by Chip Crain
This is the official kick off 3 Shades of Blue's pre-season coverage of your Memphis Grizzlies (like you came here to read our views on any other team anyway!).
Each day this week the guys at the 3SOB will cover a new position in detail to give our readers the most comprehensive and informative information on this website. We hope to have the most comprehensive coverage over the Internet but don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves just yet.
To begin the pre-season review it seemed appropriate to start at the most debated position on the team: point guard.
Memphis returns three players who consider themselves point guards from last season's team and none of the players have two full years of experience nor have reached their 23rd birthday yet (Conley, Lowry and Crittenton). So what do the Grizzlies do on draft night? They trade away their best returning performer and their draft pick who filled a need for a player who considers himself a point guard (Mayo). Included in the trade for Mayo is the old man of the group in 29 yr old Marko Jaric but is expected to be low in the rotation for playing time at the point. That's five players capable of playing the point out of an expected 13 roster players for Opening Night.
And people wonder how we never run out of topics to discuss over here.
Mike Conley - Mike returns as the starting point guard on the team despite missing all or parts of 30+ games his rookie season due various injuries. In the 52 games Mike played in as a rookie he put up respectable numbers when compared to other point guards around the league's rookie numbers (Steve Nash, Tony Parker, Deron Williams to name a few). That isn't to say that Conley will match those players in the future. Rather that he has shown the potential to do so. Especially when you consider that he was as young or younger than any of the aforementioned players his rookie season. One major difference between Conley and the others has been his durability but he has looked much stronger this off-season than he did last season. That strength will be important if Conley plans on putting the injury reputation behind him.
Kyle Lowry - The former Wildcat has become a bulldog on the Grizzlies roster. Kyle lit the city on fire on opening night of his rookie campaign when he announced his presence with authority posting 6 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in leading the Grizzlies 2nd half charge. Suddenly Kyle Lowry was the most exciting rookie in franchise history (which is pretty impressive considering Shane Battier, Shareef Abdur Rahim and Pau Gasol had preceded him). Just as suddenly he was gone for the year after breaking his wrist in the 10th game of the season. His sophomore season was a struggle as he fought for playing time behind veteran Damon Stoudamire and rookie Mike Conley. Kyle's wild play energizes the team on the defensive end but his lack of control hurts the team on the offensive side of the ball. Still Kyle produced at a rate similar to Conley in nearly the same amount of time on the court and usually with inferior players around him. While his game seems best suited for a backup role right now Lowry's grit and determination means that no one is going to take the starting spot without a fight.
O.J. Mayo - O.J. Mayo looks to supplant Kyle Lowry as the most exciting rookie acquisition in franchise history this year. O.J. Mayo has been preparing himself almost since birth to be an NBA star and anything short of brilliance will disappoint his legion of supporters around the city. Mayo looked impressive at times in summer league and practising against the US Olympic team but he has also looked sloppy with the ball and unable to really explode past defenders. Mayo lacks the blinding speed of Conley and other PG's but he compensates that with a good passing ability and nice size for a PG. Mayo is also a workaholic who is in excellent physical condition. While no rookie can prepare himself for life as an NBA player, Mayo should suffer less than most because of his excellent physical condition. Mayo is already considered the best defensive player in the Grizzlies backcourt and quite possibly the best defender on the team which is a trait not often associated with a score first PG. For now at least the plan appears to be to play Mayo at the shooting guard position this season where his clutch long range shooting and defense are needed more but one can't ignore the possibility with a trade of Mayo taking over the point during his career.
Javaris Crittenton - When JCrit arrived from LA after the Gasol trade he felt a wave of relief. He was now going to get the chance he was denied at the Lakers. It hasn't worked out exactly that way so far. Instead of being behind Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar, more typical PG's for Phil Jackson's triangle offense, JCritt found himself behind Conley and Lowry who were equally quick and young but had the inside tract with the coaches. JCritt has been working hard this summer on some perceived weaknesses in his game including the outside shot and better court vision. Javaris wants to play the point in the NBA but right now the minutes just don't seem to be there. JCritt will need to show he can play the SG position as well if he wants anything more than token minutes this season. One strong point for JCritt is his defense which should hold him in good standing with new coach Kevin O'Neill and his preferred pressure style of play.
Marko Jaric - Finally we reach the one PG on the team that has actual NBA experience in playoff games. Wait a minute. You mean Jaric has played 6 seasons in the NBA and never made the playoffs??? How can that be? Well first off he hasn't played on many good teams but he also hasn't made bad teams better by his presence. One thing Marco definitely does have is a smooth long distance shot and excellent height for a PG at 6-7. What he doesn't have is a scorer's mentality as he has never reached 10 ppg over a season. It is unknown right now if a team with OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay not to mention Hakim Warrick, Marc Gasol and Antoine Walker really needs another player looking for his shot. Defensively Jaric is considered decent but not excellent. His 6-7 frame does cause problems for opponents trying to get a shot off over him and his 1.4 spg over his career means he is smart enough to get into passing lanes despite a noticeable lack of foot speed for a point guard.
Conclusion: Memphis has a problem that most NBA teams dream about in having too many young, talented Point Guards but that doesn't mean it is not a serious problem. How the Grizzlies can manage to find playing time for all 5 players will be a nasty juggling act for Marc Iavaroni. Heading into camp it appears that Conley has the inside position as the starter with Lowry backing him up. Mayo and Jaric are expected to split time at the two guard while JCritt floats back and forth but nothing is written in stone. Memphis is willing to discuss a move for any of the potential PG's but isn't interested in helping another team out by giving one of their players away for nothing.
Right now JCritt and Lowry look to be in a dead heat to be the first player moved while Mayo is the only player among the group entrenched on the roster. Conley should be safe unless he can't separate himself from Lowry this year. Jaric may be here a while because of his bloated contract but could be moved to bring in someone with a larger contract (maybe Zach Randolph for example). JCritt needs to find a place to get some minutes either here after someone else is moved or somewhere else for himself.
The Grizzlies are okay at the point this season and should be heading toward strong by next season. They just need times to find their legs and learn the game. Making a clear decision on who is going to be the starter and who's going to be first off the bench should help the players understand their roles and what they need to improve on going forward.
I can't believe I wrote about the point guards and didn't mention Adriana Lima one single solitary time!
That didn't count there at the end did it?