6 Benchmarks for Memphis Grizzlies Regular-Season Success

Tom FirmeAnalyst IIOctober 31, 2012

6 Benchmarks for Memphis Grizzlies Regular-Season Success

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    If the Memphis Grizzlies can be expected to experience a substantial degree of playoff success, certain regular-season measures must be achieved. Memphis can't simply slip into the playoffs as a low seed after being beat around by good teams and seeing key players struggle through parts of the season.

    The Grizzlies need to see solid campaigns from its key players. Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay and Marc Gasol need to score to their capabilities. Tony Allen needs to be one of the very best patrolling the perimeter once again.

    Also, the Grizzlies need to be on their game defensively. Allen needs to lead a team that repeats its performance as the premier turnover-forcing team.

    Undoubtedly, Memphis must meet a minimum standard for a playoff spot.

    Follow along to see each of the benchmarks this small-market team must meet.

Top-4 Playoff Spot

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    A No. 4 playoff spot is a very fair standard of regular-season success for the Memphis Grizzlies. The Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder will easily be the top two teams in the Western Conference standings.

    If Tony Parker and Tim Duncan can maintain condition and Kawhi Leonard plays as expected, the Grizzlies could have a hard time passing them for the Southwest Division crown.

    Meanwhile, Memphis is fully capable of topping the Los Angeles Clippers and Denver Nuggets, the two teams that are on the same level as them.

    The Clippers have plenty of scorers to complement Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. Jamal Crawford, Caron Butler, Eric Bledsoe and Lamar Odom give Paul plenty of options, but Vinny Del Negro may not know how to use them.

    Del Negro could also lose his team like he did last season.

    The Nuggets are loaded with talent. Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried, Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Evan Fournier form an exciting young collective. Putting them with Andre Iguodala and Andre Miller is ideal. Iguodala is a do-it-all player who provides great leadership. Miller is a great guide to have behind Lawson.

    However, as impressive as this team looks, no one player stands out enough to push the team into the top four spots in the conference. Iguodala is the best player on the team, but he's the wrong player to have as the best player on the team.

    Ideally, Faried will break out. However, he'll take more than a year to go from being a rookie phenom to one of the beasts of Western frontcourts. That simply doesn't happen overnight.

    Both the Grizzlies and Nuggets have balance, but the Grizzlies' balance is much better than that of the Nuggets. Having three players who are top-five at their positions (Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol) and another who's top-seven at his (Mike Conley), is better than having Iggy and several hot pieces.

    The Grizzlies are very good, but not quite capable of racing the Lakers and Thunder for 60 wins. As Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated said, "We know what this team is capable of, and few teams defend so effectively throughout their entire rotation."

Lead the League in Steals and Turnovers Forced

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    Grizz fans can't expect their team to do anything less than lead the league in steals and turnovers forced. The "Grindhouse" did it the last two years. With Tony Allen, Mike Conley and Rudy Gay coming back in good condition, there's no reason to believe that they won't do it again.

    Conley, Allen and Gay each averaged 1.5 steals or more the last two years.

    Also, the Grizzlies had at least four players averaging a steal per game the last two years.

    Allen leads a rapacious defense that forces turnovers like no other. Allen pursues steals like no other backcourt player in the league, whether he's defending on the ball or providing help defense. Conley is almost as intense. Collectively, the Grizzlies grind opponents down and make it difficult for them to push it inside.

    When they do, they find themselves face-to-face with Marc Gasol, one of the sturdiest interior defenders in the league. Gasol averaged just under a steal per game the last two years and blocked 1.9 shots per game last season.

    Expect the Grizzlies to pick pockets better than all other teams once again this season. Anything less would be a surprise.

Win Half of Games on the Road

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    The Grizzlies have struggled to beat teams on the road the last two years. Last season, the Grizz went 15-18 on the road. That was an improvement upon the 2010-11 season when they went 16-25 on the road.

    This is a different team on the road. The Grizzlies averaged 7.5 fewer points per game and shot 2.5 percent worse from the field on the road last season. Also, while they allowed only 1.4 more points per game on the road last season, they allowed opponents to hit shots at a 2.3 percent higher clip away from FedEx Forum.

    Mike Conley and Marc Gasol shoot significantly worse from the field on the road. Gasol shot 6.3 percent worse on the road. Gay shot 3.8 percent worse from the field and 3.4 percent better from three-point range on the road.

    Indeed, Memphis did improve its road record last season. With continued improvement on the road, a .500 record outside of Shelby County is a reasonable goal.

Beat Two of the Top Three in Western Conference at Least Twice

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    The Memphis Grizzlies didn't fare well against the top three teams in the conference last season. The men wearing the three shades of blue went 2-9 against the Spurs, Lakers and Thunder. They lost all four games against San Antonio, two of three against the Lake Show and three of four against the Thunder.

    In March, Ronald Tillery of the Commercial Appeal summed up the Grizzlies' struggles against the teams ahead of them in the standings to that point with one word: "Ouch."

    As Tillery implies, Grizz fans can be worried when thinking about their favorite team's chances against those teams come playoff time if they can't beat them in the regular season.

    Indeed, regular season performances against other playoff teams don't provide foolproof guides to how a playoff series would shake out.

    Still, a team looks much better going into the playoffs if it goes into the playoffs with some evidence of an ability to beat the best teams in the conference.

    If the Grizzlies can beat two of the three best teams (or three best teams other than them if they're in the top three), they would look more competitive in the playoffs than if they rise up by beating bad teams like last season.

    They would appear more capable of not only winning a first-round series, but also taking down the top teams in the following rounds.

Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol Combine to Average 56 Points Per Game

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    The Grizzlies will be looking for their best players to step up this season. Zach Randolph will be counted upon to come back strong. Marc Gasol is basically the guy at center as he has been the last couple years. Rudy Gay's scoring could be the difference between an NBA Finals appearance and a first-round exit.

    Combining the offense of the three players effectively is essential for the Grizzlies. The double post combination of Gasol and Randolph must work the way it did in 2010-11. Gasol vowed to the Commercial Appeal that he would pursue buckets more aggressively.

    If he can continue his offensive progress after upping his scoring average by 2.9 to 14.6 points per game in 2011-12, he'll be quite the offensive threat.

    Randolph had been a force like no other below-the-basket inside guy before last season. He had averaged 18 points per game seven times in the eight seasons prior to last year. He averaged 20 per game five times. Having his offense back for an entire season is a must.

    Rudy Gay has pushed himself hard through the offseason and preseason, not that that translates into anything when the NBA regular season arrives. He's been a strong scorer, but not an elite one. After averaging 20.1 points per game in his second season, he's put up 18.9 to 19.8 in the four seasons since then.

    What matters isn't whether Gay works hard. That drive needs to be directed towards taking over the scoring when the time calls. If he does, he could average 22 points per game.

    With Randolph in strong condition, Gay going hard and Gasol continuing to improve his game, this trio should combine for 56 points per game. By some combination, Randolph and Gay should add up to at least 40 points per game. If Randolph is in rhythm, he should post 20 per game. Gay is fully capable of doing the same.

    Gasol's progression should lead him to at least 16 points per game.

    If this trio falls short, it isn't a huge disappointment. Besides, this is a balanced scoring team. Nevertheless, in order for the Grizz to look competitive going into the playoffs, Gay needs to burn the net and Gasol and Randolph need to punch it in often inside.

3 Bench Players Averaging 7 Points Per Game

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    Last season, the Grizzlies scooted by with O.J. Mayo as their only significant bench scorer. Averaging 12.6 points per game, Mayo was the only Memphis bench player scoring even six points per game. He was the only one to score in double figures five times last year.

    Without Mayo, the Grizzlies don't have an absolute guarantee to have a player repeating Mayo's performance off the bench last season. Josh Selby blew up in the summer league, but his preseason numbers (25 points on 9-of-27 shooting in five games) were unimpressive.

    Jerryd Bayless had a great season average last season of 11.4 points per game on 42.4 percent shooting, but that was in 31 games.

    Marreese Speights can knock down shots, but he's no high-volume scorer.

    However, the Grizzlies are assuredly a deep team in regards to bench scoring. Speights has established himself as a reliable jump shooter, even in short minutes. Bayless scored a fair amount last season, even as a reserve. He scored 7.9 per game in 20 games as a reserve last season.

    Selby is at least an energetic enough scorer to put up several points per game.

    Darrell Arthur averaged 9.1 points in 20.1 minutes per game in 2010-11 before missing the 2011-12 season due to a torn Achilles tendon.

    Wayne Ellington scored between six and seven points per game in each of his first three seasons.

    The Grizzlies need to have the collection of scoring that these players are capable of providing. A fair standard would be to see Bayless, Speights and either Selby or Arthur average seven points per game off the bench.

    That would ensure that the Grizzlies would receive balanced scoring off the bench, with reserves offsetting each other when some aren't able to hit shots.