The Memphis Grizzlies hold hope they can cash in on a healthy Marc Gasol and better scoring depth to reassert themselves as outside contenders. Then again, as recent Grizzlies history has shown, health is no guarantee.
Rallying after injuries to key players is a recurring theme for this incarnation of the Grizzlies. They've endured long-term absences of key players in three of the past four years.
With only a small scoring lift to be expected from the starters, the defense-minded squad turned to the bench for a boost. After retaining Mike Miller became unlikely, they nabbed another outside shooter in Vince Carter who would be more productive despite not being a high-ranking three-point shooter like Miller.
Carter averaged 11.9 points in 24.4 minutes per game while hitting 39.4 percent from downtown. That's 4.5 more points per game than their leading 2013-14 bench scorer, James Johnson.
Since Carter takes 45.7 percent of his shots from long range, the Grizzlies don't lose spacing with the departure of Miller.
Another bonus of adding Carter is he can eat more minutes from Tayshaun Prince, who had career-worst numbers in his 12th season. Carter, along with a healthy Quincy Pondexter, ensures Dave Joerger can focus more minutes on productive players at the 3 spot.
The Grizzlies have an array of three-point shooters on the bench. Besides Carter, Pondexter, Beno Udrih and Jon Leuer are capable marksmen. If Pondexter can make close to the 39.5 percent from 2012-13, his last full season, he should keep a place in the rotation.
Leuer hit 46.9 percent of his threes last season and Udrih has made 35.6 percent for his career.
By re-signing Udrih and guaranteeing Nick Calathes' 2014-15 contract, Memphis commits to depth behind Mike Conley.
Calathes came through when Conley went down last season. He averaged 14.7 points per game and allowed 99 points per 100 possessions in seven contests. Also, he demonstrated confidence as a ball-handler, averaging 2.9 turnovers per game.
Udrih scored in double figures three times in the playoffs.
Even though Ed Davis departed, Jon Leuer isn't guaranteed to rise in the depth chart. Drafting Jarnell Stokes effectively replaced Davis, as the four-year pro fell out of the rotation in the second half. Stokes possesses the inside toughness Davis lacked.
Joerger platooned reserve big men, choosing Leuer when he needed shooting and Davis when the matchup called for a presence on the boards.
Joerger explained it in February by telling The Commercial Appeal's Ronald Tillery, "The fact is, is that Marc and Zach are going to play 36-40 minutes a game. After that, it's just a matter of what flavor are you looking for?"
In his second year, the coach will continue that rotational strategy.
Keeping up the frontcourt
After locking up Randolph, they'll make the best of his remaining abilities. Randolph had a second straight full season shooting a bit below his career average, hitting 46.7 percent last season. Still, he pushes himself to produce as he averaged 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
Gasol and Randolph form one of the best frontcourt duos. Possessing resilience as a below-the-rim player, Randolph is a constant double-double threat. Gasol funnels the offense into the post, leads the defense and knocks down mid-range shots.
As long as Gasol is with him, Randolph's defense isn't a problem. He allowed 105 points per 100 possessions for the season, but 103 after Gasol returned from injury.
Overall, Gasol is the biggest game-changer for the team's defense. According to the Washington Post, their work on that end was almost unparalleled with him back.
His full-season presence will solidify the supremacy of the "grit 'n' grind."
The Grizzlies won't use their health to vault high in the Western Conference standings. The playoff series loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder served as a reality check to the team as it struggled to keep up with Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant in the last two games.
Memphis adjusted on the edges by signing Carter. Getting Pondexter and Gasol at full strength helps a bit. The Grizzlies can expect Conley to score a little more as he continues in his primacy as a leading shot-taker.
One can hardly guess the impact of their perennial second-half surge. As the Western Conference remains intensely competitive, it might not allow them to pass many teams.
The Grizzlies find themselves stuck in the middle of the conference playoff contenders. As The Commercial Appeal's Chris Herrington said (subscription required), they can be pegged as "a second-tier contender."
While the Grizzlies' core can't become much more than what it is, the top tier calcifies with the San Antonio Spurs' Kawhi Leonard evolving, the primacy of Westbrook and Durant and the Los Angeles Clippers growing under Doc Rivers.
With that, Memphis will battle for a homecourt playoff spot with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Prediction: 54-28 (5th in Western Conference)
Unless otherwise noted, advanced metrics come from basketball-reference.com.