TALENT: endowment: natural abilities or qualities
-a person who possesses unusual innate ability in some field or activity
Flashback: August 5,2005
-Damon Stoudamire is signed by the Memphis Grizzlies joining Eddie Jones to complete a back court transformation begun earlier when Jason Williams and Bonzi Wells were unceremoniously shipped out of town and Stromile Swift was allowed to walk to Houston without so much as a see ya later.
The new starting lineup for the Grizzlies appears to be Damon Stoudamire, Eddie Jones, Shane Battier, Pau Gasol and Jake Tsakalidis. Major contributions off the bench are expected from Bobby Jackson, Brian Cardinal. Lorenzen Wright and rookie Hakim Warrick. Outside of Warrick the Grizzlies are a veteran team with some playoff experience.
Flash Forward: August 25, 2008
-With the Grizzlies less than one month away from the opening of training camp the team seems to be content to open the season with an extremely young team consisting of Mike Conley at the point, O J Mayo at SG, Rudy Gay at SF, Hakim Warrick at PF and Darko Milicic at the center. Contributors off the bench include Kyle Lowry, Javaris Crittenton, Antoine Walker, Marco Jaric, Darrell Arthur and Marc Gasol. Outside of Walker and Jaric, who's contributions are unknown at this time, the team consists of young players with little or no actual playoff experience.
My how time flies!
Was it really only three years ago the Memphis Grizzlies were an experienced team with a few exciting young players mixed in? That team won 49 games (2nd most in franchise history), finished 4th in the Western Conference (best finish in franchise history) and nearly won a playoff game (losing in OT to Dallas). The two seasons that followed produced a grand total of 44 wins and no playoff appearances (although they are tied with the 2005-06 squad in playoff wins).
Where have all those veterans gone? How did the team go from experienced and playoff material to inexperienced and mostly below the drinking age? More importantly, how have the Grizzlies improved themselves for the future doing this?
To quote a favorite animated character of mine: Difficult to see the future is. However, perhaps you can look at the roster and determine if the team has increased the talent level of the squad. If the team upgrades their talent then victories should follow right? Isn't that what Memphis fans have been asking for all along?
So what do we see when we compare the talent of one of the best teams in Grizzlies history (and the last playoff team as well) to the roster is appears the Grizzlies are taking to camp this season?
2005: Damon Stoudamire, Bobby Jackson, Chucky Atkins*, Antonio Burks, Anthony Roberson
2008: Mike Conley, Kyle Lowry, Javaris Crittenton, OJ Mayo, Marco Jaric
Chucky Atkins technically didn't join the squad until January of 2006 but he was an integral part of the team so I included him on the roster.
Interesting to note that both squads have 5 players capable of manning the point, at least in an emergency since one of the main criticisms of the makeup of the 2008-09 Grizzlies has been too many point guards. The big difference of course is that Anthony Roberson and Antonio Burks weren't perceived as being NBA talent. All 5 of the Grizzlies point guard possibilities are considered future or present starters in the league. While the Grizzlies don't have anyone with Damon's scoring power on the roster nor BJax's punch off the bench overall the 'talent' at this stage of their careers seems to favor Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry. This is not to suggest that Conley will be hitting clutch 3 point shots in Chauncey Billups face or Kyle Lowry will average double figures in scoring this season. Neither player matches up well offensively with Damon and BJax but Conley is faster and a better defender than Damon and Kyle Lowry is a better defensive player and momentum changer.
2005: Eddie Jones, Mike Miller, Bobby Jackson, Dahntay Jones, Anthony Roberson
2008: O J Mayo, Javaris Crittenton, Marco Jaric, Greg Buckner
Now is a good time to remember we are only talking about talent, not experience. Eddie Jones in his prime was never considered to be as talented as O J Mayo's press implies he is today. Eddie at this point of his career relied a lot on experience more than skill as well. He out-thought players and benefited well from his experience but talent wise he really couldn't hang with the better SG's in the league.
Mike Miller is a workaholic but hardly an athletic specimen. He is slow of foot which makes him a defensive liability. He is not quick getting up and down the court either. Crittenton has the edge defensively and the speed to run up and down the court but his outside shot is atrocious right now. It is difficult to imagine JCrit improving enough from the perimeter to get the nod over Miller as a player but as far as talent is concerned I would say that JCrit is the better talent. Bobby Jackson had already begun his decent from a talented 6th man into role player. Marco Jaric hasn't gotten there quite yet. Greg Buckner wasn't a talented player when he was in his prime which he no longer is but he does have the ability to stick on an offensive player and take him out of his game in short spurts.
The SG position is one where the 2008 Grizzlies seem to have talent but the 2005 team had players. Will that talent mature into superior players is unsure at this time.
2005: Shane Battier, Mike Miller, Dahntay Jones
2008: Rudy Gay, Marco Jaric, Greg Buckner
Shane Battier is the consumate team player. A man singularly focused on doing whatever it takes to help his team win. Rudy Gay is one of the most talented players in the NBA. He is capable of dunking over anyone in the league and yet can still hit the clutch three point shots when needed. He speed is not world class but fast enough to lead breaks as well as trail.
The 2008 squad has the more talented player in Rudy Gay but is far behind the 2005 squad in players ready to contribute meaningful minutes at the SF position. This is quite possibly the weakest overall position currently for the Grizzlies despite Rudy Gay's talent. Even a 21 yr old talent like Gay can't go 40+ minutes a night without breaking down and if Rudy breaks down Memphis won't win a game.
Power Forwards:2005: Pau Gasol, Hakim Warrick, Brian Cardinal, Lawrence Roberts
2008: Hakim Warrick, Antoine Walker, Darrell Arthur, Darko Milicic
This is a position where the Grizzlies have definately not improved their talent as yet. Hakim Warrick is not more talented now than he was before and no one has stepped up to replace Pau. Antoine Walker was a talented PF at one time but time has not been friendly to Walker and was a ghost of his former self last season in Minnesota. Arthur could be a strong addition but his talent is not overwhelming. Darko could be effective as a PF if Gasol ends up being a strong C but that is still undertermined at this time. Most likely he will see a large majority of his minutes at the Center position.
2005: Lorenzen Wright, Jake Tskalidis
2008: Darko Milicic, Marc Gasol
A lot depends on how well Darko plays and how well Gasol adapts to the new league. On paper this is a more talented position than the 2005 season, especially when you consider how Wright's play decreased during the season. If Darko is 100% healthy then he can outdefend Wright and scores about as well. Rebounding Wright has the advantage however due not so much to talent as desire and experience. Gasol is more talented than Big Jake already and could challenge Darko for the starting role if he adjusts to the tighter lanes and proves he is quick enough to handle the NBA centers.
So while expectations for this Grizzlies team are far lower than the 2005 squad I believe an arguement could be made for this team being more talented. Unfortunately talent only means something when combined with intelligent on-court decisions and drive. The 2005 team played intelligently and out-worked thier competition. All teams have talent in the NBA. The difference between winning and losing comes down to determination and intelligence.