by Chip Crain
Yesterday we tackled the position with the most competition and controversy swirling around it -- the Point Guards. Today we move to the one position where there is absolutely no argument about who will be starting and garnering the highest share of playing time -- Small Forward.
Why is this blog titled Previewing the Small Forwards? Shouldn't it be Previewing the Small Forward? Like in singular not plural? I mean does anyone feel the Grizzlies have a 2nd Small Forward on the team?
That question sums up the issue at small forward on the Grizzlies. When Mike Miller was sent to Minnesota for O.J. Mayo, not only did Memphis sacrifice their starting SG, but also their backup SF. Mayo can do a lot of things, but playing the 3 isn't likely to be one of them.
So Memphis has a player capable of being a star in this league but nothing behind him worth mentioning (although I will mention the candidates later anyway). The best case scenario for the Grizzlies is Rudy to average 38-40 mpg and make the next step forward along the path to becoming a major player in this league. The worst case scenario is an early season injury that prevents him from playing most of the year.
Please pretend I never even wrote that last sentence.
Rudy Gay - What more needs to be said about the best player left on the Grizzlies team after the purge that began in January? Rudy can do it all. He can score 20 ppg, he can run, he can jump over any player in the league and still has legitimate three point range on his shot. What hasn't Rudy shown he can do? Well ball control has always been a problem for Rudy. He has freakishly long arms that make it difficult to prevent smaller players from harassing his dribble. He has been suspect on defense but that could easily be more the result of questionable coaching since he seems to have the fundamentals down. His rebounding is weak for a small forward. Finally passing is a weakness in Rudy's game. It has been argued that there weren't many other options for Rudy to pass to last year but he did have other options. At least compared to this season. Rudy has become the focal point for defenses to stop. His passing has to improve to really achieve the greatness predicted for him. Great players improve those around him. The easiest way to accomplish that is to share the rock with your open teammates.
Quinton Ross - Quinton Ross was signed to a last second contract with the Grizzlies apparently to provide Rudy Gay at least minimal minutes of rest this year. Quinton has the reputation of being a defensive specialist on the perimeter. He can and has guarded everyone from Manu Ginobili to Allen Iverson to Tony Parker and has had success against all of them. Ross could see minutes as shooting guard as well but that is unlikely with the logjam of players available for Iavaroni. If Ross plays well then possibly that would give the Grizzlies more options in playing Rudy Gay at PF however.
Greg Buckner - If there is a player on this team that will become best friends with Kevin O'Neill it should be Greg Buckner. He is the epitome of a team player. Buckner is the type of player other players don't enjoy facing up against. He's scrappy and tough and can play defense. The problem with Buckner has always been the other side of the court. The 9 year veteran out of Clemson has never cracked 7 ppg and in today's game that simply isn't good enough. The days of the one dimensional player are gone. In limited minutes Buckner may be able to get by as strictly a defensive specialist but at 6-4 he will struggle in that role against taller SF's in the league. Buckner's main contribution may come on the practice court as he shows the young players what it takes in effort to make it in this league. Veteran leadership is needed on this team and possibly Buckner could be the guy to provide it.
Marko Jaric - I know. I put Marko down as a possibility at every position but I swear I am stopping now. At least I hope I am stopping now because this is about as far as I can go with Jaric. At 6-7 Marko has the size to compete with backup SF's in the league and with his 3 pt shooting and passing ability he could really open up lanes for the slashers and big men on the team. He won't ever be a physical player however so you can forget banging underneath or grabbing rebounds as skills he brings to the position. His foot speed is a liability in the backcourt but is adequate for the SF position as well.
Antoine Walker - Okay. Stop laughing. I realize that the Shimmy Shaker is 31 and hasn't played the 3 spot adequately since his Celtic days and even then was questionable as a 3 but we are only talking about 10-12 minutes most nights and against backup players. Walker can give people fits in that time frame. He has 3 pt range and can rebound extremely well. Sure his foot speed is weak but are there many players coming off the bench in the NBA that won't have just as much trouble stopping Toine as Toine will have stopping them? Memphis won't be running with Walker at the 3 very often but that isn't all bad with the half-court scorers the team possesses. When motivated Walker has the type of personality that can motivate teammates to play better and Walker has millions of reasons to be motivated this season. Expiring contracts can have that type of effect on players.
CONCLUSION: It really isn't that difficult to see what the Grizzlies need this season from Rudy. He has to lead the team in scoring and he has to be one of two players to lead the team in minutes played for the season. It would be great for the team if Rudy also raised his rebounding number to 6+ a game and his assists went up to about 3 a game. Neither of these numbers is unreasonable by the way. If Rudy goes down to injury, even for a few weeks, there is nothing the Grizzlies could do to replace his production. Imagine if the Cavs lost LeBron. He's that important to this team. The big difference for the future is that unlike the Cavs the cupboard isn't empty behind Rudy for long. Mayo, Conley and the rest of the baby Grizzlies will come to Rudy's rescue very soon. I just don't believe it will be this year.