Friday, October 5, 2007

Grizzlies vs Unicaja

Memphis kicks off the Iavaroni era in a new and exciting local with new and exciting players and a new and exciting style of play. Seems like there will be a lot of new and exciting things to watch in this game. Leading the excitement will be the Spanish national here, Pau Gasol. Playing on his professional team in front of the local fans should motivate Gasol to put up a strong effort. Pau has always loved his native country and this opportunity to shine should really motivate the big guy. Teamed with another 7 ft player in Darko Milicic, a Serb who played in Spain during the FIBA Championships, should add some extra spice. The team looks to be relying on two very young PGs in Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry. Both are fast and know how to get into the lane. What they do once they get there could determine how good the Grizzlies can be.

Unicaja Malaga is rebuilding their team after losing Jorge Carbajosa and Walter Hermann from the team they had two seasons ago. Filling in will be former NBA players Jiri Welsch and Daniel Santiago as well as former Vol Marcus Haislip. The interesting connections continue with the arrival of new point guard Bojan Popovic who used to play with former Grizz players Antonis Fotsis and Eddie Gill in on Dynamo Moscow. Unicaja surprised many last season with their playoff run despite their losses and this year believe they are a club ready to contend. Upsetting an NBA team would go a long way toward confirming that emotion.

Point Guards
Damon Stoudamire vs Bojan Popovic

Damon will know one Serbian via camp with Darko. Now he will be faced with another one in the person of Popovic Bojan, a 6-3 point guard. It is doubtful that Bojan will be prepared for the Grizzlies style of play but he is an experienced PG who will make it difficult for Damon to get away with easy moves. Damon will have to out-speed the crafty vet and put pressure on him all over the court to force the ball out of his hands. More importantly Damon will need to know when to shoot and when not to. Damon's defense has been suspect and at 5-10 he will need to harass Popovic and not allow him too many open looks. Popovic is too smart and knows the refs too well to allow Damon too many easy plays. If Damon struggles expect a quick hook in favor or Lowry or Conley.

Shooting Guards
Mike Miller vs Berni Rodriguez

Mike Miller is trying out for the USA team this summer so his conditioning shouldn't be a question this year. However, his play on a team focused on defense to promote the running game makes it uncertain if Miller starts or not. He is the only legitimate 3 pt shooting threat on the team however and with penetrating point guards and two legitimate 7 players the need for a sharp-shooting SG seems obvious. Miller is better than Kinsey in this regard. Bernando Rodriquez is the only starter on the Unicaja team that actually came up from the junior program. The 27 yr old player failed to average double figure points last season and only hit 33% of his shots beyond the arc despite the closer range of the international line. He did shoot 64% from inside the arc however. Rodriquez doesn't appear to be up to the talent level of NBA players but he is experienced and knows the game.

Small Forwards
Rudy Gay vs Carlos Jiménez

Rudy wasn't very consistent in the summer league but did show a tremendous amount of talent. Capable of highlight film dunks as well as hitting a decent percent from beyond the arc if Rudy can figure out how to overcome slow starts he should be a force in the league. The problem is that Rudy hasn't shown the ability to overcome slow starts yet. Carlos Jiménez is the prototypical role player who does everything well except scoring. He's an outstanding and intelligent defender in both SF and PF positions, rebounds extremely well for his size (and he's not small, mind you), takes charges, is a good passer, gets offensive rebounds and sets up screens for his teammates constantly. He does so many things on the court that he's very valuable to his team. He's the starter SF on the Spanish National Team for a reason.

Power Forwards
Pau Gasol vs Marcus Haislip

The former Vol and 1st rd draft pick of the Milwaukee Bucks, Haislip washed out of the NBA pretty fast for a lottery pick. In three seasons in the NBA Haislip played a grand total of 79 games. After leaving the NBA Haislip played in Turkey where he earned an all-star game appearance before signing with Unicaja. An incredible physical specimen Haislip has shown an inability to combine his physical talents and athleticism into success on the court. Gasol will be playing in his home country with his professional team and should be difficult to stop in this environment. Last season Gasol was not able to play for the first 23 games of the season, worked himself into shape while playing, dealt with the stress of a trade request and still averaged 21 pts and 9.8 rpg. One of the most unstoppable players around the paint Pau needs to focus on being more of a leader in the young Grizzlies team.

Darko Milicic Daniel Santiago

Darko could be the savior of the Grizzlies franchise or he could continue a career of failing to live up to expectations. A true shot blocker, Darko is supposed to be carrying a chip on his shoulder after Orlando pulled their qualifying offer for Darko making him an immediate unrestricted free agent. That insult may spur him to realize the potential people saw when he was drafted 2nd ahead of such notable names as Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh and Kirk Hinrich. Daniel Santiago will play his third season with Unicaja. He played well for them two seasons ago when they won the ACB league. Of course, he had Garbajosa by his side to attract defenders and open up spaces. He struggled last season with less space to move and later with an injury that had him sidelined for a high number of weeks. He's supposed to have recovered from it.

Benches & Coaches
Sergio Scariolo's a veteran of the acb league, coaching there since 1997. He first coached on the Italian league from 1989 to 1997 winning the tournament once in the process. He has won one ACB league coaching Real Madrid and has been runner up twice with two different teams (Tau Vitoria and Real Madrid). He's a veteran coach with many tricks under his sleeve. Marc Iavaroni has done everything right since joining the Grizzlies franchise just before the draft. Everything that is but actually win a game. With his first camp being interrupted by the trip to Spain one has to be concerned about the mental shape of the Grizzlies as they play this game. The Grizzlies have a far deeper team than Unicaja with Juan Carlos Navarro, Tarence Kinsey, Hakim Warrick and the depth at PG to bolster the team. Germán Gabriel is a poor man's Garbajosa who plays both PF and C positions. He's a good defender (but not as good as Garbo, of course) and can hit the outside shot. Our big men can have some difficulties defending him because of that, but Memphis can play with two seven footers at the same time, so even if he takes one outside of the paint with his shot there will still be another. Jiri Welsch has NBA experience and has the all-around team first game that excels internationally but fails in the NBA.

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