Power Ranking Every Key Memphis Grizzlies Player Before Season's End
Marc Gasol is leading a Memphis Grizzlies team on the rise. Riding Gasol's defensive play, the Grizzlies are slowly making their way up the Western Conference standings toward better playoff positioning.
Gasol's defense has raised that of the entire team. That greatly affects how his value is compared with that of his teammates. Also, his rim protection changes the complexion of their playoff potential.
These player power rankings take the questions of value and potential playoff impact into great consideration. Players' contributions are weighed against their outlook for the playoffs.
Despite their play, some have rankings that push them up or down based on expected playoff impact. Tayshaun Prince may not be producing, but he hangs on to a relevant place in the rankings due to his projected playoff presence.
James Johnson leads Memphis bench scorers, but his outlook is dim as he fades from the rotation.
Tony Allen moved to the bench after returning from a wrist injury, but he makes an outsized defensive impact.
Read along to see how each player lands in his respective place in the rankings.
Statistics are current through March 17 games. Unless otherwise noted, advanced metrics come from basketball-reference.com.
10. Jon Leuer
The inclusion of Jon Leuer in the top 10 is as much a factor of his overall play as his prospects to be used in the playoffs, as opposed to that of Ed Davis.
Leuer is shooting terrifically, posting 7.1 points in just 14.5 minutes per game while hitting 49.6 percent from the field. His 48.9 percent three-point clip demonstrates his remarkable ability as a stretch 4.
Davis' rebounding has slowly crept to a respectable 9.7 per 36 minutes.
He doesn't tally points as effectively as Leuer does. His 13.5 points per 36 minutes are four fewer than Leuer's mark.
Davis connects on 53.3 percent from the field, but his shots are more concentrated than his bench counterpart. Davis takes two-thirds of his shots within 10 feet, whereas Leuer attempts 44.4 percent from inside 10 feet, 15.1 percent from 10 to 16 feet, 20.3 percent on long two-pointers and 20.3 percent on threes.
Leuer's ability to spread the floor makes him a better foil for Kosta Koufos than Davis. Koufos' tendency to shoot at close range makes a second short-range frontcourt shooter unnecessary.
9. Kosta Koufos
Kosta Koufos' value is greater than it may seem.
He's a stout defender who helps keep the second unit from losing its way. Koufos allows 101 points per 100 possessions and has a 4.2 percent block rate.
Koufos is as imposing on the boards as Randolph is. The backup center boasts a 13.9 percent offensive rebounding rate and a 19.5 percent total rebounding rate, which would both be in the top 10 if he had enough minutes.
In the calendar year, Koufos has regained his solid inside shooting, hitting 56.6 percent from the field and raising his season mark to 50.3 percent.
Above all, Koufos is effectively eating minutes and allowing Gasol rest. The starter has only needed to play 33.4 minutes per game in February and 33 this month.
That indicates that Koufos' play would remove the need to play his fellow man in the middle the 40.6 minutes per game of last year's playoff run.
8. Tayshaun Prince
Tayshaun Prince is slowly disappearing while remaining on the court. Prince's usage rate is 13.6 percent. He has a 12.6 percent usage rate this month.
He's brought his field-goal percentage up a bit to 40.6 percent by hitting 46 percent this month, but he's only taken 5.6 shots per game. March is his third month of the last four in which he's averaging fewer than 25 minutes per game.
That many of Prince's numbers are career lows begs a reminder. His 57.7 percent free-throw clip is seven percent lower than his previous low, and his 8.4 points per 36 minutes represent his first single-digit average. With 96 points per 100 possessions, he seems unhelpful on offense.
Still, according to the Memphis Flyer's Kevin Lipe, he'll receive copious playing time—far more than the superior James Johnson: "Tayshaun Prince will continue to play more than twenty minutes a game, sometimes even thirty-five. There will never be any explanation for this, because Dave Joerger will not feel one is necessary."
This will be unfortunate in the playoffs when Prince does worse than last year when he shot 35.5 percent from the field and allowed 109 points per 100 possessions.
His presence in the lineup and expected role for the playoffs don't place him ahead of Johnson in the rankings, but, like the occasional play he makes, it prevents him from falling from the top 10.
7. James Johnson
James Johnson has played well for Memphis but is slipping out of the rotation. Johnson has averaged nine minutes per game in the last six affairs and saw 15 minutes in just one of them.
He's still an electric offensive performer. Johnson is averaging eight points per game on 45.9 percent shooting, knocks down 85.1 percent at the line and has 16 double-digit scoring performances.
His defense is outstanding. He allows 100 points per 100 possessions and has a 5.3 percent block rate.
Perhaps the reason that Joerger feels less of a need to play the one-time D-Leaguer is that he doesn't exhibit any offensive skill that demands his presence. The 6'9" stretch 3 takes half his shots at the rim. He does more harm than good with his 26 percent three-point clip.
He takes as many free throws as field-goal attempts, which is nice but not as good as others who attack the rim often.
With that, Johnson, who has played only 259 games in five seasons, may find himself on the sidelines for a large portion of the playoffs.
6. Mike Miller
Mike Miller is beginning to distinguish himself as the Grizzlies' most valuable reserve shooter. He has a 71.4 percent effective field-goal rate since the All-Star break. As The Commercial Appeal's Peter Edmiston noted (subscription required), Miller went seven games without missing a spot-up shot.
Miller's 59.7 percent effective field-goal percentage is 0.4 percent away from his career high.
The 34-year-old is finding comfort behind the three-point line. He's fifth in the league with a 44.6 percent mark while taking 52.4 percent from that range.
As the Grizz are playing Miller 5.3 minutes more per game than the Miami Heat did last year, they'll lean on his long-range shooting more than the Heat did in the playoffs. Seeing him take more than the 2.8 three-pointers per game he's averaging for the season wouldn't be surprising in the playoffs.
5. Courtney Lee
Courtney Lee is adding enough of a scoring punch to give the Grizzlies a veritable No. 4 option.
He's prolonged his spectacular shooting. Lee is averaging 12.2 points per game on 49 percent from the field for the Grizzlies. He rebounded from a poor February shooting figure (42.4 percent) to make half his shots this month.
Lee's role has receded a bit in his time with Memphis, perhaps due to Gasol's need for more activity. The midseason acquisition from the Boston Celtics saw his usage rate go from 17.9 percent in January to 16.1 percent this month. He went from 11 field-goal attempts per game in February to eight per game this month.
This should give opponents an additional shooter to monitor in the playoffs.
4. Tony Allen
Even though Tony Allen isn't starting, he's wreaking havoc defensively. He's grabbing steals at a 3.6 percent rate and allowing 102 points per 100 possessions. According to NBA.com, his defensive rating is significantly lower since going to the bench.
Surprisingly, Allen has also been an offensive spark plug off the bench. He's still averaging 10.2 points per game. Meanwhile, he's the hottest shooting Grizz player since the All-Star break, hitting 63.6 percent from the field.
This might not force playoff opponents to guard him, which they didn't last year as he took 8.3 shots per game in the 2013 postseason. Allen remains a peripheral scoring option, as his 11.3 per 36 minutes this season are only 0.4 more than last year.
What ball-handlers cannot overlook is Allen's ability to shut them down. A year after holding Kevin Durant to 35.8 percent shooting in the last three games of the Western Conference semifinals, the 32-year-old Allen is headed toward another postseason restricting scorers.
3. Zach Randolph
Zach Randolph's shooting hasn't been special, but that has hardly slowed his production.
Randolph is scoring 17 points per game on 45.8 percent from the field. That's nothing to rave at, but he's made more in the past couple months. Since the beginning of February, Randolph is connecting on 47.9 percent.
His usage rate is 26.3 percent for the year. The 23.4 percent rate for March may be a temporary drop ahead of the playoffs. Last season, Randolph had a 23.2 percent usage rate in March before jumping to 26.4 percent in April and 24.2 percent in the playoffs.
Hence, one should expect him to be aggressive in the playoffs.
Randolph isn't quite as strong on the boards but is still solid. His 10.1 rebounds per game is 10th in the NBA. He's 14th with an 11.3 percent offensive rebounding rate and 16th with a 17.6 percent total rebounding rate.
Randolph may make an impact on the boards in the postseason, creating a few second chances each game.
2. Mike Conley
Mike Conley's continued growth is a promising sign for the Grizzlies.
Conley has had the greatest all-around scoring for the grinding squad. He's leading the team with 17.1 points per game, just 0.1 more than Randolph. Having increased his scoring average by 2.5 since 2012-13, Conley is proving himself as a leading scorer.
The combination of his 49 percent effective field-goal rate and 11.6 percent turnover rate never ceases to amaze. Finding a leading scorer who shoots that well while controlling the ball often and holding down turnovers is difficult.
Conley continues to improve his three-point profile. His season mark stands at 37.1 percent after draining 43.9 percent in January and 46.7 percent this month.
He's regaining his shot at the rim, making 60.6 percent, 4.3 percent better than last season. That shows greater confidence attacking the basket.
Meanwhile, Conley is defending only at a replacement rate, allowing 106 points per 100 possessions, including 104 since Gasol returned.
If Conley scored 20 points per game, his game-changing force would be unparalleled among Grizz players. However, with an average that is just a bit more than the No. 2 and No. 3 scorers, he's not quite as valuable to the team as someone who scores less but uplifts the team in the most important way.
1. Marc Gasol
Marc Gasol appears ready to lead another playoff effort.
He's comfortable in the offense again. March is his best shooting month, as he's scoring 15 points per game on 48.1 percent from the field. He's reasserting himself as a passer, averaging 4.4 assists per game in the last 14 contests, with four or more in 10 of them.
Gasol may not be the dynamic shooter that Conley is. Conley's 49 percent effective field-goal percentage is 2.5 percent higher than that of his Spanish partner. However, Conley's scoring doesn't have the impact of Gasol's defense.
Gasol is elevating the defense. He's allowing 100 points per 100 possessions since returning from injury in January. The Grizzlies' defensive rating is 7.1 fewer since Gasol came back than beforehand, according to NBA.com.
More than anything else, Memphis must defend at a high level to compete in the postseason. With Gasol restoring the Grizzlies' effort to "grit 'n' grind" standards, they should be in the proper gear.
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