric may earn the Opening Day nod, but will eventually fade out to 20-23 minutes per game.
Marc Gasol: He was drafted by the Lakers in the 2007 draft, but elected to stay in Europe for a season. Perhaps that was for the better, as he was MVP of the Spanish ACB league, averaging 16.1 points on a 62 percent clip while also grabbing 8.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks. He was traded from L.A. to Memphis in a February trade, signed by the Grizzlies in July and should be the No. 2 center entering the season. He is still a bit raw, but is an excellent low-post option. He's also a bit slow, so he might be pulled off the court when the team goes up-tempo and may be a liability on defense.
Hamed Haddadi: Haddadi was a late addition by the Grizzlies, signing after starring in the Summer Olympics. His team did not escape pool play, but Haddadi averaged 16.6 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.6 blocks in Iran's five games. At 7-2, he should be able to grab rebounds and block shots from the get-go, but may need to hone his play on the other side of the court.
Hakim Warrick: Warrick spent much of the first half of the 2007-08 season in coach Marc Iavaroni's doghouse because of porous defensive play, but he made 30 starts at power forward after Pau Gasol was traded in February. Coincidentally, Warrick had 30 games with double-digit points and 10 games of 20 or more points. Scoring may be the only aspect of his game at this point, as he remains a below-average rebounder, shot-blocker and passer.
Antoine Walker: Walker came to the Grizzlies from the Timberwolves in a draft-day deal. He left the T-Wolves on rough terms, not playing after a failed buyout on February 19. He can still score a little, as he put up 19 double-digit performances in his 46 games, but his two best games came against the weaker defenses of Denver and Golden State. Walker lost a ton of playing time in Minnesota to the Timberwolves' young frontcourt, which is something that could happen eventually in Memphis with fourth-year player Hakim Warrick slated to start and rookie Darrell Arthur coming in with a lot of potential. Walker should begin the season as the team's No. 2 power forward, but could eventually be surpassed by Arthur. He should also see some time at small forward, given the team's lack of depth there.
Darrell Arthur: Arthur had a rough time on draft night - he started the day as a potential lottery pick but fell into the late first round before being traded three times. His unusual offseason continued into September, when he was booted from a rookie symposium after reportedly getting caught with marijuana, and may face a fine and/or suspension following that incident. But when Arthur gets into a game, he should show off a good mid-range jumper. He is also pretty quick for his size, which should help him on defense. He improved in each of his two collegiate seasons on a good Kansas squad, and that progression should continue in the pros, as long as he can stay out of trouble.
Kyle Lowry: Lowry was largely a reserve for the Grizzlies last season, but was able to make a few starts at each of the guard positions, but is more of a one guard than two. He is a bit small but possesses great speed and athletic ability. It's too bad that Mike Conley sits above him on the depth chart, as Lowry has proven that he can put up numbers when given the minutes (14.5 points, 4.67 assists, 1.5 when playing more than 30 minutes). Javaris Crittenton's emergence last season doesn't help Lowry's cause and may make him expendable at some point during the season. He's a sleeper if he ends up in a favorable situation or if Conley goes down.
Javaris Crittenton: Crittenton was largely an unknown when he was part of the package coming back for Pau Gasol, but impressed in some late-season action. He threw up 20 points twice, and had double-digit performances six other times. He can play both guard spots, but would more likely see time at the two than the one, as he does not know how to run an offense. His value would bump if any one of the Grizzlies' other guards gets dealt.
O.J. Mayo: Mayo was the Grizzlies' big prize on draft day, pulling off an eight-player trade with the Timberwolves to land him. Mayo is a great scorer, who averaged 20.7 points for the USC Trojans last year. He hit 40 percent of his three-pointers in college, and was hitting them at a decent pace in summer league. He has good size for a guard (6-5, 200), so he should be able to grab some rebounds if he can get around the basket. He played both point and shooting guard while at USC, but will almost exclusively play the two with the Grizzlies. It's unclear if Mayo will start initially, but he should be win the job sooner rather than later and be in the mix for Rookie of the Year honors.
Marko Jaric: Jaric came over from Minnesota in a draft day deal, and is coming off a season in which he posted career-highs for total minutes and total points scored despite losing time to the Timberwolves' youngsters. He faces the same problem in Memphis with O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay clogging the two and three slots. He could start the season in the lineup and then eventually get pushed to the bench by Mayo. Considering how much money he'll be making, his name is likely to turn up in a lot of trade rumors.
Greg Buckner: Buckner comes to the Grizzlies after a season of being buried behind young players in Minnesota. He played in just three games after the All-Star Game because of injury and the emergence of the T-Wolves' younger guards. He essentially enters the same situation in Memphis, and probably will not see a lot of time other than in key defensive situations.