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NBA Team Previews: 2008 Memphis Grizzlies Preview

Ryan Eisner

Ryan Eisner

Ryan Eisner writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.


MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES
By Ryan Eisner
RotoWire Writer



STATE OF THE FRANCHISE



Juan Carlos Navarro, who hit a rookie-record number of three-pointers in his only NBA season, bolted back to Spain shortly after the season ended, ne'er to return. What a way to end a season in which the Grizzlies went 22-60 for the second straight year and regressed on both offense and defense.


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.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION



The only player likely to see 35+ minutes per game is Rudy Gay, who should become the focal point of the Grizzlies' offense, and has enough versatility to switch positions depending on matchup. Mike Conley, Jr., could earn that amount of time should he stay healthy, but reserves Kyle Lowry and Javaris Crittenton can come off the bench and see 20 minutes in a night if needed. Hakim Warrick is also a candidate to stay on the court for a while, but could be yanked if his defense lags. Count on him seeing 25-30 minutes on average. Rookie Darrell Arthur, who could press Warrick for the starting power forward role by season's end, should see at least 15 minutes per game. Antoine Walker should be brought on for offensive help for 15-20 minutes.


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.

Center



Darko Milicic: The Grizzlies signed Milicic before the 2007-08 season hoping he could finally shed the bust label, show some of the talent that earned him a draft spot higher than Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh. He got off to a decent start in Memphis, putting up three double-doubles in his first six games, but then was derailed by injury and inconsistency for the rest of the year. Injury concerns have flowed into the beginning of the new season, as he injured his ACL in late August, though the team thinks he will be OK for the start of the season. He should be the Grizzlies' starting center at the start of the season, but they have brought in two young projects in Marc Gasol and Hamed Haddadi, either of who may overtake Darko in mid-season.


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.

Forwards



Rudy Gay: It's fair to say that Gay took his game to the next level last season, becoming the third Memphis player ever to average 20 points per game (20.1). Gay also hit the 30-point plateau 12 times last year. He was also the only Grizzly last season to play in all 81 games, and played almost every minute of them (averaged 37 minutes). The work-ethic questions that accompanied him into the league seem to have been answered. The fact that he frequently drew the opposing team's defender last year encourages us to believe that his scoring presence is for real and will improve as he matures. He should lead the Grizzlies' offense now that Pau Gasol and Mike Miller are gone, so his improving field goal percentage may slide as he takes more shots, but his total amount of points should increase. He is also a plus stealer, and should lead the team in that category.


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.

Guards



Mike Conley, Jr.: Conley seemed pro-ready when the Grizzlies drafted him third overall in the 2007 draft, and he didn't do much to prove them wrong. That is, when he was healthy - he missed 29 games because of injury last year. But he did average 9.8 points and 3.9 assists per game after the All-Star break and averaged 9.9 points and 4.3 assists in his 46 starts. He is a very good passer (he had 22 games of five or more assists), and is pretty good at nabbing the ball away from the other team. He enters the season as the team's undisputed No. 1 point guard, and has two capable backups in Kyle Lowry and Javaris Crittenton to give him rest when needed. If he can stay healthy, which he should, he will have plenty go good offensive targets to dish the ball off to.


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.

Sleeper



Mike Conley, Jr.: Is it fair to call someone drafted third overall in the 2007 Draft a sleeper? He made into just 53 games last year because of injury, but showed a knack for running the offense when he did play. He'll be buried behind the ranks of Chris Paul and the like, but has a lot of offensive weapons to dish the ball to.

Bust



Darko Milicic: If either Marc Gasol or Hamed Haddadi can prove they can start in this league, Darko's minutes may be limited. It would be even worse if both of those guys develop this season.

Article first appeared on 9/24/08