Early Predictions for Memphis Grizzlies' Starting Lineup Next Season
The Memphis Grizzlies gained some clarity regarding the men who will fill spots in their lineup after a couple minor moves this offseason.
Locking in Zach Randolph answered one concern as they keep one of their core players.
The signing of Vince Carter did little to address questions about whether someone will take Tayshaun Prince's place in the lineup.
However, one cannot rule out the possibility of a trade in the coming months. Prince was offered in a draft-day trade to the Toronto Raptors, per ESPN's Marc Stein. The Grizzlies may entertain offers for the veteran small forward.
The debate may go on about whether Courtney Lee or Tony Allen should start at the 2-guard position. That depends on whether Lee's offense is considered more important than Allen's defense in the lineup.
Follow along to see which players should be expected to be in the starting five when the season tips off in late October.
Unless otherwise noted, advanced metrics come from basketball-reference.com.
Center: Marc Gasol
After slowly recovering from a knee injury through the latter part of last season, Marc Gasol looks to start healthfully as he reminds the league that he's its best all-around center.
He's an important scorer (14.6 PPG), valuable distributor (3.6 APG) and critical defender (102 points allowed per 100 possessions).
Gasol is the No. 2 facilitator after point guard Mike Conley, as he takes the ball in the high post and moves it to the wing or inside.
The difference between the games he missed and the stretch afterward was night and day on defense. The Grizzlies allowed 109.5 points per 100 possessions without him and 103.3 after he returned.
Kosta Koufos (6.4 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 0.9 BPG) is a nice backup, capable of knocking down inside shots and protecting the rim, but he causes worry when called upon to start, as seen last season with Gasol out.
Power Forward: Zach Randolph
Even as Randolph ages, he remains a top-10 player at the 4 spot. He finished 2013-14 seventh in CBSSports.com's total player rankings for power forwards. Bleacher Report ranked him sixth at the position.
Randolph put up 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game while placing fourth in double-doubles. He's still a premier rebounder, placing ninth in rebounds per game and 11th in offensive rebounding percentage.
Those figures won't slip much for the 33-year-old, since his rebounding is predicated on positioning, and he never exploded to the basket to get his points.
The Grizzlies don't appear to have great depth behind the two-time All Star at this point. Jon Leuer is a terrific shooter (.497 career FG%) who augments Memphis' sparse three-point shooting, but he doesn't help much on the boards (2.6 RPG). Jarnell Stokes could be helpful with his inside toughness and shooting touch, but he may need to grow into a role.
Small Forward: Tayshaun Prince
Prince doesn't exactly earn a spot in the lineup through production. His $7.7 million salary is too much to bury on the bench. Also, Prince's veteran experience and physical tools have some use.
The 34-year-old was one of the least effective players last season. He had 0.038 win shares per 48 minutes and minus-0.2 offensive win shares. He had career lows in points per 36 minutes (8.4), field-goal percentage (40.7%), three-point field-goal percentage (29%) and free-throw percentage (56.7%).
Indeed, Prince has his moments. He earned the Grizzlies a win against the Sacramento Kings on Jan. 17 by winning a jump ball. On Jan. 31, he nailed a three-pointer to seal a win against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Prince sank back-to-back shots in overtime to lift the Grizzlies to victory against the Golden State Warriors on Nov. 20.
Both of the players behind Prince at the 3 spot are better than him, but only one could imaginably start. Vince Carter will be one of the Grizzlies' four highest scorers, but his efforts are better served on the second line.
Quincy Pondexter, who missed most of last season after suffering a stress fracture in his foot, would more effectively fill the role of a pressure-release valve that Prince once adequately played.
Carter will play more minutes than Prince, who saw 25.6 minutes per game in 2013-14, but that will be for a change of pace.
Anyhow, Prince taking a place in the starting lineup is the most realistic, since no trade or possibility of a different man in the middle is immediately on the horizon. As the Memphis Flyer's Kevin Lipe tweeted, "Just trying to prepare you for another year of Tayshaunsanity, like it or not."
Shooting Guard: Courtney Lee
Unfortunately for Allen, who had sore feelings after being replaced in the lineup last season, as The Commercial Appeal reported (subscription required), Lee is the prohibitive favorite to start at the 2 spot.
Starting Lee is necessary due to his greater offensive productivity. Lee produced 114 points per 100 possessions, 12 more than Allen. He's a decent long-range shooter, with a 34.5 three-point percentage, whereas Allen doesn't hit threes (23.4 percent last season).
Lee balances it out with reasonable defense, allowing 107 points per 100 possessions.
Also, Lee's floor spacing is crucial. He took 57 percent of his shots for the Grizzlies last season outside 15 feet.
Allen will still get more than 20 minutes per game, in which he'll lock down on defense and sometimes score in double figures.
Point Guard: Mike Conley
Conley continues his incremental improvement as he approaches his age-27 season. His scoring jumped last year to 17.2 points per game from 14.6 per game. Conley produced a career-high 113 points per 100 possessions and had a career-low 11.5 percent turnover rate.
He's taking a greater command of the ball than ever, with a 24.6 percent usage rate last year.
He'll likely continue to rise as a scorer, as he's only been a key contributor in that area for Memphis for the past season-and-a-half. He's removed his poor inside shooting, hitting 61.3 percent at the rim and 37.9 percent between three and 10 feet.
Both backups, Nick Calathes and Beno Udrih, are capable in case Conley gets injured. Both score well and distribute.
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