Grizzlies and Hornets

MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES

Record:  49-33, 3rd in Southwest Division, 4th in Western Conference

Statistical Comparison:

Noteable:

27th in the league in scoring (92.2ppg)
1st in opponent scoring (88.5ppg)
28th in rebounding

Others:

6th in ppg differential (+3.7)
20th in field goal %
6th in opponent field goal %
8th in three-point %
22nd in assists
10th in steals
8th (tie) in blocks
6th in turnovers
12th in opponent turnovers

Additions:  
Stromile Swift, Rudy Gay (R), Kyle Lowry (R), Alexander Johnson (R)

Subtractions:  
Shane Battier, Bobby Jackson, Lorenzen Wright, Antonio Burks, Anthony Roberson

Key Players

PG:  Damon Stoudamire, Chucky Atkins, Kyle Lowry
SG:  Eddie Jones, Dahntay Jones
SF:   Mike Miller, Rudy Gay
PF:   Pau Gasol, Hakim Warrick, Brian Cardinal, Lawrence Roberts, Alexander Johnson
C:   Jake Tsakalidis, Stromile Swift

Comments:  The last couple years Memphis has been one of those teams that succeeds neither through superlative talent nor because they do anything particularly well, but because they have savvy veteran players who know how to win games.  They've hardly been world-beaters, but 45-50 wins a playoff berth were in the bank.  This year they're changing the formula, and it looks like a risk of New Coke proportions.  Shane Battier is one of the most solid, smart all-around players in the league.  He's gone, and with him exit Lorenzen Wright and Bobby Jackson.  Those three could make the Top 9 on a lot of teams.  Replacing them are Stromile Swift (a super-athletic Kwame Brown-like disappointment) and rookie Rudy Gay.  All I can say is that Gay better be pretty good.  Plus Pau Gasol is injured, Damon Stoudamire is coming off injury and may never be the same again, and Eddie Jones is on his last leg, coming off a season where he tallied career lows in points and shooting percentage. Mike Miller is the only veteran left carrying a fully lit torch.  Even when everybody is healthy their big man depth is poor and they're relatively undersized.  In short there are a lot of potential holes and I don't see any area where they clearly helped themselves.  Did I mention that Mike Fratello still coaches semi-slow-down ball and he doesn't have slow down players anymore?  It may be a tough year for the Grizzlies.

NEW ORLEANS/OKLAHOMA CITY HORNETS

Record:  38-44, 4th in Southwest Division, 10th in Western Conference

Statistical Comparisons:

Noteable:

26th in field goal %
26th in assists
3rd in turnovers

Others:

24th in ppg differential (-2.8ppg)
25th in the league in scoring (92.8ppg)
12th in opponent scoring (95.6ppg)
21st in opponent field goal %
25th in three-point %
22nd in rebounding
7th in steals
24th in blocks
9th in opponent turnovers

Additions:  
Peja Stojakovic, Tyson Chandler, Bobby Jackson, Jannero Pargo, Hilton Armstrong (R), Cedric Simmons (R), Marcus Vinicius (R)

Subtractions:  
Speedy Claxton, P.J. Brown, Kirk Snyder, J.R. Smith, Aaron Williams, Jackson Vroman, Moochie Norris, Arvydas Macijauskas, Marcus Fizer

Key Players

PG:  Chris Paul, Jannero Pargo
SG:  Peja Stojakovic, Rasual Butler
SF:  Desmond Mason, Linton Johnson, Marcus Vinicius
PF:  David West, Brandon Bass, Cedric Simmons
C:  Tyson Chandler, Marc Jackson, Hilton Armstrong

Comments:  Few teams made more celebrated (and surprising) off-season moves than the Hornets. Stojakovic was the main coup but don't underestimate what a change of scenery and playing with a few experienced veterans could do for Tyson Chandler.  His game has gaps, but unlike former teammate Eddy Curry, he seems motivated to fill them.  Plus he plays defense and rebounds hard.  He ought to make up for the loss of P.J. Brown.  David West had an amazing break-out year in 2006.  Desmon Mason faded a bit but he usually gives you more than the stats indicate. Then, of course, there's Chris Paul.  I actually wouldn't be surprised to see a sophomore slump from him, what with the pressure and the busy summer and all.  The team can absorb it better this year though.  On the minus side, depth remains a serious question.  Overall athleticism is another.  And despite Chandler improving the center spot the jury may still be out on their team defense, especially in November and December.  If you look at their stats it's apparent that, improved record aside, there were plenty of things this team didn't do all that well.  The difficulty curve for increasing wins gets steeper as you progress.  The distance between 38 and 48 wins is longer than the jump they made last year from 18 to 38.  If Memphis falls a few games they'll leave a playoff seed open but many dogs will be scrambling for that bone.  I'd expect the Hornets to be in the pack but some things will have to bounce right for them to come out on top of it.

--Dave (blazersub@yahoo.com)

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