The Memphis Grizzlies are in decent shape right now. They're 28-22 and sit sixth in the Western Conference. Despite losing six of their last 10 games, the Grizzlies didn't slide far down the standings.
As it currently stands, the Grizzlies look like a good bet to make the playoffs in a competitive Western Conference. They play seven of their next nine games against winning teams. After that, it's smooth sailing for the Grizzlies. They finish with six of seven games against losing teams.
Having said that, one can reasonably look at what the Grizzlies rotation will look like come playoff time. For some teams, the rotation has been set for much of the season.
However, for the Grizzlies, there are still some fluid parts that may change places. Zach Randolph has been transitioning back from injury for the last couple weeks, and he may overtake Marreese Speights in the Grizzlies' lineup. Gilbert Arenas was only signed by the Grizzlies in the last two weeks, and many wonder how he'll figure into their playoff rotation.
Thus, the Grizzlies rotation will be one to watch in the next few weeks as the regular season winds down. Lionel Hollins will be fine-tuning his roster to be sure that the right players are ready to fit the right roles.
Following are predictions for the Grizzlies playoff rotation, with starters and key reserves.
Practically, no one would think of anyone starting at center for the Grizzlies in the playoffs other than Marc Gasol. Gasol averages 38 minutes per game. The Grizzlies have only one other center on their roster, Hamed Haddadi, who cracks 15 minutes once in a blue moon.
Generally, the Grizzlies can be confident in Gasol. He'll hit his shots at home, as he shoots 51.2 percent and scores 17.4 points per game at home. Road play is a different story for Gasol, who shoots 46 percent from the field on the road, and worse than 40 percent against .500 teams on the road.
Grizzlies fans have to hope that the man Tony Allen calls "Big Spain" can hit shots in the playoffs.
Like Marc Gasol, it's hard to think of anyone but Rudy Gay starting at his position for the Grizzlies. Sure, if he were injured or completely out of sorts, Dante Cunningham or Quincy Pondexter could hold down the fort. Nevertheless, Gay is the man at small forward. He averages 37.6 minutes per game and has started all 49 games he's played.
The Grizzlies offense runs through Gay. He often gets the ball on fast breaks. Sometimes, he'll go wire-to-wire or play off the dribble. No Grizzlies' player creates more for himself or takes more liberty with the ball than Gay does.
Gay's the Grizzlies' leading scorer (18.8 points per game) and shot taker (16.7 field-goal attempts per game), as well as their No. 3 rebounder (6.6 rebounds per game).
Thus, there's no question he'll be in the starting lineup for the Grizzlies.
This position causes a knee-jerk reaction for many people. Zach Randolph was the leading force for the Grizzlies' playoff run last season, averaging 22.2 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. He'd been their best player for the past two years. Conventional wisdom would say that Randolph would start in the playoffs.
However, Randolph missed 37 games due to a partially torn MCL, and he has generally played second fiddle to Marreese Speights since coming back.
Many would question the logic of having the highest paid player, and someone who was considered a top-20 player coming into the year, come off the bench.
However, Lionel Hollins approaches the game differently from the average coach or observer. He had been working to define the Grizzlies' rotation before Randolph returned to the court. He was more concerned about whether Speights and Dante Cunningham could be solid in their respective frontcourt assignments than being sure the Randolph-Speights combination flowed well.
Speights continues to play a decent amount, even with Randolph back. In the last eight games, he's averaged 18.3 minutes per game.
Speights has started the last four games. Hollins wants to go with the players whom he feels most confident starting. Even though Randolph is the big money guy and is an established NBA star, Hollins is more comfortable starting Speights because he's started most of the season.
Speights has gone through all of the bumps in the schedule and has developed chemistry with the other starters. Hollins values chemistry and wants to see the starters playing in rhythm.
The Memphis Grizzlies are the "Grindhouse" because of Tony Allen's defensive leadership—as Allen sometimes says, "Keep that grind." He's the center of the Grizzlies team identity. His tireless defensive work ethic is reflected in the team's defensive play. He lays on pressure and goes for steals, and his teammates follow suit.
Allen has started every game he's been healthy. He plays 26.4 minutes per game, the least of the Grizzlies starters, because O.J. Mayo has to come in to provide the offense that Allen doesn't.
Allen normally hasn't figured highly in the Grizzlies offense. He's typically the fourth or fifth scoring option, since he doesn't touch the ball as much in the half court and turns the ball over more (15.2 percent turnover rate, worst among anyone in the Grizzlies rotation).
Allen is a big-time difference maker on defense. He's seventh in the league in steals per game (1.7) and third in steals percentage (3.5). In the playoffs last season, he averaged 29.3 minutes with 1.93 steals per game and had a 3.8 percent steal rate.
Look for him to play about the same amount of minutes, perhaps a little more, in the playoffs.
Mike Conley has been a pretty good floor general this year for the Grizzlies. He has career-highs in assists per game (7.1), steals per game and free-throw percentage (84.6 percent). He's dishing it out at a more consistent rate than in years past (31.8 percent assist rate). One wouldn't expect his assist rate to be extremely high since the Grizzlies run the fast break often.
He averages 35.8 minutes per game, also a career high. While Conley has missed a few games due to ankle injuries, he's been the main man when he's healthy. Jeremy Pargo has started when Conley's been down, and Josh Selby has played a little bit, as has Gilbert Arenas. Still, none of these players would give Hollins a second thought about starting Conley.
Expect Conley to start in the postseason, barring injury. He'll likely play more than 35 minutes most games.
O.J. Mayo has had the greatest impact of any Grizzlies reserve this season. He's come up big when they've needed him. He scored 22 in an overtime win against the Denver Nuggets on March 11. On Saturday, he scored 24 in a win against the Milwaukee Bucks.
Mayo plays 26.6 minutes per game and is the only Grizzlies player to have played all 50 games. With those numbers—and his 12.2 points per game—one can hardly wonder in retrospect why the Grizzlies didn't trade him. They simply had no other significant scorer off the bench.
He was a significant player last year in the playoffs, averaging 11.3 points in 27.8 minutes per game.
He'll likely play and score more this year in the playoffs.
Zach Randolph is just edging his way back. He was big in his first game back, putting up 25 points in 25 minutes. Since then, he hasn't scored 20 points in a game and doesn't play a high number of minutes.
Randolph is doing a nice job in a smaller amount of playing time than he's used to playing. He's averaging 12.7 points and 7.4 rebounds in 27.8 minutes per game in his nine games since coming back from injury. Six of those games saw him coming off the bench.
He'll probably continue to come off the bench. Hollins seems set on the rotation, with Marreese Speights starting at power forward.
It's strange to see, but that's how it is and that's how it'll be in the playoffs.
Far more people have heard of Gilbert Arenas than Quincy Pondexter. Still, Pondexter will likely get more minutes than Arenas in the playoffs. Pondexter has played more with the Grizzlies this season. Even since Arenas arrived in Memphis, Pondexter has received more minutes.
On Saturday, Pondexter scored 10 points in 20 minutes, while Arenas scored four in 16 minutes.
Arenas has conceded that he's still trying to get back in the swing of things, as he told The Commercial Appeal after the game against the Bucks, "My three-point shot is still a little short. I've just got to get my NBA rhythm back."
Overall, Pondexter has been a modest contributor, averaging 4.4 points in 15.4 minute per game. He's played 48 games and started in three of them.
Arenas still could find his way into playing significant minutes in some playoff games, as occasions will rise when Hollins is looking for another veteran presence on the floor for some offensive magic.
Dante Cunningham has been a pretty good role player off the bench for the Grizzlies this season. He gives good defensive energy off the bench and can effectively guard the more athletic big men. Lionel Hollins likes using him more than Marreese Speights in such situations.
Cunningham has received fewer minutes since Zach Randolph returned. He's played 10 or fewer minutes in six of the nine games since Randolph's return. Still, he finds his way into valuable minutes, like Tuesday against the T'Wolves when he scored 13 points and grabbed 14 rebounds (both career highs) in 40 minutes as he started in place of Marc Gasol.
Cunningham will probably receive between 10 and 15 minutes per game most nights. However, look for him to get at least 20 when Hollins is looking for someone to blow up a matchup against an athletic big man.