Friday, October 26, 2007

Final Position Battles - Part 2

Marc Iavaroni has made it clear that he wants to run a basic 8 man rotation this season with a possible 9th player from time to time. He also made it clear that the players involved were not going to change from game to game, but be a more consistent rotation. The starters are Damon Stoudamire, Mike Miller, Rudy Gay, Pau Gasol and Stromile Swift. The backup PG is Kyle Lowry.

Yesterday I discussed the final position battle at the wing position. Today I want to look at the backup interior player battle.

This battle was rumored to be happening almost from the moment Darko Milicic was signed as a free agent on July 16th. It was just assumed that Hakim and Darko would be fighting for the starting role next to Gasol and not the backup role. Hakim was coming off a very encouraging sophomore season where he averaged 12.7 ppg on 52.4% shooting while grabbing 5.1 rpg over 26.2 mpg and 43 games started. In April he picked up the pace to 15.3 ppg and 7.8 rpg. Milicic averaged 8.0 ppg and 5.5 rpg in a reserve role withe the Orlando Magic but finished last season with a strong showing of his own in an impressive playoff series against Detroit. He averaged 12.3 ppg on 58.8% shooting in 28.8 mpg. His signing seemed to set up a duel between both players.

It hasn't worked out that way yet. Stromile Swift has easily beaten out both players for the starting role leaving these two young men to fight it out for the last rotation spot. What do each bring to the table?

Why it should be Hakim: Hakim brings offensive fire power off the bench. He's capable of scoring on both big and small forwards with an array of post moves and shocking jumping ability. He's more familiar with the games of the team's big players like Mike Miller and Pau Gasol having played with them for the last two seasons. His speed at the 4 makes the running game more productive.

Why it shouldn't be Hakim: Defense. While Hakim can't be stopped by most players he is equally inept at stopping anyone man on man. He isn't a great shot blocker either despite his leaping ability. He is a black hole on offense also. While difficult to stop individually his refusal to pass the ball often has him taking ill advised shots against double teams. Rebounding is also a problem for Hakim as he doesn't block out well and is too light to hold his position against most power forwards in the league.

Why it should be Darko: Darko is Chris Wallace's coup from the summer free agent period and having Iavaroni and Wallace hanging their hats on your hook isn't a bad reason right off the bat. Darko is a strong force defensively with an incredible ability to block shots. While not a great rebounder himself he does put his body on people allowing others to get the rebound. Paired with Stro or Gasol he is able to take the bulkier defensive assignments freeing the more athletic players to operate against less tiresome opponents. His range is nearly to the three point line freeing up space in the paint for others to operate. He is also an excellent passer for a big man.

Why it shouldn't be Darko: He seems lost in the system right now. Playing for his 3rd coach in 6 months has apparently made Darko cautious and one has to wonder about the emotional scars from his time in Detroit, the free agency debacle in Orlando and the outburst in Spain this summer. He has the propensity to get into foul trouble. The main reason against Darko is his lack of speed. Pairing him with Gasol would appear to make the Grizzlies a slower team than Iavaroni may prefer. His shot selection is also suspect in the half court game.

So who will win? I think it will start off being Darko. His size, defense and passing ability should more than compensate for his other deficiencies. His foul trouble will most likely be countered by the reality that Stro and Pau aren't prone to getting into foul trouble. Darko in a real sense has 24 minutes to use his six fouls.

This leaves Hakim in a precarious position. His option for next season has already been picked up but he is 4th on a 3 man depth chart. His potential and relatively inexpensive contract can be a nice chip to use in a trade scenario combined with someone else (say Damon Stoudamire or Mike Miller). He has never been an attitude problem in the past but this is an important season for Hakim and one has to wonder what will happen if he isn't a member of the regular rotation.

Don't forget the Grizzlies BLOG Party tonight at Jack Daniels Old #7. Spartacus and others will be sitting on the back side of the bar at the first table after the bar. Celebrities may be in attendance so feel free to bring a camera and get autographs!


Ryan Schwan said...

You know - I haven't seen him play this pre-season, but I'm feeling a strong urge to weep for you.

Stro Swift will start? Ugh - I'm a pretty firm believer that players rarely change their spots after their first few years in the league.

ChipC3 said...

Stro's on court play has never been the issue. The issue has been his ability to overcome minor injuries and to play with pain. At 28 Stro has an option to opt out of his contract so this could be his last chance to cash in big. People will spend money on a 29 year old who can leap and run. A 30 yr old who has never proven to consistently contribute is another matter.

But please don't allow my sunshine view of things stop you from weeping. Tigers don't change their stripes very often.

Spartacus said...

Ryan, you are forgetting the most powerful of all motivators: Contract Year

Stro has a Player Option at the end of this year, so if he plays well he can get a new contract.

Ryan Schwan said...

Ahh - in that case, you may be in line for a "Mike James' last year in Toronto" kind of year.

You do surprise me a little that Stro actually has played well over his career. I admittedly haven't been exposed to him that much - but I always got the impression that he was - well, let's use the nice basketball way of saying it - his "Basketball IQ" isn't high.

ChipC3 said...

When he has played he has played well. The problem has been that he hasn't played that often.

The Sunshine Patrol in me says Mike James was nothing compared to what Stro can do but the realist in me says if we could get a Jerome James type contract performance it will be an improvement over what we got last season.

His career best game was 31 pts and 12 boards. Last season he had a 26 pt 11 board game. He can turn it on but the problem had been he can't keep it charged.

If Stro reverts and Darko doesn't improve the Grizzlies are in big trouble but luckily right now they still have Hakim. Not many teams have four big men with as much individual talent as the Grizzlies.

Neon Leon said...

Stro's on court play has never been the issue.

Chip, I'm going to have to disagree with you on that one. I remember plenty of games where Stro was just totally lost out on the court. If he could CONSISTENTLY play at the high level he's capable of, we'd be in great shape.

ChipC3 said...

True. Stro fades in and out. When he is faded in he is awesome. Unfortuantly he isn't the energizer bunny!

(How many jokes can I stretch these power analogies into?)

Like I have repeatedly said, the ability is there but not the motivation in the past. Marc Iavaroni may the man who motivates him but I am not holding my breath (okay I am holding my breath but I am not telling people that I am!).