Memphis enters their 7th season in Memphis with a team filled with more potential than at any time since the Grizzlies were in Vancouver and Stu Jackson was the GM. That isn't to say the team is going to be the best team in Memphis history but just that the opportunity for greatness seems more palpable than at any previous time. Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, Rudy Gay and Tarence Kinsey are the young guns now and look like all can contribute, Darko Milicic, Casey Jacobsen and Andre Brown were FA signings that bring a lot of upside and some experience and the vets of Miller, Swift, Stoudamire, Warrick and of course Pau Gasol all look to improve on previous years. Memphis is a young, fast and talented team that needs to put it all together in the toughest division in the toughest conference. Rookie Head Coach Marc Iavaroni has an interesting job ahead of him.
San Antonio Spurs
San Antonio opens at home against the Greg Oden-less Blazers on Tuesday night. Talk about a letdown for the networks. The Spurs also get their World Championship rings before the game. They then travel to Memphis to face the Grizzlies. One could understand the Spurs overlooking this game. The Spurs are veterans however who have been simultaneously proclaimed the team of the decade and criticized for their failure to be able to repeat as champions. Obviously a repeat has to be high on their list of things to accomplish this season. However the team continues to age at an alarming rate. Tim Duncan is 31. Manu Ginobili is 30, Michael Finley is 34, Bruce Bowen is 36, Francisco Elson is 31, Fabricio Oberto is 32 and Robert Horry is only 37 but seems to be closer to 50. The only young contributor on the team is Tony Parker, 25, and coming off an incredible summer where he won the NBA Championship, was named NBA Finals MVP and then married Eva Longoria. Talk about a nice couple of months.
Damon Stoudamire vs Tony Parker
Coming off the most incredible summer anyone could ask for Tony Parker faces an aging point guard who is recovering from major knee surgery and was expected to be more coach than starting PG this season. Parker doesn't have a lot of support behind him and will be pressured all game from the trio of PG's Memphis can throw at him. The key to stopping Parker is to not let him get into the lane, something easier written than done. Damon will be pressured to do this since his reputation is not that great on defense. Damon just needs to play his game and keep them team controlled. Slowing down Parker man to man will fall on Kyle Lowry's shoulders. Unfortunately, Parker is just too experienced and fast for the Grizz to contain.
Advantage: San Antonio
Mike Miller vs Michael Finley
It still amazes me that these two players are expected to start for their teams. Finley was considered over the hill when San Antonio signed him three years ago. His massive minutes in Dallas had supposedly robbed him of his game and he was rumored to be burned out. While it is true he isn't the player he was in Dallas, Finley has proven to be an intelligent player who knows when to step up his game and when to allow others to lead the way. Miller was supposed to be the consummate 6th man. A scoring threat from anywhere on the court, Miller's lack of speed and toughness was rumored to be too much to overcome as a starter. Last year he proved his critics wrong becoming a dominant #2 scoring threat and surprisingly tough. A suspicious knee injury sidelined him the last month of the season keeping him from playing in 80 games last year for the 1st time since his rookie year. He still set season highs in scoring, rebounding and assists and at 27 is in the prime of his career.
Rudy Gay vs Bruce Bowen
I don't know how often these two will be paired up against each other. Bowen is a defensive master (or dirty player depending on who you talk to) who will most likely draw Miller for a defensive assignment but an offensive liability who will most likely be guarded by Miller as well. But the positions are what they are. Rudy showed glimpses of the ability Jerry West believed in when he traded fan favorite Shane Battier for Rudy's rights in 2006. Just turned 21, Rudy has height, talent and determination. Most importantly he wants to be among the best and worked hard this summer to take another step toward that goal. With a 39" vertical leap and long arms Rudy is both a shot blocking threat and a decent steals man but still needs to learn position to be truly effective. However people aren't looking for Rudy to be the next great defensive SF. He is expected to be a 5 category threat starting with scoring. Rudy has range to the 3 pt line and can jump over almost anyone in the league. Bowen is old and will have to use all of the tricks left in his bag against Rudy.
Advantage: San Antonio
Pau Gasol vs Tim Duncan
Pau Gasol is one of the few players in the NBA that is capable of averaging a double double in scoring and rebounding over an 82 game season. He is among the top 10 in the league at blocking shots. He shoots a high percentage from the floor and is a good enough passer to possibly post a triple double on any given night. And he is hopelessly outclassed in this matchup. Tim Duncan could quite possibly be the greatest power forward to ever play in the NBA. His career averages are 21.8 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 3.3 apg, 3.1 bpg and 52.1% FG shooting. That is a 10 yr average. He had routinely been named to both the All-NBA first team and the All-NBA Defensive first team. Does he have a weakness? Well it is written that he is afraid of heights and sharks. Seriously, his free throw shooting is abysmal which does allow teams to play a sort of 'Bonk a Dunc' defense in reference to the old Hack a Shaq ploy but late in games you don't want him on the line either.
Advantage: San Antonio
Stromile Swift vs Fabricio Oberto
If there was a bigger surprise on the team this season than Stromile Swift then I don't know what it is. No one gave Stro a chance to be in the mix for a starting job but he beat out returnee Hakim Warrick and free agent Darko Milicic quite easily to win the job. Swift has a history of failing to capitalize on opportunities and will have to prove he can play a full season to win over a lot of people. Oberto emerged in the playoffs last season but a broken bone in Elson's his face forces Oberto into the starting role and at 31 it is more likely the playoffs were a fluke than a trend.
Memphis' bench is as deep as it has been with since Hubie Brown paced the sidelines. With Kyle Lowry, Juan Carlos Navarro, Casey Jacobsen, Hakim Warrick and Darko Milicic the Grizzlies have someone at every position to offer support and often the bench is faster than the starters. What they lack is experience. San Antonio's bench is long on experience and age. With Brent Barry, Matt Bonner, Francisco Elson, Manu Ginobili, and Robert Horry the Spurs bench averages over 30 years old and will be hard pressed to stay with the Grizzlies if the game picks up pace. It is the Spurs job not to let the game get fast and they are good at that. Back to back games hurt the legs of these old guys and Memphis will be fresh and anxious.
Coaches: Marc Iavaroni v Gregg Popovich
Iavaroni waited until the time was right and is ready to go but seriously is there a better coach in the NBA than Gregg Popovich? It isn't just that he has 4 titles without repeating once but he has kept his team competitive in almost every season he has been in control. He did lose valued assistant PJ Carlisimo but how important are assistant coaches anyway? Iavaroni will be tested by the best to start his head coaching career. Iavaroni has carried the clipboard with some of the best coaches in the game in Mike Fratello, Pat Riley and Mike D'Antoni but everything changes when you have to make the tough calls. Welcome to the hot spot Marc.
Advantage: San Antonio
Make sure you post your final score predictions in a comment!
Comments from Pounding the Rock (San Antonio Spurs blog): Record: 1-0
Up Next: @ Memphis Grizzlies
And just like that, as Matthew pointed out, we've got our first segababa of the year. A loss here wouldn't surprise me in the slightest as conditioning will probably be an issue for Tony, who's still trying to work himself into shape, and who knows how Finley and Barry will respond? If we play defense like we did tonight, we're gonna be 1-1. Fortunately, nobody on Memphis' roster is all that defensively imposing and I think we'll be able to take advantage of some of their youngsters. I predict a double-double from the Red Rocket, 25+ points from Opus, and a narrow Spurs win, let's say 99-95.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007