The Memphis Grizzlies went deeper than ever behind a grinding defense and just enough scoring with improved efficiency. Now, Dave Joerger angles for a better finish by closing the gap between the offense and defense.
This was seen last season as Gasol and Conley raised their production after the Rudy Gay trade and Randolph's worsened.
Nevertheless, the veteran turned out strong performances in the first two rounds of the playoffs, averaging 19.3 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Gasol added 18.3 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.
The team hit a wall in the conference finals as the San Antonio Spurs attacked the trio defensively. Gasol shot 40.2 percent from the field while all other significant shooters, besides Quincy Pondexter, hit below 40 percent.
- 56-26 (fifth in the Western Conference, best record in franchise history)
- Won 4-2 vs. Los Angeles Clippers in Western Conference first round
- Won 4-1 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder in Western Conference semifinals
- Lost 4-0 vs. San Antonio Spurs in Western Conference finals (first conference finals appearance)
Key Additions: Joerger, Mike Miller, Kosta Koufos
At first blush, Joerger might seem the same as Lionel Hollins. He helped devise the current defensive scheme. But he brings offensive ideas and greater emphasis for that section of the court.
The five-time minor-league champion brings some of Hollins' intensity, but doesn't want to drive (subscription required) the starters as hard.
Miller seems like a consolation prize for a perimeter-shooting addition. The Grizz missed on J.J. Redick, Carlos Delfino and Mo Williams. That left the injury-riddled veteran as a cheap option to add a significant amount of three-point shooting.
Miller's inability to stay healthy for three-fourths of the regular season muzzles his effect on their outside shooting capacity. The hope is that he'll be healthy for the playoffs and would hit long-range shots that would influence the outlook of a series.
Key Losses: Lionel Hollins, Darrell Arthur
Hollins' departure seemed strange at the time. He improved the team's record in each of his seasons as head coach and delivered their first playoff series victory—and was the first Grizz coach to even win a playoff game in the club's fourth playoff appearance.
However, he didn't mesh with the new regime. His disinclination towards advanced metrics, which John Hollinger pushes, appeared to be the deciding factor.
Arthur played the most minutes among those who departed, but he only entered 16.4 per game. He missed the entire 2011-12 season with an Achilles tear and 23 games last year with multiple injuries.
Can Joerger upgrade Memphis' offensive abilities?
Joerger arrives with several ideas to address the neglect with which Hollins treated this part of the team. Among those schemes is better ball movement, new half-court sets, crossing the timeline earlier in the shot clock and quickening the pace.
Each of those attack problems with the offense, such as having the league's slowest pace, a limited variety of plays and stunted ball movement.
The rookie coach understands that the Grizz can't fulfill their potential without adjusting offensively. The amount these changes will help is yet to be seen.
Will Zach Randolph recover from a poor offensive performance?
Randolph had the third-worst field-goal percentage of his career (46 percent). In the last four months, he shot 43.8 percent from the field.
A further inability to shoot would raise questions regarding the ability of this $17.8 million man. He's still a great offensive rebounder after leading the league in the category and a solid defender after allowing 99.5 points per 100 possessions, but the money counts on him doing more.
Depth chart breakdown and grades
|Center||Power forward||Small forward||Shooting guard||Point guard|
|Marc Gasol||Zach Randolph||Tayshaun Prince||Tony Allen||Mike Conley|
|Kosta Koufos||Ed Davis||Quincy Pondexter||Mike Miller||Jerryd Bayless|
|Jon Leuer||Jamaal Franklin||Nick Calathes|
The Grizz have the perfect scenario at this position, with the best player at the 5 and a starting-caliber player behind him.
Gasol does everything from making stops on defense to dishing out four assists per game, hitting midrange shots and free throws and rebounding. His Defensive Player of the Year honor came as a credit to his role in the league's top defense.
Koufos was remarkably efficient while starting 81 games for the Denver Nuggets last season. He produced 121 points per 100 possessions and allowed 103. Also, the 24-year-old shot 58.1 percent from the field. Koufos pulled down 11.1 boards per 36 minutes.
For the first time since Gasol joined Memphis, they won't miss a beat with him off the court.
Power forward: B+
Randolph enters his 13th season with concerns about his durability, as well as his shooting. He missed most of the 2011-12 season with a partially torn MCL and questions loomed during the playoffs regarding his health.
Fortunately, two reliable men wearing the three shades of blue will support him. Ed Davis shoots 54.4 percent and averages 10.3 rebounds per 36 minutes for his career. Jon Leuer also boasts some scoring and rebounding ability in short minutes.
Small forward: B-
Memphis has two respectable players at the 3 spot. Tayshaun Prince executes fundamentals, shoots fairly well and is useful on defense. His 42.9 percent shooting was reasonable. Prince's 103 points allowed per 100 possessions represents a figure not seen from him since early in his career.
Pondexter grew into a solid outside shooter, hitting 39.5 percent from downtown. He also became a reliable defender, allowing 104 points per 100 possessions.
Shooting guard: B-
At the 2 spot, each player is solid in one specific area. Tony Allen is one of the two best perimeter defenders in the NBA but isn't effective on the other end as shown with his 102 points produced per 100 possessions.
Miller is a pure shooter who is brittle, won't put the ball on the floor and will need to take possessions off on defense. His career 40.6 percent three-point clip will help Memphis, but his need to save his body by holding off on other end might dampen his impact a bit.
Jamaal Franklin rightfully draws comparisons (subscription required) to Allen because of his stellar defensive play, athleticism, high motor and limited offensive upside. Franklin may have led San Diego State in scoring and assists, but he shot 28 percent from three-point range and turned the ball four times per 40 minutes.
Point guard: B+
The Grizzlies continued their tradition of shipping young point guards by trading Tony Wroten in August, but that didn't cripple their depth behind soon-to-be elite floor general Conley. Bayless scores capably, at least when Conley is on the court with him.
Bayless helps Memphis' offensive pace, as I discussed before.
Nick Calathes, the 2013 Eurocup MVP, will take care of the ball when Conley's off the floor. He averaged 6.1 assists per game for Lokomotiv Kuban.
For a deeper breakdown of each player, take a look at the Grizz player power rankings.
What to watch for
Breakout Player: Conley
Following a revelational second half, Conley will fulfill himself for an entire season. After posting 16.9 points and 6.5 assists per game in 38 games post-Gay, he should put his offensive numbers more in line with Deron Williams. Eighteen points on 45 percent shooting and seven assists per game is a serious mark for Conley.
Team MVP: Gasol
Even if Gasol were to play at the same level as last year, he'd be more valuable than Conley. The Spaniard shoots consistently away from the basket, rebounds well, makes terrific passes and seals the inside on defense. He plays with superior intelligence.
Conley's defense, unlike that of Allen, isn't good enough to open a debate about whether it makes a greater impact than Gasol's.
Most disappointing player: Pondexter
This preseason's phantom storyline is Pondexter's growing game. A Commercial Appeal article (subscription required) discussed his improved passing and dribbling.
He's expanding his game. That's [what] we talked about in the offseason. He's being labeled as a shooter, a 3-point shooter, so he's going to have people flying at him. Hopefully, we're creating enough ball movement that when people are coming at him, he can put the ball on the floor and take his game a little bit to the next level.
The new coach is hedging his bet by saying Pondexter could "take his game a little bit to the next level."
While the fourth-year player has a little room to grow, he's locked in as a three-and-D player. He doesn't have the build or quickness to beat physical defenders inside more than twice each game. Pondexter may improve as a passer, but that doesn't mean he'll become a playmaker. He won't often be called upon to create shots for others.
Player most likely to be traded: Bayless
Randolph is an easy favorite since he's been mentioned in rumors. However, dealing Randolph would be an abdication. This scenario would see Randolph either becoming injured or playing poorly enough that he's not helpful.
Bayless would be more likely to struggle enough that John Hollinger decides to wash his hands of him. The 25-year-old topped out in the second half of last season, shooting 42.9 percent from the field. His shooting decisions are confounding, and he doesn't fare well without Conley on the floor.
Biggest rivalry: Thunder
In two of the last three seasons, the Grizz and Thunder faced off in the Western Conference semifinals. Oklahoma City took the 2011 showdown in seven games with Gay injured. Last season, Memphis upended their opponent wearing sky blue while they were without Russell Westbrook.
The Grizz have won six of 11 regular-season meetings in the past three seasons.
Best and worst-case scenarios
A few players would live up to the biggest hopes. Randolph would be as effective offensively as he was in 2010-11 while taking fewer shots. Pondexter becomes more than just a three-point shooter. Conley scores 19 points per game while producing 116 points per 100 possessions, which would see him shooting a bit better from various spots on the floor.
In general, the sunniest situation would see instant offensive growth with help from Joerger's enforcement of real schemes. With a scoring capability that supports the defense in most games, the Grizzlies could win 58 games, finish second in the conference and reach the NBA Finals.
Joerger's failure to juice the offensive performance comes with the stagnation of the team. Conley scores a bit less than he did in the second half of 2012-13. Randolph regresses further, shooting below 46 percent. Pondexter turns into an average three-point shooter. The ball movement doesn't improve.
Even more, a letdown would see Allen showing his age, operating slower and being less capable of stopping leading scorers.
The combination still would only drag them to 48 wins, a sixth-place finish in the conference and a first-round playoff exit. The West is deep, but the top six are much better at their worst than the bubble teams are at their best. Even if Allen declines, the defense is scary enough at all five spots to give opponents fits.
Win-loss prediction: 56-26, fourth in the Western Conference
Westbrook's delayed return affords the Grizz a window of time in the top two or three, but the Thunder will eventually surge with their No. 2 scorer healthy.
The Grizzlies will develop somewhat offensively. Conley and Gasol will score more. Randolph will shoot just above his career average of 47.2 percent. The seventh-year point guard will lead an offense that runs smoother and quicker.
Miller and Pondexter won't be enough to change the three-point figure, as the team will rank between 16th and 20th in three-point percentage.
Again, the Grizz will play top-notch defense and force a high number of turnovers. Another season in the top two in opponent turnover percentage will be in the works.
Combining good offense with intimidating defense will earn the Grizzlies another conference finals berth. However, the Spurs will once again thwart their push towards the NBA Finals with superior offensive play.
Advanced metrics come from basketball-reference.com.
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