Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Mid Year Perspective

With the Grizzlies passing the 41 games played mark it is now officially half way through the season. The team stands at 12-29 which is only two games ahead of last season's pace when Gasol missed 23 games with a broken foot and Mike Fratello was fired in late December.

So the question hangs out there "Just how much better are the Grizzlies if any at all?"

Each of the bloggers at 3 Shades of Blue will put their thoughts down on the season so far and what to expect going forward.

Chipc3's Perspective:
Most people realize I am the most optimistic of the four bloggers despite my prediction of the lowest win total this season at only 33 wins. The team is behind that pace right now and attendance reflects the belief that nothing is going to change. That being said there is a lot to be positive about heading into the 2nd half of the season.

Gasol and Milicic have started 12 consecutive games together and not surprisingly some of the best defensive efforts this season occurred in that stretch. It hasn't been a straight line of improvement but improvement is clearly there.

Gasol, Miller and Gay have shown the capability of being a big scoring trio night in and night out with Memphis having a potential go-to scorer at the end of games in Rudy Gay. His invitation to the Slam Dunk Contest shows a small measure of the excitement he is generating around the league as well. People are starting to realize he is a player they want to watch play.

Mike Conley has shown the most composure of any rookie point guard I have seen since Magic Johnson. He isn't the most NBA ready by any means but as far as running the offense and having ice in his veins the signs are that Memphis may have snagged a great player in the draft despite getting screwed in the lottery. Conley will continue to develop this season and even next season but he won't be approaching his full potential for at least another full year.

On the negative side Darko Milicic is not living up to the preseason expectations. His sprained thumb is apparently still bothering him or the injury has caused him to alter his shot somehow. Darko has proven to be a competent scorer and this season's struggles will probably not continue. The damage done to his confidence is another issue.

Kyle Lowry has seen his performance and his minutes drop significantly with the emergence of Mike Conley. His game is ideally suited for a bench player. Kyle needs to develop a better outside shot and exhibit more control with the ball to be seen as anything more than a backup. The 'Great' Kyle Lowry doesn't exist anymore in most people's conversations but Lowry is still a quality young player. He still has upside as most rookies struggle in this role.

Stromile Swift and Hakim Warrick have ups and downs but basically neither seems to be in the plans for the long run. Cardinal's contract is still a noose around Memphis' financial freedom for the remainder of this season and two more to follow. Damon Stoudamire doesn't look like he will last the year in Memphis. Casey Jacobsen looks like like he will. Neither outcome is that great for the team.

To reach my preseason prediction of 33 wins Memphis will need to finish 21-20. Not very likely but I believe 30 wins for the season is still attainable barring injury to any starter. A more realistic new assessment is 28 wins this year which is still 6 games better than last season. That is more than a 25% improvement in wins from the previous season.

This month Memphis is averaging more rebounds, assists and steals than any other month this season. Their FG% and 3pt% are also near season highs for the month. FT% is lower but is still above previous seasons pace. The team is getting better and that is both due to Iavaroni's remaining positive and continued teaching. Also because the schedule is easier. The ease of schedule will continue for the rest of the season so the momentum should continue to build.

Spartacus Says:

If Chip is the most optimistic one of the four of us, I suppose that makes me the most realistic one, although I'm sure that MemphisX will have something to say about that. Let's compromise and say that I'm the level-headed one of the group.

In our preseason predictions post, I had the Grizzlies winning 35 games and I still think that is a goal that can be achieved. This was a very young team coming into the season with a new head coach implementing a new system. In fact, if you factor in that Marc Iavaroni has never been a head coach at any level and that the team's average age (if you don't include Damon Stoudamire or Brian Cardinal, who have been relegated to "suit wearers") is 24.5, which is astoundingly young for any team, but especially one that some "experts" were predicting to return to their previous status as postseason participants. I get asked one question fairly often, "Is this Grizzlies team a disappointment?" My answer is always the same: "No". Should their record be better? Probably, given their record in close games is abysmal, but again I point to the youth, inexperience and lack of maturity in regard to key rotational players and the overall lack of leadership with this team.

I can honestly say that at this point, no one has failed to meet my expectations (which were probably more realistic than most people's), so let's not get caught up with any Good/Bad/Ugly assessments and instead look at the remainder of the season and my expectations from this point forward. The team has been frustratingly inconsistent, but since I expected that, there really isn't much to review from where I sit, so I prefer to look to the future.

Pau Gasol will not be traded, will continue to abuse teams who insist on single-covering him and will slide into his newfound role as the "#2 option" without a hint of displeasure or resentment.

Rudy Gay will win the Slam Dunk Contest, finish the season averaging over 20 ppg and become one of those players that ESPN cannot get enough of on Sportscenter each night.

Michael Conley will make his teammates in the Rookie/Sophmore game look better than they have a right to (especially a gunner like Kevin Durant) and will make a strong push for Rookie of the Year consideration with his solid all-around play throughout the rest of the year.

Mike Miller will continue his "mad bomber" routine that has persisted throughout his career, remain a fan favorite and will see his minutes decrease with the continued improvement of the bench, lessening the burden on him to play 35+ mpg every night.

Darko Milicic will be labeled a "bust" time and time again by fans and foes, experts and idiots alike, as they ignore what he does on the defensive end in the low post against MVP caliber players like Tim Duncan, Yao Ming and Amare Stoudemire. He might be something of a specialist, given his offensive shortcomings and limitations, but when the Grizzlies eventually make it back to the postseason, it is his defensive prowess that will prove to be a most valuable commodity.

Juan Carlos Navarro will continue to excite fans with his wide array of unorthodox shots and ever present smile, as he battles teammate Michael Conley for Rookie of the Year consideration. He might even figure out why NBA officials pick on him so much.

Kyle Lowry will play with boundless energy and unbridled intensity as he adjusts to his now permanent role as "the backup". He'll also continue to be a fan favorite and Ron Tillery's favorite inside joke.

Hakim Warrick will shoot. That is all.

Bobby Jones will not live up to the aftermath of his breakout game against Seattle, but won't go the way of Tarence Kinsey either, after he is signed for the remainder of the season.

Casey Jacobsen, Andre Brown and Stromile Swift will play spot minutes, but will be largely inconsequential for the rest of the season.

Damon Stoudamire will be bought out and will then sign with a contender.

Brian Cardinal will continue to draw the ire of fans, but will not let it bother him as he wears a suit on the sideline....something he finds he can get used to as he contemplates a future in coaching.

Marc Iavaroni will figure out what works and what doesn't, and (not-so-surprisingly) the wins will come more often.

Chris Wallace will not make a major trade and will get roundly criticized for it by fans and media members. That will make it much sweeter when he pulls off a big deal in the offseason that nobody saw coming.

The Memphis Grizzlies will not make the postseason (surprise!) and will not win the lottery, but will come away with a player (or two) in the draft that will be a key component to the team for years to come. Their growth as a team and the promise that they have actually turned a corner will inspire fans to return to the FedEx Forum next season as ticket sales will actually increase for the first time in more than a few seasons.

Go Grizzlies!

MemphisX musings:

Well I had a nice little writeup done for this but somehow it was not saved. Oh well!

At 12-29 at the halfway point, the overall play of this team has been disappointing at best. The thing most disappointing about this team is that Coach Marc Iavaroni came into the season preaching defense and the defensive execution and intensity has been almost as bad as it was under interim Coach Tony Barone Sr. This team scores a lot of points but it is mostly due to playing so many wide open games. The team still lacks an elite offensive option that can consistently bring them points and stop the oppositions runs. Another dimension Iavaroni promised to bring was a running attack. The Grizzlies have struggled to initiate early offense. All in all for a die hard fan, it has been a reall frustrating season. I mean I do not feel the despair I felt while watching last season at this point but this team is a long way from being where it needs to be even at this early point in the rebuilding.

Pau Gasol - Unlike most Grizz fans that are so used to this organization being inactive, I think Pau Gasol gets moved at or before the trade deadline. The reason I think this is because I have to believe that a new coach and a new GM come into a team with a plan of action. Regardless of the 50 game evaluation crap, this team has already been in discussions with several teams about trading Gasol. Also, the Grizz have a reported standing offer from Atlanta that has not been turned down, unlike the offers of New Jersey. I think the acquisition of Darko Milicic and insisting on him playing in the post despite Gasol's obvious superiority and the early talk of Rudy Gay as a 'Phoenix 4' are also clues to the mind set of the Wallace/Iavaroni tandem. Even with, Gasol has been playing the best basketball of his career in 2008. Every since Conley was inserted as the starting point guard, Gasol has been just short of dominate on the offensive end. Even his shotblocking has picked up. 24 points, 11 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2 blocks is nothing to sneeze at even for Gasol.

Rudy Gay - Gay's emergence has been shocking. He is at least a year ahead of schedule in his development curve and with the way he looked handling the rock last season, I would have thought two years. Gay has been a consistent threat on the offensive end. He has shown a devasting slashing game due to his explosive and powerful first step. His jump shot from long and mid range has been very consistent. He is shooting 38% from long range on almost four and a half attempts per game. Rudy's biggest shortcoming is being able to defend without fouling. He is so aggressive that his youth and lack of experience tends to get him out of position. Something that seems to be improving lately.

Michael Conley - Once the Grizzlies struck out in the Oden/Durant sweepstakes, the Grizz had entered the Horford/Conley giveaway. Not as sexy as the other two but both were destined to be very good NBA players. Well Atlanta went with Horford, so Memphis was able to draft the first complete point guard since Mike Bibby. However, even at 20, Conley has an understanding about game tempo and offense that no other Grizz point guard has ever brought to the table. It is something that can't be taught. He showed it at Ohio St. by knowing when to attack, when to feed his teammates, when to push the pace and when to slow it down for a good shot. It is amazing to watch him and know that he is just two years removed from high school.

Mike Miller - Miller has developed into one of the most consistent shooters in the NBA. His invitation to Team USA is a testament to this. Although he will probably never have the clutchness that Gay displays, he rarely takes bad shots. His aggressiveness is not consistent even from quarter to quarter. It is not unusual for him to score 15 points in a half and not take a shot in the 3rd quarter. It is this inconsistentincy that makes it very difficult to depend upon him. Miller's defense has come around though. Not blessed with the athletic gifts to be a true lock down defender, Miller uses his smarts and length to stay in front of opponents and challenge shots. It has been a very good season for him all around and on a stronger team, his contributions would be even more valuable.

Juan Carlos Navarro - Navarro has had a typical rookie season. It has been up and down. When he plays well, Iavaroni plays him big minutes and he scores easily and often especially in transition. He has been a deadly long distnce threat and his 85 three pointers puts him on pace to shatter Kerry Kittle's rookie record for three pointers made in about 2/3 of the minutes (hat tip to iberian_oso on the Grizzlies board). As far as a rookie making the league minimum, he has more than earned his next pay day.

Darko Milicic - Darko continues to be an inigma. His play has declined so much since his injury that I have to believe that his thumb is still giving him problems. He has so many problems with ball control, it has to be health related. Otherwise, he has been a consistent post defender. He has also been above average on the boards. Darko just needs to get healthy and in shape. The Grizzlies should ask him to play in summer league and hire a personal trainer and a skills trainer to work with him the entire summer.

Hakim Warrick - Hak Attack continues to bring the noise on the offensive end. He just has a knack for putting points on the board in spurts. Unfortuanately, until recently that is all he did. No defense, no rebounding, no passing, and very little hustle. It seems that a couple of DNP-CDs got his attention and he has been bringing a lot more energy to the table. Hakim has 11 assists total on the season. However, 5 of them have come since his last ride on the bench on January 6.

Kyle Lowry - Early in the season, I really do not know what was going on with Lowry. He was playing so outside of himself. It seems like he fashioned himself developing into some sort of scoring point guard. He left his defensive energy in the locker room and his decision making stayed with it. He just played out of control. It was like he was trying to take advantage of his small window (Conley's injury) to show he deserved to be a starting point guard. Once Conley took over though, he settled back into his familiar energized bulldog, back up point guard role. His play has really picked up the last couple of weeks as his minutes have decreased. Know your role!

Stromile Swift - Stro has been Stro and his exploits as a Grizz have been written about and have really remained unchanged. Flash, tease, disappear. That is Stro.

Damon Stoudamire - The veteran point guard showed his true colors in 2008. Throwing the Grizz under the bus with his trade demand. Oh well, he has very little worth on the open market and I doubt he helps any team do much in a run for a title. Goodbye, good riddance!

Casey Jacobsen - This guy is simply not an NBA player. He should not get any minutes on a team, even a team as bad as the Grizzlies. He was suppposed to be a shooter but he struggles to even make layups. Bad signing altogether that was benched by the boos of the crowd when he checked into a game. Horrible!

Brian Cardinal - Looks good in a suti but Conley says he has been instrumental in his develoment. For some reason, I can never be mad about Cardinal. Overpaid but not annoying.

Andre Brown - Bench fodder.

Bobby Jones - Jones has some promise as a 4th or 5th wing especially for a coach that likes to play small. He is pretty multiskilled and has no real holes in his game. Just not experienced enough to warrant minutes but will probably be a rotation player for a good team in 3 or 4 years. He brings a lot to the table and just needs to continue give maximum effort every time he hits the floor. If he can continue to do that he can earn a long term contract in the league.

I expect the Grizzlies to squeak out 30 wins this season. I also expect some event (trade, draft, or free agency) to occur that energizes the fanbase with hope. I expect an upturn in attendance at the end of the season and through next season. Good times are coming Grizz fans...


Ryan Schwan said...

Sorry - I have to say it. You think Conley has more composure as a rookie than Chris Paul did?

ChipC3 said...

I absolutely think he has more composure. Conley has three turnovers in the last 100 minutes on the court. Paul averaged nearly three a game. Conley isn't as NBA ready as Paul but Paul also played an additional year of college basketball so you would expect him to be ahead of him.

Composure to me means playing on the 9th best offense in the league and not turning the ball over at all. It means not getting caught up in the excitement even if he is the one causing the excitement.

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