This time of year everyone has opinions.
Joel Brigham at Hoopsworld.com predicts the Grizzlies will flirt with 50 wins and return to the playoffs. A combination of a healthy and motivated Gasol (apparently averaging 21 pts and nearly 10 rebounds last season was accomplished without Gasol being motivated), promising new players, a new coach and improvement from the returning players and the propensity for people to overlook Memphis will create a symmetry of success.
On the other side of the fence we have David Berri and his Wages of Wins statistical work that suggests that while Gasol and Miller will be strong players again that the combination of players who are sub-standard and/or inexperienced will drag down the overall team effect. Mr. Berri also believes that coaching has far less to do with outcomes than most people believe. Having read much of what Mr. Berri has written it is difficult to argue with the logic of his assumptions. His prediction is a better year than last but not a playoff contender or even pretender. Some improvement but still a bad team.
In the middle you have people like Phil Partington at Suite101, an on-line open posting magazine (I have no idea what that literally means by the way). Mr. Partington believes that Memphis will be one of the most improved teams in the league this season but still fail to reach the playoffs. His prediction fails at one level. He predicts a 13 game improvement and a final record of 38-44. Apparently English Composition is his forte, not math. 13 wins only brings the Grizzlies to 35 wins Phil.
Where do I stand on the upcoming season? I have looked at the team's point guards, wing men and interior players and I see talent at all three spots. Far more talent than we have had in total at any time since the Grizzlies came from Vancouver. However I also feel the team has the look of a 3rd year expansion team. The team has talent and some experience but is lacking cohesion and chemistry. It will probably develop during the season but in a difficult conference and the most difficult division there isn't time for slow starts and team building. I also have a bad feeling about the trip to Spain during training camp. This team needs to spend time bonding on the court not in a plane and traveling over the Atlantic Ocean twice in a week takes a heavy toll on your body, even if you are a professional athlete. That disruption puts the team behind the 8 ball right off the bat.
I have serious qualms about rookies playing the point, especially when they aren't score first point guards. Granted Kyle Lowry had an awesome start last season but he also played select minutes and very few games. Mike Conley and Lowry have no outside shot and teams will be able to play off them daring them to take outside shots. Until they hit those shots with regularity they will find it difficult to create mayhem in the paint.
Our perimeter players are strong but Rudy Gay needs to become more consistent and use his ability better. Summer league showed both what Rudy is capable of and what he is content on doing. He needs to be the dominant player that his physical ability says he should be and not the disappearing act he so often was in college and last season. Navarro and Kinsey should have an interesting battle for minutes off the bench and if Rudy isn't careful TK may just beat him out of minutes allowing Miller to play more at his natural small forward position.
The real mystery is still the interior. Pau Gasol will be the leading scorer and rebounder on the team again. He should average 20+ points and possibly reach the elusive 10 boards a game as well. That is definite. Everyone else comes with question marks. Can Darko be more than his previous four seasons in the NBA have shown? Can Hakim play defense well enough to justify court time? No one questions Hak's offensive ability and speed at the power forward position but last season he gave up more points than he scored. Will Stromile Swift play? Can Cardinal return from another knee surgery? Who is Andre Brown?
The Grizzlies are a team with many questions and a broken training camp schedule. That means a slow start to the season the way I look at it. Things should become better as the season progresses and the team's depth will pay dividends during the dog days of the season. Unfortunately it won't be enough to even reach the fourth spot in the division and fifth place teams don't make the playoffs in the Western Conference.
I expect between 33 and 36 wins, a bright future but a lottery pick next year. Sorry Washington but you will most likely have to wait at least one year to get our #1 pick.
Update: NBA Glue says not to sleep on the Grizzlies.
Sunday, September 23, 2007
This time of year everyone has opinions.