Record: 22-60, 5th in Southwest Division, 16th in Western Conference
29th in opponent scoring (106.7 ppg)
30th in ppg differential (-5.1 ppg)
30th in opponent field goal %
26th in turnovers
6th in the league in scoring (101.6 ppg)
7th (tie) in field goal %
7th in three-point %
19th (tie) in assists
23rd in steals
13th in blocks
10th in opponent turnovers
Poor offensive rebounding team
Poor defensive rebounding team
Darko Milicic, Mike Conley Jr. (R)
Chucky Atkins, Dahntay Jones
PG: Mike Conley Jr., Damon Stoudamire, Kyle Lowry
SG: Mike Miller
SF: Rudy Gay
PF: Pau Gasol, Hakim Warrick, Stromile Swift
C: Darko Milicic
Comments: OK, everybody who thinks a running offense is the cure to all your team's woes stand up and raise your hand. Alright, now kneel down, take a Samurai sword, and ram it through your gut. Little bit to the left, little bit to the right...there. Done! Well, that's what the Memphis Grizzlies should have done last year anyway. OK, OK, I know Pau Gasol was injured for half the season. I get it. But you know what? Blocks aside Gasol is far more of an offensive player than a defensive force and the Grizzlies' offense was just fine. Very high scoring, very high percentage shooting inside and out, it was everything you could want. But their defense...UGH! No, make that AAAAARGH! That offense-to-defense dichotomy is like meeting a beautiful girl, she's all into you, she wants you to come up for coffee, yeah...yeah...oh man, she's a dude! No thank you, no way, goodnight. That about describes the Memphis Grizzlies.
The good news is they should be just as powerful offensively this year, if not more so. Gasol is back and apparently staying. Hakim Warrick is an exciting young player on the rise who, while somewhat more limited offensively than Gasol, is still really good at what he does. They lost Chucky Atkins but a returning Damon Stoudamire and draft pick Mike Conley should be able to make up for the 13 points and 5 assists after Conley gets used to the league. (Atkins' distance shooting and 2.7/1 assist/t.o. ratio may be another matter, but that's for later.) Rudy Gay should be just as explosive and even more comfortable with his role and scoring ability. Mike Miller is Mike Miller...excellent shooter, will give you some points. I'm not sure how Darko fits in but they can always go with a small lineup and run even more. There's no reason to think they won't score the bejeebers out of the ball again.
On the other hand there's not much hope their defense will improve either. Neither Gasol nor Stoudamire help much in that department even when fully healthy. Miller's not that good. Gay doesn't know what he's doing enough yet to make a firm judgment. Milicic, no. Swift, no. Conley will have his plate full running the offense and learning the game so it's a safe bet he won't be expending a ton of defensive energy. I know new coach Marc Iavaroni is supposed to be one of the next big geniuses but even he can't plug that many holes. Their other glaring weaknesses were turnovers and rebounding. Gasol will help steady the rebounding but they're still looking at an uphill battle there. Their turnovers will likely get worse as they work in a rookie point guard. On top of all that they have glaring depth problems at the wing positions. They're going to be playing some weird lineups out there which is not likely to help their cohesion.
Memphis is going to thrill. Memphis is going to dazzle. Memphis is going to give you a couple awesome highlight-reel athletic plays courtesy of Rudy Gay and a bunch of pretty rainbow jumpers courtesy of everyone else. Memphis is also probably going to lose...a lot. Giving them credit for having a new and presumably long-term coach and that offensive firepower you might speculate that they could win more than they did last year but I wouldn't speculate it will be much more. What they got ain't fixable in one year.
NEW ORLEANS HORNETS
Record: 39-43, 4th in Southwest Division, 10th in Western Conference
26th in field goal %
27th in assists
29th in steals
29th in opponent turnovers
25th in the league in scoring (95.5 ppg)
10th in opponent scoring (97.1 ppg)
18th in ppg differential (-1.6 ppg)
12th in opponent field goal %
10th in three-point %
21st in blocks
7th in turnovers
Very Good offensive rebounding team
Good defensive rebounding team
Morris Peterson, David Wesley, Melvin Ely, Julian Wright (R)
Desmond Mason, Devin Brown,
PG: Chris Paul, Bobby Jackson
SG: Peja Stojakovic, Rasual Butler
SF: Morris Peterson, Julian Wright
PF: David West
C: Tyson Chandler, Melvin Ely, Hilton Armstrong
Comments: New Orleans is an interesting team. Like Memphis they were hamstrung last year by the loss of their primary player who is expected to be healthy this year. Chris Paul makes an enormous difference in the tempo, style, and freedom in the Hornets' offense. He creates a perpetual headache for opposing teams, freeing teammates whom he then finds for assists. Without him the team becomes pedestrian as there's nobody else who commands a double team. Forward David West had another fine offensive year, averaging 18 and 8, and makes a credible second threat. Last year's newcomer Tyson Chandler is the opposite: a fine defender and amazing rebounder who has limited, though efficient, offensive skills. They make a fascinating trio. You wonder if the strengths of each can ameliorate their individual weaknesses. If they try hard and look out for each other you could see this group clicking. The starting lineup is rounded out by a couple of veteran shooting wings in Peja Stojakovic (out for almost all of last season) and former Raptor Mo Peterson. Both players are capable of shooting the lights out from distance but both are struggling on the down slope of their careers. You'd like the duo as the last couple of pieces to a championship puzzle but as building blocks they leave something to be desired. Most significantly they don't do the team any defensive favors. However with the big man corps shutting down the middle the Hornets usually manage to do enough to scrape by.
The Hornets' biggest strength is probably their rebounding. This is absolutely critical because they don't do many of the other transition aspects well. Their biggest weakness by far is the lack of easy baskets. They don't force turnovers and they're only average on the break. Too many points last year were hard fought.
The starting lineup is not horribly athletic...at least not the kind of multi-purpose athleticism that intimidates. This is more of a skill-based team. These players are really good with their individual skills though. If everybody stays healthy and they don't tune out Coach Byron Scott completely my gut tells me they'll be in the lower playoff seeds this year. But even one injury or significant streak of dissension will be enough to upset the apple cart. This team is good but not on solid ground.