Friday, August 17, 2007

Position Battles - Point Guards

This may be a bit too early to really discuss. After all Pau Gasol hasn't made it thru the summer FIBA exhibition games yet much less the actual tournament in September and this season we have Darko, Navarro and Miller all competing in FIBA events as well.

However this year appears to be shaping up to be the most competitive camp in team history. Not since Billy Knight and Sydney Lowe had rookies Shane Battier and Pau Gasol in camp with newcomers Jason Williams and Lorenzen Wright have their been so many new faces with opportunities to start entering training camp. Looking at the positional breakdowns in a different light than the simplistic PG, SG, SF, PF and C battles reveals a myraid of optional lineups that could and most likely will start at different points of the season.

Marc Iavaroni believes in running positions as two areas of focus: Interior players and wing players. I will be looking at positional battles over the next few weeks in this manner except the Point Guard position which will be broken out seperately. I will also overlap certain players into different groups. This is done to fully cover the possibilities.

So here they are...

Point Guards

Outside of Damon Stoudamire the Grizzlies 3 other point guards have a total of 10 games of NBA experience and Damon Stoudamire while essentially the returning starter probably won't be competing for the starting role this season. With Kyle Lowry healed from his broken wrist, top draft pick Mike Conley, Jr and Pau's best friend Juan Carlos Navarro all available to play the point and the oldest of these players being 6 years younger than Damon there doesn't appear to be much chance the veteran will be on the court after November and only a slim chance before then. Damon came to Memphis to replace JWill and provide leadership and experience to the point. He can still do that now but instead of leading on the court, he will need to lead in practice. Damon will have to help the young guns to learn the NBA game fast if the Grizzlies are going to have a successful season.

The real battle appears on paper to be Kyle Lowry vs Mike Conley.

Lowry has the quicker hands and more physical style that will frustrate oppenents attempting to drive into the lane against the Grizzlies. He also has a great nose for the ball and no fear in attacking to get it. His 3.1 rpg and 1.4 spg last season can attest to that. However that was accomplished in limited minutes and in limited games. If Kyle Lowry played 48 minutes a night he would average 8.5 rpg. Of course he would only last about 9 games that way before dying from exhaustion as well. Kyle's biggest weakness is his outside shot which was terrible last year (36.8% from the floor).

Mike Conley is faster, a better playmaker and can jump higher than Lowry but he has no outside shot either, is to thin to be a physical player and two years ago was preparing for his senior season in high school. Conley appears to have the tools to be an excellent point guard but you have to wonder how prepared he is for life in the NBA. Rookie point guards have a history of struggling in the NBA and those who have succeeded were more experienced and polished entering the league. Conley's main drawback outside of his age is his lack of an outside shot but that is somewhat mitigated by his speed with the ball. That extra speed should allow him to get past his initial defender and into the paint where his passing and rainbow shot are more effective.

The wild card is La Bomba, Juan Carlos Navarro. Navarro is spoken of as more of a shooting guard than a point guard but he does have a nice passing game for a shooter and should be able to fill the role in emergency situations. He is the only potential PG who actually could create fear at the 3 pt line also. Previous Iavaroni coached teams had Steve Nash, Mark Price and Tim Hardaway at the point so he can appreciate the impact a shooter can have on a team from the outside. Navarro could struggle learning the NBA game after establishing himself in the Spanish and European leagues but having Pau Gasol and Damon Stoudamire around could soften the blow somewhat.

So what will happen?

I previously thought that Damon would be the starter because of his experience. After watching the summer league games I became convinced that Mike Conley was the man with his superior ability to get others involved. Wait until after the FIBA Europe tournament and I may be singing Navarro's praise. In other words this competition is honestly wide open. Damon has to have the inside track as his knee should be fully recovered from his patella tendon injury and while old and slow he is still the only experienced point guard on the team and opening night is against Tony Parker, the reigning NBA Finals MVP. Somehow I don't see Iavaroni starting the matchup with a rookie.

Next review will be Wing Players

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