Sunday, October 14, 2007

Memphis vs Minnesota

The Grizzlies returned home to Memphis to a warm reception in an open practice Saturday from the home fans. The team seems to have righted themselves with a convincing win against MMT Estudiantes. The Grizzlies showed renewed strength and determination on the boards after being destroyed in the first game by 20 boards in the loss to Malaga. Juan Carlos Navarro is looking to be everything dreamed of so far but it will be interesting to see if he can continue his good shooting in Memphis. The Point Guard battle is still raging as is the starting compliment to Pau Gasol in the interior.

Minnesota struggled in Europe as the team rebuilds after the big trade of Kevin Garnett this summer. After narrowly defeating Istanbul 84-81 in Turkey, Minnesota was easily handled by Kevin Garnett and Boston in London. Ricky Davis, the Grizzly Killer, started off red-hot against Boston scoring 16 points in the first quarter but was unable to maintain that pace. Minnesota is also experiencing a Point Guard battle with Randy Foye, Marco Jaric and Sebastian Telfair battling for minutes. Juwan Howard is unhappy in Minnesota and has expressed a desire to be traded which has to be difficult for the team to deal with as well.

Point Guards: Damon Stoudamire vs Randy Foye
If there was a battle that should expose Damon's condition this is it. Randy Foye is quick and look to scores first, pass second. If Damon is to win the starting role (or a ticket out of town as was rumored to be his desire this summer) then he needs to prove he still has the quickness to keep in front of Foye. If Damon is unable to slow him down expect to see Kyle Lowry jump off the bench to provide a defensive spark. Kyle may have solidified his role as the first option off the bench with his play but has yet to provide evidence of his being a starter. Mike Conley is still very young but talented with abundant leadership skills. Jaric was a big FA signing a few years back. A big mistake so far. The real surprise so far has been Telfair's apparent maturity. He has looked good in both games and may be a real surprise if he can continue to develop. It should be interesting to compare the differences between Memphis' pass first point guards with Minnesota's shooting first PG's. With 6 players fighting for two starting spots this will be a position to watch Monday night.

Shooting Guards: Mike Miller vs Ricky Davis
For two young rebuilding teams this matchup is one very familiar to both players. Ricky Davis has been a major thorn in the Grizzlies side in the past hitting three game winning shots in the last three years. Ricky Davis also provided one of the funnier moments last season when he asked Tarence Kinsey who he was in a game. Kinsey may be struggling for minutes again as Juan Carlos Navarro has looked fantastic offensively so far. Of course those games were in Navarro's back yard in Spain and no one knows how he will perform under NBA rules in Memphis. Rashard McCants has struggled to find his shot in the NBA. A tweener guard better suited for SG than PG, McCants has the mindset of a big scorer but the mechanics of a defensive specialist. Something will have to change if he is going to be successful in the NBA.

Small Forward: Rudy Gay vs Ryan Gomes
Rudy is being used some at PF to cover his poor ball handling skills. To often his inability to create separation off the dribble causes him to settle for long range jump shots that aren't his specialty. Gomes will be willing to give him those long range shots all night to prevent him from getting into the lane where Rudy's athleticism can change a game. Gomes is just holding down the position until Corey Brewer learns the NBA game. Brewer, the former Final 4 MVP, should get plenty of opportunity to show his skills but he too suffers from poor ball handling skills. Brewer will need to learn how to drive past opponents to be most effective. His defensive skills are not a question. Casey Jacobsen has the long range shot that even Mike Miller admires but little else. His slowness makes him a defensive liability and he isn't a rebounder at all.

Power Forward: Pau Gasol vs Al Jefferson
The PF matchup has always been the most intriguing battle in TWolves-Grizzlies battles and this year is no exception despite the loss of KG. Al Jefferson is the new force at the four in Minnesota and if last season is any indication the T'Wolves have a power for years to come. The pre-season hasn't shown that to be the case however as Minnesota's shoot first PG play has yet to find a way to get him the ball. When that changes, and it has to for Minnesota to be successful, then watch out. With only 13 attempts so far however the team doesn't appear to be interested in showing Jefferson off just yet. Gasol has been more productive in the preseason with back to back strong performances. Gasol appears happier than he has been in years and that could be do to Navarro's presence and it could be because he is playing for a coach that recognizes the importance of his role on the team. Either way he is playing well. Both players can shift to center in certain lineups but are natural power forwards. Hakim Warrick has appeared strong offensively off the bench but still struggles in rebounding and defense. Juwan Howard has started some but probably more for showcasing for a trade than a serious desire to see him starting.

Centers: Stromile Swift vs Mark Blount
Stromile Swift and Darko Milicic are having an interesting battle this preseason. Swift's outplaying Darko so far shouldn't be a big surprise. Stro has always had tremendous talent. It is his consistency and ability to play through minor pain that has been questioned. Darko looks lost at times but this is his third radical playing style change since April so some adjustment time needs to be factored into the discussion of his play. Mark Blount is being challenged right now by Theo Ratliff which is a surprise. Ratliff's back was supposed to be too debilitating to be able to play. Blount is a player labeled lazy for his preference to play soft. When his fade away is dropping he can be effective. He isn't as effective as he could be if he would be more aggressive but it is too late in his career to expect that to happen now.

Coaches: Marc Iavaroni vs Randy Whitman
Randy Whitman took over in mid-season last year and took a .500 team to the bottom of the league standings. Not a good beginning and then he lost KG which makes his job that much more difficult. One has to wonder if he has the team listening to him with the ineffectiveness of Al Jefferson so far. Perhaps Whitman was promoted a bit too early in his career to be a good head coach. That isn't a problem rookie head coach Marc Iavaroni has in Memphis. He has bided his time well as an assistant coach working with Pat Riley, Mike Fratello, Mike D'Antoni and of course Pete Newell for years before finally getting a shot at the top in Memphis. Iavaroni's positive attitude and willingness to get on the court and show players what he is talking about how energized the players and the fans. Only time will tell how his game management skill develops but right now he has people excited about the possibilities.

No comments: