Memphis Grizzlies Report Card: All-Star Break Grades for All Key Players

Tom Firme@TFirmeAnalyst IIFebruary 28, 2012

Memphis Grizzlies Report Card: All-Star Break Grades for All Key Players

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    The Memphis Grizzlies are in excellent position heading into the the second half of the season. At 19-15, the Grizzlies stand seventh in the Western Conference. While many would have expected them to fall out of the playoff race with Zach Randolph out, the Grizzlies have held strong.

    A .500 record to this point would have been reasonable, but they've worked their way into the thick of the playoff race.

    The Grizzlies are benefiting from solid performances from key players to remain this competitive. Marc Gasol springboarded his career year into an All-Star Game appearance. Rudy Gay has taken the reins of the team with Randolph out, transforming the offense. Mike Conley and Tony Allen have been great defensively.

    Follow along for grades on all eight key Grizzlies players.


    Note: Players must have played at least 14 minutes per game in order to be considered for grades.

Rudy Gay

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    Grade: B+

    Rudy Gay has been the man for the Grizzlies this season. He's taken hold of his leadership role on the team, turning the team into a transition offense team. He runs the floor and makes plays on cross-court gallops.

    Gay has been in solid form. After a slow start, Gay has upped his game, now averaging 18.9 points and a career-high 6.6 rebounds per game. His 39.4 percent three-point mark is just off his career mark set last season.

    One would like his field-goal (45.2 percent) and free-throw (71.9 percent) rates to be better.

    Recently, Gay has been a persistent scoring presence. He scored 20 points or more in six of the last eight games before the All-Star break. He's averaging 20.5 points per game on 45.7 percent shooting in February.

    Expect Gay to continue to his strong scoring and improve his shooting when Zach Randolph returns. The offense will likely settle down with Randolph back.

Marc Gasol

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    Grade: B+

    Marc Gasol certainly earned his All-Star spot. He emerged as a premier center this season, averaging career highs in points (15.1), rebounds (10.1), blocks (2.2) and assists per game (3.1) and free-throw percentage (75.1 percent). Gasol stands fifth in blocks and minutes per game (38.1) and ninth in rebounds per game.

    He's fourth in defensive win shares (2.3), showing how crucial he is to the Grizzlies' defensive success.

    Among centers, Gasol is second in assists per game.

    Gasol is emerging as a solid inside presence. Teams have to be careful going up against him, since he's a threat at blocking and stealing the ball. Further, his thick build allows him bully opponents defensively. On offense, Gasol has become that player to whom Rudy Gay and Mike Conley can confidently dump it for an easy bucket.

    Gasol's disappointing 49.3 percent field-goal mark is pulled down by his 46.3 percent road field-goal mark. Hopefully, Gasol can figure out how to shoot on the road and raise his shooting mark.

    Gasol should play even better when Zach Randolph returns, since the two work amazingly together. Gasol and Randolph are dynamic double post threats, taking it inside and rolling off screens. Teams will be hard-pressed to stop them in tandem now that Gasol has started to turn the corner.

Mike Conley

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    Grade: A-

    Mike Conley has upped his game this season. His offensive averages are nice (13.2 points per game and 6.7 assists per game). His field-goal percentage (42.8 percent) doesn't jump off the page. His assist mark and rate (30.6 percent) aren't impressive.

    However, Conley is a key part of the Grizzlies transition offense. He helps run the ball in transition. Conley makes great outlet passes. His league-leading 2.5 steals per game are a major factor in the Grizzlies' fast break attack.

    Also, Conley has turned into a great free-throw shooter. He's hitting 88.6 percent from the line, 6.9 percent better than his previous high.

    Conley will definitely be one to watch down the stretch as he transitions the offense back to fit Zach Randolph's style.

Tony Allen

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    Grade: A+

    Tony Allen has done everything the Grizzlies could have asked him to do to this point. He's been his typically dominant defensive presence, averaging 1.9 steals per game and holding a 3.8 steal percentage.

    Also, Allen's averaging double figures for the second time in his career. His 10.9 points per game have been crucial for the sustenance of the Grizzlies offense while shooting a career-high 80.3 percent at the line.

    Tony Allen is the Grizzlies "Grindhouse," commanding a defense that leads the league in steals (338). His defensive energy is essential to the success of the Grizzlies, more than any offensive output the Grizzlies could amount.

Marreese Speights

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    Grade: B-

    Marreese Speights has been on the rebound recently. He has averaged 12.4 points and 9.4 rebounds per game in the last nine games entering the All-Star break. That came after a 10-game stretch in which Speights had averaged 5.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game on a dismal 32.2 percent from the field, working only 17.4 minutes per game.

    Evidently, Speights struggled with the reduction in minutes and swooned at the return to a more significant minute load.

    He does better with more minutes. Speights shoots 34 percent from the field when playing 10 to 19 minutes per game, 38.9 percent when playing 20 to 29 minutes per game and 62.5 percent when playing 30 to 39 minutes per game.

    Speights has to make the most of his time left before Zach Randolph returns to the lineup. After Randolph returns, Speights will have to figure out how to be effective while playing fewer minutes.

O.J. Mayo

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    Grade: B

    O.J. Mayo has been a nice scoring punch to this point for the Grizzlies off the bench. He's averaging 11.9 points per game. His field-goal percentage has dipped recently, but not too much. Still, his 41.7 percent field-goal mark could be better. He's hit less than 40 percent of his shots in 14 of 34 games, which is a few too many.

    Still, the Grizzlies have to be happy that Mayo has scored in double figures in 23 of 34 games.

    This will be a crucial stretch for Mayo. He'll have to endure the visceral, often outrageous trade rumors to score efficiently. If he survives this stretch and stays with the Grizzlies, he'll be an important piece for a postseason run for the Grizzlies.

Dante Cunningham

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    Grade: B

    Dante Cunningham has been a nice contributor for the Grizzlies to this point. His five points and 4.3 rebounds per game are just fine for his 19 minutes per game. His 48.4 percent shooting has been decent.

    Cunningham give the Grizzlies a long, athletic presence on defense. He was a big part of the Grizzlies' win against the Atlanta Hawks on February. He held Josh Smith to 11 points while pulling down 12 rebounds in 28 minutes.

    Cunningham has done nicely, and he should compete well for minutes with Marreese Speights when Zach Randolph comes back.

Quincy Pondexter

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    Grade: B-

    Quincy Pondexter has been another nice breath of all-around athleticism. He's averaging 4.1 points and two rebounds per game in 14.3 minutes per game while shooting 43.9 percent.

    Pondexter rarely receives many minutes. He's only played 25 or more minutes twice, and made the most of each opportunity. On February 8 against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Pondexter scored 17 points in 36 minutes while starting for Tony Allen. He put up 13 points in 28 minutes against the Houston Rockets on December 30.

    Pondexter could be a significant player as the grueling stretch run presses on the Grizzlies, especially if O.J. Mayo is traded.