Dave Joerger picks up the fabric after the Memphis Grizzlies claimed a franchise-record 56 wins and their first conference-finals berth. The new head coach must determine how to improve a rotation that defends fiercely and scores just enough.
The San Antonio Spurs exposed the Grizzlies' offensive issues in a Western Conference Finals sweep. The Spurs collapsed on Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph and attacked Mike Conley, leaving Memphis with no recourse.
Unfortunately, not much has changed. This leaves Joerger hoping his assistants can sketch something that maximizes the team's scoring talents.
Here's a preview of how the Grizzlies will look in the regular season, how they'll compare with the other Western powers, and how they'll finish after 82 games.
The Grizz suffocate teams with their high-pressure defense. They were second in defensive rating and opponent turnover percentage. Four of their starters placed in the top 16 in defensive rating.
The "Grit 'n' Grind" defense pounces on ball-handlers like no other. Tony Allen gambles on steal possibilities but became more disciplined in 2012-13, grabbing 1.5 steals per game while allowing 98.4 points per 100 possessions after having 1.8 per game and allowing 100 per 100 a year before.
Mike Conley is a steady force, sensing when to steal the ball.
Defensive player of the year Marc Gasol covers a fair amount of space on the inside, sometimes making up for missed plays by Zach Randolph.
By itself, the Grizzlies' defense guarantees them a top-five playoff spot.
The Grizz improved on the boards after finishing ninth in defensive rebounding percentage and second in offensive rebounding percentage. In a draft-day deal, they acquired Kosta Koufos, who averaged 11.1 rebounds per 36 minutes.
Koufos joins one of the premier rebounders in Randolph, who was in the top five in rebounds per game in his last three full seasons, and Gasol, who pulled down 7.8 per game.
Memphis' ability at the line is a hidden strength. It placed 10th in the category and had three players shooting 80 percent. The Grizz didn't reach the line as much as most teams, placing 16th in that category.
If they drew more fouls, teams would struggle stopping them.
Randolph and Gasol have plowed through seasons of long minutes without much behind them. Both have averaged more than 34 minutes per game in three of the past four seasons. Typically, they had one power forward to spell them. Backup centers, such as Hamed Haddadi and Dexter Pittman, stepped on the court sparingly.
Now, the Grizzlies have a trio of big men worthy of significant minutes. Ed Davis is a developing yet promising rebounder and shooter. Kosta Koufos, acquired in a draft-day deal, is deadly from point-blank range and pulled down 11.1 rebounds per 36 minutes.
The Grizzlies' offensive efficiency improved after the Rudy Gay trade, but they remained vulnerable because teams only had to pay attention to Gasol, Randolph and Conley among starters. Allen doesn't shoot well, and Prince rarely touches the ball.
Like in years past, the Grizzlies' scoring is bent on Gasol and Randolph taking jump shots and one backcourt player driving the lane with an occasional perimeter shooter hoisting a three-pointer.
None of them shoot a ton, but that's not the problem. Randolph shot 46 percent, 4.3 percent worse than 2010-11. At 6'1", Conley is a small guy to be a slasher. Both Conley and Gasol are a bit hesitant.
Indeed, the Grizzlies offense is still evolving in the post-Gay era. Conley, who was a reluctant perimeter shooter before the trade, continues to develop his shooting approach. Gasol is shooting more. Quincy Pondexter is becoming a more significant shooter.
The Grizzlies didn't show much interest in launching shots beyond the arc last season, taking the fewest attempts in the league. They placed 24th in three-point field-goal percentage, shooting below the league average even after the Gay trade.
Quincy Pondexter, Conley and Mike Miller are their only effective three-point shooters. Perhaps with some prodding, Tayshaun Prince could take more than 1.1 long-range shots per game to become a threat from distance.
With Miller, they'll only be able to use him 15 minutes per game in 55 or 60 contests, depending on his health.
After a third straight year averaging at least 34.5 minutes per game, Mike Conley is looking at another season with a heavy minute load. Jerryd Bayless returns, but his effectiveness is tied to playing alongside Conley, according to Zach Lowe of Grantland.
Tony Wroten likely won't become a regular rotation player. He didn't improve his shooting or ball-handling in the NBA Summer League.
If they sign Mo Williams, and ESPN.com's Marc Stein tweeted they might, this area won't hurt the Grizz, and Conley would receive more rest.
Poor relations between Lionel Hollins and the front office saw the team parting ways with the most successful coach in franchise history. Then came the promotion of Joerger to head coach.
Joerger, who helped design the "Grit 'n' Grind" defense as an assistant, may seem on the face to be a continuation of the Hollins regime. Like Hollins, he's personable and enforces a tough defensive approach.
However, the front office likely saw in Joerger a coach willing to implement John Hollinger's analytics-based approach, whereas Hollins was not.
Since three of the four significant free-agent signings were retained players and Miller's health will be an item to watch, the only notable acquisition was Koufos. As mentioned above, his arrival alters what the Grizz can do inside.
Arthur was the only player averaging double-digit minutes per game to depart. After missing the 2011-12 season with an Achilles injury and 23 games this past campaign due to multiple ailments, his vulnerability to injury made him less of an asset.
Memphis' two draft picks, Jamaal Franklin and Janis Timma, likely won't have a sizable impact as rookies. Franklin's ball-handling and shot selection require improvement. Timma, who saw 13 minutes per game in the NBA Summer League, might not make the roster.
Comparisons with Other Western Contenders
Every year, scribes fall into the trap of dismissing the Spurs as an old, fading group. But they still pummel teams almost every time they decide to start their key players.
Most fans' image of the Spurs is based on the trio of Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan and Tony Parker, who are a combined 106 years of age.
That's misleading, since Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw are the only other two San Antonio players past age 30. Most of the Spurs are 28 or younger.
Also, most San Antonio players are shooters. Seven shot at least 48 percent from the field, and seven hit better than 37 percent from three-point range. Their wide array of shooters earned them the second-best effective field-goal percentage and helped them sweep the Grizzlies.
Replacing Stephen Jackson with Marco Belinelli made the Spurs an even more dangerous shooting team. Belinelli shot 38 percent from three-point range for the Chicago Bulls last season.
As always, the Spurs are excellent on defense. Tim Duncan had the best defensive rating last year. Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard and Manu Ginobili also allowed 100 or fewer points per 100 possessions.
With Duncan and Parker going out well-rested when they play and Leonard and Danny Green growing, the Spurs are set for another Southwest Division crown.
The Rockets jumped from being a fringe playoff team to a possible contender after signing Dwight Howard.
Howard improves one of the best scoring teams in the league. He's among the tops in field-goal percentage every year, hitting shots fairly well from the low post and killing defenses on the pick-and-roll.
Granted, his free-throw shooting drags on a team that ranked 17th in the category last season.
The three-time defensive player of the year should boost a team that was 16th in defensive rating last year. Last year, he allowed 100 points per 100 possessions in what was a subpar season for him.
Generally, Houston is deep. The Rockets have shooters all around in James Harden, Chandler Parsons and Aaron Brooks. Greg Smith, Marcus Camby and Omer Asik combine with Howard to make one of the best interior rotations in the league.
That quartet will challenge the Grizzlies' prowess on the glass. Still, Gasol and Randolph could beat them with superior aggression and positioning.
Houston's shooters will challenge the Grizzlies' perimeter defenders. They rotate the ball quickly and put up good attempts from the outside.
Then again, Kevin McHale's team had the worst turnover rate in the league. Harden led the league in turnovers. Lin was 10th. Asik had an 18.8-percent turnover rate.
That gives the Grizz a huge opening to frustrate Houston's ball-handlers.
That Howard is the Rockets' X-factor makes their contender status tenuous. If he plays as hard as he did before suffering back problems in Orlando, they'll pass the Grizzlies for one of the top three seeds. On the other hand, a continuation of the lackadaisical attitude that he showed in Los Angeles would put them in the bottom half of the bracket.
Anyway, with their total collection of talent and scoring ability, the Rockets should continue the mostly split season series, with outcomes based on whether the games are in Houston or Memphis. Both teams dominate their home courts, and the Rockets were 16-25 on the road in 2012-13.
In the past two years, the Clippers had intimidating talent but didn't make people jump because Vinny Del Negro couldn't coach them to the promised land. Del Negro had underwhelming schemes and churned the rotation.
Last year, his lack of coaching acumen was masked in the first round of the playoffs by the array of mistakes the Grizzlies made. After Memphis began defending them in this year's series, Del Negro didn't have any answers. The Clippers had two players in scoring 15 points or more in Games 4, 5 and 6 and had one 20-point performance from someone other than Chris Paul after Game 2.
The arrival of Doc Rivers brings a head coach who can convince players to buy into his system and surround himself with assistants who implement excellent schemes.
The Clippers have added to their crowd of talent, acquiring J.J. Redick, Darren Collison and Jared Dudley.
L.A. has a chance to drill teams with a wide array of shooting. Dudley, Redick, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes will knock down numerous three-pointers, while Chris Paul and Blake Griffin pound it in the paint.
Their defense will be even better than last season when they were eighth in defensive rating and tops in steals. Rivers will push two solid defending stars in Paul and Griffin. Barnes will continue enforcing the type of defensive toughness that Allen does.
In a worst-case scenario, the Clippers will square off with the Grizz in another No. 4-No. 5 first-round series.
If everything fits together, they'll reach the No. 2 seed.
The Thunder remain the dominant force in the West. Kevin Durant will try again to become the best player in the NBA. Russell Westbrook was off crutches on June 18, according to Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman, and posted a video showing off his renewed mobility on July 21.
Thabo Sefolosha is becoming a bigger perimeter threat. He stepped up last year, scoring a career-high 7.9 points per game on 48.1-percent shooting while hitting 41.9 percent from downtown. The 29-year-old may take his game even higher as he enters a contract year.
With Durant, Westbrook, Sefolosha and perhaps Reggie Jackson gunning effectively from the outside, Oklahoma City will be tough to stop.
Now, with Kevin Martin gone, though, they may be easier to defend. Jackson lit up the Summer League, averaging 19.5 points per game and showing improvement with his jumper. But that doesn't preclude a disappointing follow-up to his promising postseason.
Their frontcourt, which allowed Gasol and Randolph to combine for 37.8 points and 18.9 rebounds per game in the conference semifinals, is still prone to a beating from the Grizz duo. Serge Ibaka will improve again after scoring 13.2 points per game on 57.3 percent shooting. Ibaka's a fine shot-blocker, but his swatting fever hinders his effectiveness a bit.
The rest of the front line is weak. Nick Collison and Kendrick Perkins are aging. Rookie Steven Adams is a project.
Westbrook's return doesn't make the Thunder a sure bet to beat the Grizz should they meet again in the playoffs. Gasol, Randolph and Koufos would crush Oklahoma City on the inside. Gasol and Randolph mirror each other too well for Ibaka and either Perkins or Collison to counter them.
Koufos' deadliness at the rim further disarms the Thunder defense.
Memphis can still stop the perimeter shooters aside from Durant. Westbrook is a loose cannon who struggles against the Grizz, shooting 40.6 percent from the field and 21.4 percent from three-point range. Jackson proved manageable in the conference finals, averaging 13.8 points per game.
Having starters at four of five positions who are strong on both ends of the floor will push the team to a top-two finish. Their regular-season matches with Memphis will be close as usual.
This campaign will see the same team as those that Hollins coached, except more efficient. At age 31, Allen will grind opponents and push his teammates to keep up the defensive energy. They'll stifle teams at every point in the rotation, with Pondexter and Bayless continuing their improvement on that end.
Joerger will also help young players mature by playing them more. Davis will develop as a fighter on the boards. Wroten and Franklin might get a chance, depending on whether they bring in another guard.
The offensive efficiency will improve a bit more. Conley's role as a lead scorer will grow. Gasol will also score more. But their growth will be largely due to their own efforts.
The Clippers, Thunder and Spurs will fight for the top three playoff spots. Clamoring behind them, the Grizz will be nestled in the fourth seed.
Others, such as the Rockets and Golden State Warriors, might scratch at their position, but the Grizz will fend them off with their defense.
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