STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Grizzlies entered the 2011-12 season with perhaps their loftiest expectations since moving to Memphis a decade ago. Fresh off their first playoff appearance in five years, the Grizzlies were a trendy sleeper pick to challenge for the Western Conference crown. The team finished as the No. 4 seed in the West, but things did not go exactly to plan. Zach Randolph tore his MCL in the first week of the season and was limited to a bench role after returning in mid-March. Randolph returned to the Grizzlies’ starting five for a first-round playoff set against the Clippers, which the Grizzlies wound up losing in seven games.
The biggest offseason change came at the top of the organization. Principal owner Michael Heisey, who moved the team from Vancouver, agreed to a deal in principle to sell the team to a group headed by 30-something billionaire Robert Pera. Pera vowed to keep the team in Memphis, and it appears he is OK with the team’s recent policy of signing core players to lucrative deals. Other prominent offseason action included O.J. Mayo leaving for the Mavericks, but fellow 2008 first-round pick Jerryd Bayless will replace him on the bench.
Things again look bright for the 2012-13 season, and anything less than a top-four playoff seed would be a disappointment. If Randolph is anywhere near his 20/10 ways of two seasons ago, then this team could cause some real damage in the Western Conference.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
Coach Lionel Hollins rides his starters hard, and this season should be no exception, even with an improved bench. Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, and Marc Gasol should all be in line for 35+ minutes per night at the one, three and five, respectively. Zach Randolph could join that group if his knee is 100 percent. Tony Allen, who will start at the two, will probably be the lone member of the starting five not to meet the 35-mpg threshold, probably seeing something closer to 25-30. His minutes may be up a bit from last year’s since O.J. Mayo is gone, but guys like Quincy Pondexter, Wayne Ellington and Jerryd Bayless should combine for the other 20-25 minutes at the two. Bayless should also serve as the Grizzlies’ primary backup point guard, and Pondexter should be Rudy Gay’s primary backup at the three. Darrell Arthur and Marreesse Speights should be the team’s primary reserve big men, each seeing 15-20 minutes per night.
Marc Gasol: Gasol signed a lucrative five-year, $58-million deal prior to the 2011-12 season, and he proved to be worth the investment. The bruising center tied a career-high scoring mark by averaging 14.6 points per game. On the defensive side of the ball, Gasol was better than ever, posting averages of 1.9 blocks and 1.0 steals. Gasol dished out a sneaky 3.1 assists per game last season, which led all centers. The only knock against Gasol’s stellar season is that much of the production came with Zach Randolph on the shelf. However, Gasol managed to average 15.1 points, 6.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.9 blocks with Randolph healthy and starting alongside him in the playoffs. At 27, Gasol is in the prime of his career and should continue to blossom.
Hamed Haddadi: Haddadi’s 2011-12 season started late because of visa issues, and he did not see much action on the floor even with several of the team’s primary big men hurting. Haddadi averaged 12.4 rebounds per 36 minutes, but he logged double-digit minutes in only six regular season games. Expect a similar role in 2012-13.
Darrell Arthur: Arthur missed the entire 2011-12 season after he tore his right Achilles’ tendon in training camp and underwent surgery in December. The Grizzlies must believe he is healthy, as they signed him to a three-year deal in early-August and had no qualms about trading Dante Cunningham to the Timberwolves. A healthy Arthur should serve in a role similar to the one he played in 2010-11 – one of the first big guys off the bench, with an increased role if injury befalls either Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol.
Rudy Gay: Gay brings a lot to the table from a fantasy perspective, and his averages in the counting stats have been consistent the past five seasons. The only negative on Gay’s resume from last season was his poor shooting from outside. He hoisted 2.7 threes per game, but only connected on 31.2 percent of them, down from 39.6 percent shooting from long range in 2010-11. He’s not much of a distributer, but his averages of 6.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 0.8 blocks helped keep him in the top tiers of small forwards.
Quincy Pondexter: The Grizzlies added Pondexter to their frontcourt early in the season after they lost Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur to injuries. The second-year player never took on too large of a role in the Grizzlies’ offense, and he averaged just 5.9 points in his eight games as a starter. He could earn a bit more playing time in 2012-13 with O.J. Mayo gone, but he will need to scrap for minutes behind Tony Allen and Rudy Gay.
Zach Randolph: Randolph tore the MCL in his right knee four games into last season, and he returned in a limited fashion in March. He showed real signs of health in the playoffs, and he remains a dangerous low-post scorer with a variety of moves. Prior to his injury-marred 2011-12 season, Randolph had averaged over 20 points per game and at least 10 rebounds for three straight seasons. However, he fails to contribute much in the other counting categories. He averages 0.3 blocks per game for his career and has never been a good or willing passer. With a full offseason to get the knee healthy, Randolph should resume his typical production.
Marreese Speights: The Grizzlies acquired Speights from the Sixers in early January when they were in need of a big body to fill Zach Randolph’s spot, so Speights started a career-high 54 games. Not surprisingly, he also set career-bests in points per game (8.8), rebounds per game (6.2) and shots per game (8.1). While his raw averages were career-highs, his points per 36 minutes was actually a career-low (14.1). He will shift back to a reserve role in 2012-13, but he should be an active player in the Grizzlies’ frontcourt rotation.
Tony Allen: Allen was among the top perimeter defenders in the game and he was recognized as such in 2011-12, winning NBA All-Defensive First-Team honors. He can easily get overlooked because he doesn’t fit the mold of the prototypical scoring two-guard, nor does he rack up gaudy assist numbers. However, Allen was among the league leaders in steals per game with 1.8 while adding a quality 4.0 boards. More understated was his impressive 46.9 percent shooting percentage. While that percentage is an unusually high number for a two-guard, it was actually a step back for Allen, who has shot 48.2 percent for his career. The most optimal approach for your fantasy roster would probably be to pair Allen with more of a scoring threat at shooting guard, combining to produce elite numbers at the position.
Jerryd Bayless: Injuries limited Bayless to 31 games in 2011-12, but he enjoyed the best statistical line of his four-year career when on the court. He averaged 11.4 points and 3.8 assists in just under 23 minutes per game for the Raptors. The Grizzlies signed him to a two-year contract in free agency, and he should be the team’s primary guard off the bench. He should take O.J. Mayo’s spot in the rotation, but Bayless is a much more adept ball handler than Mayo was, so he could see more of the one than Mayo did. Bayless’ 42.3 percent shooting from three-point range in 2011-12 would have led the Grizzlies, so he should see more opportunities from downtown.
Mike Conley: Conley ratcheted up the defensive intensity last season, notching 2.2 steals per game which was good for second in the league. He was serviceable offensively, scoring 12.7 points on 43.3 percent shooting with 6.5 assists. O.J. Mayo’s departure in the offseason could liberate Conley in the backcourt. With Conley expected to command more control of the offense, his assist totals could climb a little, as could the amount of times he calls his own number. He’d do well to attack the basket, as he shot a career-best 86.1 percent from the charity stripe last year. He’s also underrated as a marksman, shooting 37.9 percent from downtown for his career.
Wayne Ellington: The Grizzlies traded for Ellington over the summer, and he should be used as an offensive boost off the bench with O.J. Mayo departed to free agency. That boost will depend on Ellington’s shooting from beyond the arc being closer to the 40 percent from his first two seasons rather than his 32.4 percent from last year. He should start the season as Tony Allen’s backup at the two, but he could tumble down the depth chart if the three’s do not fall.
Josh Selby: Selby seemed to continually cycle through the No. 2 point guard role, to inactive, to the D-League in 2011-12. He had a good offseason, earning co-MVP honors in the NBA Summer League after he averaged 24.2 points, 2.4 steals and shot 64.3 percent from beyond the arc. That sort of shooting could earn him a spot in the guard rotation, but he is probably a few years away from serious playing time.
Tony Wroten: Wroten was the Grizzlies’ sole selection in the 2012 Draft. He won Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Honors on the heels of averaging 16.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.9 steals per game in his only year at the University of Washington. Wroten is a much more adept passer than shooter at this point in his career and he is a few years away from having an impact in the NBA.
Zach Randolph: Some may be scared off by a 31-year-old big man coming off a significant knee injury, which could depress Randolph’s value come draft day. True, he only started eight regular season games in 2011-12 and averaged a paltry 11.6 points per. However, he was still an active force on the boards, and he put up some Randolph-esque offensive performances against the Clippers in the playoffs. He might not reach his 20-10 plateau of a few seasons ago, but he should at least be a double-double machine.
Marreese Speights: Speights set career-highs in many categories in 2011-12, but it is hard to envision much of a follow-up performance in 2012-13. Zach Randolph will undoubtedly reclaim the starting PF spot on Day 1, which will leave Speights to contend with the returning Darrell Arthur for reserve minutes in the front court. Let someone else get distracted by his 8.8 ppg from last season.