Over the next month, Blazer's Edge will be rolling out season previews for all 30 NBA teams. Continuing this feature, we discuss the Memphis Grizzlies with Grizzly Bear Blues staff writer Chris Huffines. (Yesterday's preview: Charlotte Hornets)
Memphis Grizzlies 2014-15 Season Preview
2013-14 Record: 50-32, No. 3 in Southwest Division, No. 7 in Western Conference
Roster additions: Jordan Adams (rookie, No. 22), Vince Carter, Patrick Christopher, Earl Clark, Luke Hancock, Kalin Lucas, Jarnell Stokes (rookie, No. 35), Hassan Whiteside
Roster subtractions: Ed Davis, Jamaal Franklin, James Johnson, Mike Miller
SB Nation affiliate: Grizzly Bear Blues
Blazer's Edge: How many more good years can the Grizzlies squeeze out of Zach Randolph? What do you expect out him this season? Blazers fans would also probably be interested to know how Memphis is one of the best defenses in the league while playing Randolph 34+ minutes a game in the frontcourt...
Chris Huffines: There's a reason Zach Randolph signed a two-year, $20M extension this offseason, on top of exercising his player option for the upcoming season. He will be 35 when this new extension expires, and he will have a lot more wear-and-tear on him than most power forwards at that age, as we remain in the era of the stretch-4. Additionally, it's likely that a new media deal will have been in place for a full year, if he were to not retire and become a free agent again after that timeframe. Therefore, if he feels he can play at a high level even after those three years, then he can try to cash in on a higher minimum or mid-level salary at that point, thanks to this new media deal. Therefore, to answer your first question, I think he believes he still has three good years left in him, provided he stays injury-free and his minutes are reduced over the duration of the regular season (a-la Tim Duncan-esque). I expect him to put up similar numbers to last season - another 17.4 ppg and 10.1 rpg. It could be asking too much from him, but that would be great if we could get that kind of production, while giving him more rest over the course of the season in order to gear him up for a postseason run. Concerning Randolph's contribution to the Grizzlies' trademark defense, the "Grit-N-Grind" philosophy emphasized by Memphis says it all, from a big-picture standpoint. Randolph's attitude and workhorse mentality are infectious within the entire team, thus he carries an intrinsic value on the defensive end of the court that statistics don't show, similar to Tony Allen's style. Lastly, since Memphis hasn't shown much (if any) of the trendy stretch-4 system employed by most other NBA teams, it's easier for the Grizzlies to limit opponents to one-shot per possession, as those stretch-4's struggle boxing out Randolph on the glass. With the exception of Z-Bo's smooth fade-away, rainbow jumpers, it's somewhat difficult finding power forwards in today's NBA that match his physicality in the paint.
BE: Who starts on the wings for coach Dave Joerger? Courney Lee and Tayshaun Prince? Tony Allen and Vince Carter? Some other combination?
CH: This is a great question, and as the preseason has begun, we are all still trying to figure out Joerger's methodology behind utilizing a different combo of wing starters with each game. If you ask me what I would do in Joerger's situation, I would want to go with a combination that provides a scorer-at-will/shooter specialist at one of the wing spots and a defensive stopper who can guard the LeBron's and Durant's of the league at the other wing spot. In this case, I believe it's best to go with Tony Allen as our defensive specialist and either Courtney Lee or Vince Carter at the other spot. The concern about the Lee/Carter rotation is that Lee is too streaky of a shooter to be completely, wholeheartedly trusted, and it honestly worries me that we haven't seen Carter play yet in the preseason (as I type this). VC had a resurgence last season in Dallas, and I really hope that carries over into his Memphis career. I'm not sure if Joerger is just saving him for the regular season or if there is something more to this than we know about. Despite what I believe should be the starting wings, there is one factor about Joerger everyone must consider - he is a Tayshaun-loyalist. So, chances are high that Prince gets one of those starting spots. I'm personally just not sure how much he has left in the tank. Quincy Pondexter is another wing who could end up starting at small forward, but we just don't know what to expect from him this season. There is one player who should be watched closely over the course of the season that might end up nabbing the other starting spot opposite Allen when the season is "said-and-done," but I will mention him in the last question with a reference to this point. So, stay tuned!
BE: Marc Gasol has said he wants to step up his game offensively this year...what do you expect from him?
CH: There is so much more to Marc Gasol's upcoming season than just "stepping up his game offensively." If there is any year for Gasol to reach his peak as an NBA player, this is it. He entered the 2014 FIBA World Cup with Team Spain in tremendous shape. Most (if not all - me, especially) were shocked at how he looked before that event began. And yet with the way Team Spain was ousted...in the quarterfinals...in their home country...after running through the Group Phase games with relative ease...losing to a France team that they had beaten by 24 during the Group Phase... That left a very, very sour taste in the mouth of Marc Gasol. Another point, and yet it's potentially the most important and well documented, is that he's in a contract year. There is all types of debate already surrounding this fact - where he will ultimately end up and how much money he will get on the open market. What better way to prove his high value than to have a monster year this season? Therefore, I expect this monster year to come to fruition.
BE: Mike Conley is a solid point guard but rarely gets mentioned with other upper echelon point guards around his age. Why is that, and is there another step he can take to gain more league-wide respect among fans?
CH: Conley hasn't been quite as outspoken in his floor leadership as Chris Paul; that just hasn't been his own, personal style. He isn't going to look for any kind of "flash" in a transition dunk or hang-time in his jumpers like Russell Westbrook (and he has more of an even-keel demeanor than Westbrook's roller-coaster outward expression of emotion). He won't just shoot pull-up threes as soon as he crosses half-court, like Stephen Curry has the freedom to do (at least, under Mark Jackson). Yes, Curry can hit from anywhere on the court at any given time, but I don't think the Grizzlies want Conley to transform into that type of player in their system. There really isn't any so-called "flash" to Conley's game, and that's why he doesn't get much notoriety among fans who watch performances of Paul, Westbrook and Curry in amazement. Conley's game reflects the fact that he doesn't need all of the hype and media attention to be a successful point guard in the NBA. He might not be at the level of Tony Parker, but he can still slice through the lane and create nifty angles for layups, or distribute the basketball to open shooters and execute drop-offs to the Grizzlies' bigs. In Memphis' system, I don't think Conley is forced/required to take over a game by himself in the clutch like the point guards whom fans talk about and admire. He is a facilitator and has the talent/ability to score either when needed or when the defense gives him that option, an example of his high basketball IQ. To move closer to elite status, it's all about taking on an increased responsibility, as well as the obvious factor of staying healthy. Barring injury, I expect Conley to make that leap into elite status this season. He's coming off of a career high in points (17.2) and remaining at the 6.0 apg game level while achieving that scoring level. He's got two years left on his current deal, so he only has more incentive to continue to improve his game. Even if fans are overlooking his game, I bet NBA general managers are keeping a close eye on Conley's game and career arch as his free agency status draws closer to reality.
BE: Are there any young or unheralded players you think the rest of the league is overlooking who are on Memphis' roster and poised to have an unexpectedly solid year?
CH: To be honest with you, I was actually hoping the Grizzlies would take Cleanthony Early with their first round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. I thought he would have been the perfect small forward with the versatility to complement Lee/Carter's scoring touch, or even to share the floor with Allen and his defensive prowess. So, I was somewhat perplexed when Jordan Adams' name was called with Memphis' pick in the first round. Nevertheless, Adams has also gotten in great shape since Florida ended his college career in the Sweet Sixteen at the FedEx Forum back in March. He was a legit scorer during his time at UCLA, and I will never forget his game-winning 3-point shot that gave the Bruins a clutch win over Arizona.
He's coming off a great Summer League experience, and he and the Grizzlies' other rookie, Jarnell Stokes, led the team in scoring in their most recent preseason game. Keep an eye on Adams; I can definitely see him eventually becoming the other starter at the wing spot by the time the season draws close to the end (maybe as soon as around the All-Star break, or even sooner). I would also keep an eye on the Grizzlies' other rookie, Jarnell Stokes. This is a guy originally from the Memphis area who could become a younger version of a Randolph-clone. He might start out with the Iowa Energy of the D-League, but look for him to be called up at some point during the season and earn some important playing time later on in the season.
Special thanks to Grizzly Bear Blues staff writer Chris Huffines for taking the time to discuss the Memphis Grizzlies' upcoming season with Blazer's Edge. Chris can be found on twitter @HuffnPuffn. Grizzly Bear Blues has you covered for Grizzlies news and analysis.
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