I read an excellent post by Dave on Blazers Edge the other day and it got me thinking about the Memphis Grizzlies (just about everything does after all) and how our team fits into this philosophy.
In Dave's blog he discussed the different tiers of players on a team. While not earth-shattering in his revelations he does put things into a format that other teams/blogs can use to evaluate the makeup of their team. To semi-quote Dave:
Tier One: These are the 1-3 players (max!) who form the core of your team. This is your Dwyane Wade in Miami, your Kobe and Pau in L.A., your Big Three in Boston. There is a huge, unbreakable line right under this tier to differentiate it from all of the others, as they don’t even compare.
Tier Two (Optional): If you only have 1 or 2 Tier One guys your team will often have supporting stars to fill out those top 2-3 spots. These are the Shawn Marions of the world. They aren’t carrying the team on their own but those Tier One guys aren’t going to score all the team’s points themselves. They need an 18-20 ppg guy here or there.
Tier Three: These are usually the rest of your starters after Tiers One and Two and often your 6th man. (Though some teams have their star guys be the 6th man…c.f. San Antonio.) They’re good players. They’re important to the club and you suffer when they’re out for long stretches. They’re going to win a few games for you either by busting out every now and then or supporting the stars so well. Your good team tends to turn average really quickly if you don’t have the right guys in these positions. But they’re not the guys opposing teams circle on the scouting report.
Tier Four: These are your 7th and 8th…sometimes if you’re deep your 9th or (rarely!) even 10th man. They’re usually able veterans or up-and-coming firebrands. Most nights they just fill in minutes to get the starters rest.
So what players fall into what spots on the Grizzlies? Who do they have heading into the 2008-09 season that can fill these four tiers?
I am going to limit this discussion to players under contract for next season. That means no Juan Carlos Navarro, Andre Brown, Casey Jacobson or Kwame Brown discussion. I also won't venture a guess on the Grizzlies draft or free agent moves other than to say finding a Tier One player and a Tier Two or Three player would be considered a high priority for the summer shopping list.
Tier One: Not knowing what the lottery holds for the team Memphis is stuck with only one Tier One player. That is Rudy Gay and he makes the list by the slimmest of margins and only because I expect him to improve next season. Not to the extent he improved this season but improve just the same. To truly be considered a Tier One player Rudy will need to improve his rebounding, ball control and most importantly his passing. Tier One players lead teams and to do that they need to be able to get others involved by making good passes to open teammates. Rudy didn't show the ability to do that in his sophomore season.
So I put Rudy in as a Tier One player but not a solid Tier One. More of a Tier One and a Half I suppose.
Tier Two: These players are supposed to be the nightly 18-20 pt players who support the stars and are capable of leading when the Tier One is off or being shut down by the defense. I think this is where you would place Mike Miller. Although not quite an 18-20 pt scorer his assists, rebounds and court presence is a definite aid to the Tier One players he has worked with (TMac, Gasol and Gay). An argument could be made that Miller is actually more of a Tier Three player than Tier Two but I think the leadership Miller exhibits on the court moves him up the Tier.
The problem is that a team needs three players in the top 2 tiers and Memphis has only two and both are debatable in those roles. If Memphis signed a true Superstar would Rudy continue to be viewed as a Tier One player or would he slide into a Tier Two role? If Miller is moved to the bench to allow a better defender to start at the SG position would that move him to Tier Three or would he remain a Tier Two player? When people say Memphis lacks talent this is what they mean.
Tier Three: This is where the player fans will start hating on me. I put Hakim Warrick, Kyle Lowry and Mike Conley all in this Tier. By definition the Tier Three players are the rest of the starters or the 6th man and are good players. The problem is that only one of these players (Mike Conley) has to potential to move up to a Tier Two player next season. Hakim is too selfish and too weak defensively to be considered a supporting star and since he turns 26 next season I don't think those deficiencies are likely to change in his fourth season. Kyle Lowry is a bulldog PG who is most effective coming off the bench and shooting only 26% from behind the arc means against starting PG's he not only won't have his outside shot respected but defenses will be able to cheat into the lane to double interior players.
Conley is different. Mike finished the season on a very high note and has shown the ability to hit from outside far more consistently than Kyle. Conley could move into the 16-18 ppg range next season and combining that with 6-8 apg should put him squarely in the Tier Two range but that is the best case scenario and there is no guarantee he will achieve that level. Conley's rookie numbers are very similar to Tony Parker's numbers and I still believe that is the upside potential of Conley which could put him squarely in the Tier Two category. However a slow start and strong play from Lowry may limit his potential to make the big step.
Tier Four: These players abound on the Grizzlies. From Brian Cardinal to Jason Collins to Javaris Crittenton, Memphis has players who can give a big effort on any given night but don't seem prepared to make consistent contributions or aren't physically able to do it every night. Of these players only Javaris seems able to move into the Tier Three group. The good news is that his talent could possibly take him even higher. Currently Javaris biggest weakness is the logjam of players at his prefered position and his lack of an outside shot.
So where does that leave the Grizzlies. They obviously need a second Tier One player, a player to step up and produce as a Tier Two player and a stronger Tier Three player coming off the bench or starting who would pick up a specific role of rebounder. A strong rebounder (I don't care about anything else with this player) would go a long way in strengthening the defense and improving the psyche of the team.
It isn't likely that the Grizzlies will acquire two of these positions in the off-season but it is possible.