Memphis finally secured their first victory of the pre-season with a big win against the Charlotte Bobcats but now face a more veteran team in the Pacers. The biggest surprise of the pre-season has been the production from PF Hakim Warrick. The 4th year player is averaging 15 ppg (2nd on the team) and 9 boards a night. Team defense has been greatly improved holding teams to a mere 41.9% from the field and only 88 points per game. Rudy Gay is leading the team in scoring at 17 ppg and rookie O J Mayo is third despite shooting only 34.1% from the field.
Indiana enters the game with a little momentum led by T J Ford at the point. The veteran acquired from Toronto over the summer for Jermaine O'Neal is averaging 16.5 ppg and has the speed to stay in front of either point guard the Grizzlies have on the court. Former Tiger Shawne Williams was traded last week and is now in Dallas despite the 3rd yr player averaging 9 ppg and 5 rpg. This leaves Indiana thin at the PF position. with only Jeff Foster, Austin Croshere and Josh McRoberts as legitimate PF's on the team. Newly acquired Jarrett Jack has also proved a spark combining with TJ Ford for a speedy small guard backcourt.
Point Guards: Mike Conley vs T J Ford-
Mike Conley has taken a stranglehold on the starting PG position this pre-season with some solid play. He is averaging over 10 ppg, 4 apg and 6.7 rpg while shooting over 50% from the field and an amazing 62% from the arc while only getting 27 mpg. T J Ford is attempting to do the same thing in Indiana with 16.5 ppg, 3.5 apg and 4.0 rpg in only 23.5 mpg. Both players are fast and yet both players are lithe and susceptible to injury. Conley has beefed up somewhat in the off-season to try and contain the injury bug that bothered him last season. Ford hasn't done the same but when healthy he can get past almost anyone. Conley will need to use his speed to keep Ford out of the lane because T J never has developed an outside shot.
Shooting Guards: O J Mayo vs Marquis Daniels -
Neither player is a pure SG but Daniels has size which Mayo may struggle against. Marquis had better improve his play however since rookie Brandon Rush is breathing down his neck to get into the starting lineup. Daniels was an up and coming star in Dallas before running into trouble and has never fully reached the potential people saw early in his career. Mayo is struggling with his shot like most rookies do but he isn't getting intimidated and still looking to make his mark on the game. That mental toughness should pay rewards as he gets more comfortable with the pace of the NBA game. FT shooting has been a problem so far but he hasn't had trouble in that regard in the past. If he continues to get to the line that should help all aspects of his game.
Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Danny Granger -
This matchup is worth the price of admission all by itself. Granger and Gay are two of the most exciting young SF's in the league and should have great battles for years to come. Neither player is in peak form yet however. Rudy has struggled a bit with his shot (39.1 FG% and 23.1 3 pt%) and hasn't been able to make much of an impact on the boards or in the passing game. He also has more turnovers than blocks or steals. That is great when compared to Granger who is shooting a measley 11.8% from the field so far! Granger is too talented to stay cold for long and adjusting to a new coach and a new system is obviously throwing him off right now but this is only pre-season and both players will catch on soon. This could be the game in fact.
Power Forwards: Hakim Warrick vs Austin Croshere -
Yes. I know Darko started over Hakim in the last game but I think that was more an attempt to get Darko some playing time than a permanent switch. Hakim has earned the starting role so far and besides, Croshere is a perimeter big man and Hak matches up better defensively against him than Darko. The fact that Croshere is starting should tell you all you need to know about Indiana's weakness at PF. Croshere is a hustle guy ala Brian Cardinal with an even larger contract but he isn't someone a coach feels good about starting. If Hakim can prove he can stay with Croshere on the perimeter he could lock down his starting role for the season.
Center: Darko Milicic vs Rasho Nesterovic -
Marc Gasol will probably get the becnh seat this time to allow Darko more time to condition himself. Darko is going to have to be in tip top shape this season to earn his large paycheck so there is no reason to not start him at Center against Nesterovic. Darko had a nice game on the boards against Charlotte grabbing 7 in just 31 minutes. Memphis needs more efforts like that from the center position. Rasho came over with T J Ford in the Jermaine O'Neal trade but isn't considered anything more than a caretaker for the Center position as Roy Hibbert gets experience. Hibbert has actually been more impressive than Rasho in the box scores so he may get a surprise start in this game.
Benches: Indiana vs Memphis
BOth teams are rebuilding this season but Indiana is doing it with a lot of older players than the Grizzlies. Who knows which strategy will be the best in the long run. Right now with Marc Gasol, Quinton Ross, Antoine Walker, Marco Jaric (who could be back for this game) and Kyle Lowry coming off the bench Memphis is a deep and talented team. Indiana has Brandon Rush, Jarrett Jack, Greg Foster, Josh McRoberts, Maceo Baston, Roy Hibbert and Stephen Graham which makes for a disjointed group of has beens or never will be types. Larry Bird is definately facing a rebuilding job. The question is how long will it take?