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2013-14 NBA Season Preview: Memphis Grizzlies

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Most Important Player: Mike Conley
Conley’s continued improvement as a decision maker and leader will be the determining factor in the Memphis Grizzlies’ season. Head coach David Joerger has made it clear that he wants to push the tempo, and Conley is the man responsible for the success or failure of this approach. He is also a noteworthy defender. Combined with Tony Allen, they’re among the most frustrating perimeter defenses in the NBA.

For more on how Conley controls the Grizzlies offense, check out this exceptional breakdown by Mr. Zach Lowe.

X-Factor: Perimeter Shooting
During the 2013 Western Conference Finals, the San Antonio Spurs took advantage of this major weakness by packing the paint against Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Normally, the Grizzlies play an inside-out game, which leads to open shots on the perimeter. If the post is being taken away, players who are left open must take advantage. Quincy Pondexter and Jerryd Bayless were the primary beneficiaries of the Spurs’ defensive strategy. They’re decent spot-up shooters when left open, but weren’t consistent enough when it really counted. The awful shooting resulted in a playoff sweep and changed the narrative of the Grizzlies’ 2012-13 season from “legitimate contender for an NBA championship” to “disappointing team that can’t get over the hump.”

Grizzlies management attempted to address the lackluster shooting by signing the often-injured Mike Miller. He is unlikely to play much until the playoffs start, but the team is hoping it works out as well for them as it did for the Miami Heat. Unfortunately, Millertime will not be enough to improve the perimeter shooting of the entire team.

Here are a few numbers to put in perspective how difficult it is for the Grizzlies to score:

2012-13 NBA Team Rankings

93.4 Points Per Game (27th)
44.4 % Field Goal Percentage (22nd)
34.5 % Three-Point Field Goal Percentage (24th)
4.7 Three-Pointers Made (30th)
13.5 Three-Pointers Attempted (30th)

Not only are the Grizzlies far below average at outside shooting, but they don’t even want to shoot outside shots in the first place. Dave Joerger has plans to alleviate this problem by picking up the pace: pushing the ball in transition and not pressing Gasol and Randolph to force shots in the post as the shot clock expires. This sounds great in theory but might be flawed in practice. The only strong ball handler returning to the team from last season is Conley, but maybe Joerger knows something we don’t.

Rotations: The starting five will remain the same:

PG Mike Conley
SG Tony Allen
SF Tayshaun Prince
PF Zach Randolph
C Marc Gasol

The bench rotation is an unknown because of personnel turnover, both player and coach.

It’s a safe assumption the first men off the bench will be Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter. The main big men backups will likely be Kosta Koufos and Ed Davis. Everything else is a total guess since Mike Miller is too injury-prone to assume he will play much during the regular season, and all other players are unproven commodities or at the end of their careers.

What Needs to Go Right: The high-octane, uptempo Grizzlies surprise the NBA with their new strategy. The perimeter shooting improves to league average. Z-Bo and Mike Miller avoid the nagging injuries they are fated to suffer each season. Tony Allen stops missing layups.

It’s Really Bad If: Tony Allen keeps missing layups. The perimeter shooting does not improve. The lack of average ball handlers keeps the offense slow and stagnant again. The defense begins to struggle under a new coaching philosophy.

Bold Prediction: The Grizzlies make it to the NBA Finals. Only three teams in the Western Conference with legitimate title aspirations made improvements to their rosters: Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets. Everyone else stayed the same (San Antonio Spurs) or got worse (Oklahoma City Thunder). The Clippers frontcourt can’t be trusted in late-game situations. The Warriors retained their great shooting and anchored their defense with Andre Iguodala, but their frontcourt regularly suffers too many injuries to consider them a serious threat. That leaves the Rockets, who arguably have the best shooting guard and center in the NBA, but who also are a mystery in terms of chemistry.

The Western Conference is still strong, but it’s weaker than it has been in over a decade. This is the year the Grizzlies put it all together and make the run we expected last season.

Welcome to the 2013-14 NBA season, year of the Memphis Grizzlies!

Before reading through the player profiles, please take a moment to familiarize yourself with this essential write-up by Grizzly Bear Blues’‘s Andrew Ford about the new head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, David Joerger.


Tony Allen, SG (8.9 PPG, 1.2 APG, 4.6 RPG)
Strengths: Possibly the best perimeter defender in the league, high basketball IQ, infectious competitiveness.
Weaknesses: Unreliable jumper, occasional bonehead mistakes on offense, weak ball handler.
Season Prediction: Allen will continue to hound perimeter scorers across the league and continue to give us a few missed layups for laughs.

Jerryd Bayless, PG/SG (8.7 PPG, 3.3. APG, 2.2 RPG)
Strengths: Solid spot-up shooter, energetic defender.
Weaknesses: Plays point guard but does not facilitate the offense, questionable decision making, rarely attacks the paint.
Season Prediction: An improvement in numbers is expected because of Joerger’s system, but the Grizzlies need Bayless to take a more integral role in initiating the offense. This could go well or horribly. I flipped a coin and heads predicted that he will play well. Here’s to hoping.

Nick Calathes (rookie)
Strengths: Eurocup MVP, great court vision, passing and finishing.
Weaknesses: Mediocre jumper, not a good defender.
Season Prediction: Calathes will become the backup point guard to Conley. Dooling is not the answer and Bayless is a shoot-first guard. Hopefully he can add an extra dimension to the second unit, and maybe even a change of pace with the starters in some units.

Mike Conley, PG (14.6 PPG, 2.8 RPG, 6.1 APG)
Strengths: One of the best pick-and-roll players in the league, solid jumper, among the best point guard defenders.
Weaknesses: Small, not a great scorer.
Season Prediction: The Grizzlies go as he goes. More responsibilities will be placed into his hands this season and Conley will flourish within Joerger’s system.

Ed Davis, PF (7.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.0 BPG)
Strengths: Good runner, good hands around the rim, not afraid to be posterized on defense.
Weaknesses: Skinny for a power forward (225 pounds), raw talent.
Season Prediction: Unless an injury occurs, Davis will play 16-20 minutes a game to provide energy and defense. He has the talent to score but has not fleshed out enough to develop a consistent post game or jumper.

Kenyon Dooling, SG (4.4 PPG, 0.1 RPG, 1.1 APG)
Strengths: Veteran presence.
Weaknesses: Unable to penetrate defenses, inconsistent jumpshot, does not rebound well.
Season Prediction: Dooling will be inserted in games to be the antithesis to Bayless: no rushed shots, no energy. But seriously, they want Dooling to give Conley rest and take care of the ball. He can handle that assignment just fine.

Marc Gasol, C (14.1 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 4.0 APG)
Strengths: Reigning Defensive Player of the Year, solid jumper, great post moves, slick passing skills.
Weaknesses: Not a good runner, below-average athleticism.
Season Prediction: The most reliable player on the Grizzlies will bring great defense and post play as usual. Thanks to the last year’s playoff success, more NBA fans will learn that Gasol is a top-three center in the league.

Kosta Koufos, C (8.0 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 0.4 APG)
Strengths: Moves well on offense without the ball, solid defender, good athlete.
Weaknesses: Limited post game, struggles to pass out of double teams.
Season Prediction: Koufos will do very well with the Grizzlies under the tutelage of Gasol and Randolph. He is the most talented player on the bench and will be its most consistent player once they help him refine his game on both sides of the ball.

Jon Leuer, PF (2.0 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.4 APG)
Strengths: Hard worker, long wingspan.
Weaknesses: Small size, slow defender, poor finisher at the basket.
Season Prediction: He will rarely see time unless there is a lot of foul trouble. He’s a big body, who doesn’t need those?

Mike Miller, SG/SF (4.8 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 1.7 APG)
Strengths: Excellent long-range shooter, solid rebounder.
Weaknesses: Often injured, poor defender.
Season Prediction: A few good regular season games followed by game-saving threes in the playoffs. Basically what the Miami Heat got last year.

Tayshaun Prince, SF (10.4 PPG, 2.4 APG, 4.4 RPG)
Strengths: Above-average defender, capable ball handler, championship experience.
Weaknesses: Not adept at creating his own shot.
Season Prediction: A season of good defense and improved jump-shooting is all the team needs from Prince. He might not always perform as well as fans prefer, but Joerger will likely play Prince light minutes until the playoffs when they need him at full throttle.

Zach Randolph, PF (15.4 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 1.4 APG)
Strengths: Great rebounder, tricky post game, fiery attitude.
Weaknesses: Has cold streaks as a shooter, below average athleticism, injury prone.
Season Prediction: Z-Bo is the heart of the team. He sets the tone for the team’s attitude and no one wants to fight him. He was even inducted into the “Dark Alley Fab Five” along with Tony Allen. Expect more of the same All-Star production from Randolph as he solidifies his legacy as one of the best big men of this generation.

Willie Reed, PF (0.8 PPG, 1.0 RPG, 0.0 APG)
Strengths: Young
Weaknesses: Very raw.
Season Prediction: He will likely be released during the season unless his time in the D-League shows some drastic improvements.

Janis Timma, SF (rookie)
Strengths: Three-point range, above-average athlete, NBA size.
Weaknesses: Not a good decision maker, loses focus during games.
Season Prediction: Joerger might give Timma some chances to prove himself during the regular season. He is known as an enigma who either impacts games or gets completely lost in the action.

(All stats all from the 2012-13 regular season)

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