Diagnosing Memphis Grizzlies' Weak LInk in 2014-15

Tom FirmeAnalyst IISeptember 1, 2014

Feb 21, 2014; Memphis, TN, USA; Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin (32) shoots the ball over Memphis Grizzlies center Kosta Koufos (41) during the second quarter at FedExForum. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Behind Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph stands the Memphis Grizzlies' biggest potential problem. Kosta Koufos, Jon Leuer and Jarnell Stokes will be fine off the bench, but if given too much responsibility, the Grizzlies' reserve big men would become troublesome.

Indeed, the Grizzlies have a couple of other sore spots. Tayshaun Prince appears to be one of the least inspiring starting small forwards in the NBA. Three-point shooting causes concern.

However, the Grizzlies have enough depth behind Prince to either minimize his minutes or supplant him in the starting lineup. Subpar three-point shooting and a low volume of threes won't break the team because they're among the better performers inside the arc.

The gap between the starters inside and their backups might be their undoing after it set them back last season.


Fear of another Gasol injury

After brushing off long-term injuries to Rudy Gay and Randolph in prior seasons, the Grizzlies found that Gasol is the one whose absence they can't overcome. 

Kosta Koufos was overwhelmed while filling in for Gasol for 23 games. Koufos struggled to hit shots, connecting on 45.9 percent despite taking most of his shots at the rim.

A normally stout defender, Koufos flailed at attacking ball-handlers. He allowed 106 points per 100 possessions, six more than his rating as a reserve.

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 27: Vitor Faverani #38 of the Boston Celtics shoots over Kosta Koufos #41 of the Memphis Grizzlies in the first quarter during the game at TD Garden on November 27, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowl
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The Grizzlies suffered tremendously on that end without the 2012-13 Defensive Player of the Year. They allowed 109.5 points per 100 possessions.

Beyond the arc, they allowed 35.6 percent.

Insurance behind a top-10 player in the league is difficult to find, especially if said player does as many things as Gasol does. No center combines passing, mid-range shooting, defense and free-throw shooting as well as the Spaniard.

For that matter, finding a backup center with any combination of Gasol's qualities is nearly impossible. 

At the moment, Gasol seems to be confident in his knee. He's playing without his knee brace. He started sharply in the FIBA World Cup with 15 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in the group play opener against Iran.


Power forward depth best left untested

The Grizzlies have two decent backups behind Randolph in Leuer and Stokes, but an extended period relying on the two without their veteran power forward could leave them vulnerable. 

Chris Herrington of the Memphis Commercial Appeal (subscription required) noted, "In terms of experience, power forward, behind Randolph, might be the thinnest position."

Leuer has played 123 games in three seasons, and Stokes is a rookie.

Twenty-five-year-old Leuer is a fantastic scorer when he gets significant minutes. In 18 games with 15 or more minutes last year, he averaged 13.2 points per game. He scored in double figures in 14 of those games. He led a rout of the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 5 with 23 points.

Leuer's 46.9 percent mark from long range provided a boost.

He also improved tremendously on the defensive boards. He averaged 6.8 defensive rebounds per 36 minutes, 2.2 more than the year before. His 22.8 percent defensive rebounding percentage is a 6.9 percent improvement.

However, that was against second-unit players. Leuer has hardly been tested on the boards against elite starting big men. 

While Leuer scores and rebounds well off the bench, he's challenged on defense when on the floor for a substantive period. He allowed 103 points per 100 possessions, but 108 in 11 games when playing between 20 and 30 minutes and 120 in two games with more than 30 minutes.

Randolph may need help from Gasol to keep defenders in front of him, but Leuer's defensive troubles are too great for Gasol to manage.

On the other hand, Stokes can fight on the inside defensively and rebound, but he is questionable on offense. He pulled down 10.5 boards per game in his last season at Tennessee. His 7'1" wingspan and grit allow him to compete with NBA big men.

DraftExpress.com points out in analyzing situational figures that Stokes is reliant on shots at the rim and lacks shooting touch.


Unless otherwise noted, advanced metrics come from basketball-reference.com.