By Joshua Coleman
With the Point Guards, there appears to be a defined rotation. For the Small Forwards, there is The Man and everyone else. Even for the Shooting Guards, we have a good idea of who is going to play and how much. But for the Power Forwards...the phrase "total crapshoot" comes to mind.
Hakim Warrick is the presumed starter, Darrell Arthur is the rookie, Antoine Walker is the mercurial veteran in a contract year and Darko Milicic is the enigma. Marc Iavaroni included Rudy Gay in that group when we interviewed him, but after this comment that Chris Herrington posted, I'm not very confident that we'll see #22 manning the 4 anytime soon:
“We’ve got a lot of [power] forwards on this team, and I’ve told them: If I have to play your position, something is wrong.”
Really, the PF position is one of the glass being both half full and half empty. Guys are either good on offense (Warrick and Walker) or on defense (Darko) or talented, but completely unproven and inexperienced (Arthur). No one appears to be a complete package in the mold of presumed starters Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay. That means that any of those four players could garner significant playing time this season. That is both intriguing and maddening at the same time.
Hakim Warrick - The Syracuse product is well known by Grizzlies fans as he enters the 4th year of his career. He has proven to be a skilled scorer with his solid mid-range game and impressive dunking ability. He's an average rebounder for his size, nabbing 7 boards a game as a starter last year and has extended his range out to 18 feet on his jumper. The areas of his game that prevent Hak from being a surefire starter in the NBA are his complete lack of passing skills and his poor defense. I know that I get accused of picking on him from time to time, but Javaris Crittenton played 61% fewer minutes than Hak last year (678 total minutes to 1754 minutes) and Critt only fell two assists shy of matching Warrick's total for the year, which was 53. I understand that PF's aren't expected to pass the ball as much as guards, but most starters at least average a dime per game. Even Darko Milicic averaged a higher number than that while playing with an injured thumb the majority of the season. For Hakim to remain a starter under the new defensive-minded coaching staff, he's going to have to start doing more than just scoring and rebounding.
Darrell Arthur - In assessing Arthur's game, he actually reminds me quite a bit of the aforementioned Hakim Warrick. An athletic forward who excels from mid-range and might not be quite big enough to bang with the more physical post players in the league. The one thing that separates him from Warrick so far is his shot-blocking, as he has averaged better than one per game through two years at Kansas. Enough has already been written and said about his blunder at the Rookie Transition program, so I won't waste any more in this space. I don't see DA making a big impact this year, but he might show enough to make a case as the future starting PF, which could make Hak trade bait by January/February.
Antoine Walker - What is there left to say about 'Toine at this point? He's a good rebounder and he loves to shoot -- especially from the perimeter. Next!
Ok, just kidding. There are two things that make me think that Walker could actually be an asset this year: money and more money. That's right, the Master of the Shimmy will make $9 million this year and knows that there won't be any teams that will pick up his option for next season, so he's basically in a contract year. That means that he will give more than the 60% effort (since I'm being generous) he gave the T'Pups last year. If that's the case, then he could turn out to be a valuable trade piece at the deadline. His range and his rebounding ability will also be assets if he still has anything left in the tank. The question is still what does he have left in the tank.
Darko Milicic - Finally, a power forward with some power in his game. If there is one thing I know about Darko from last year, it is this: He is better than he exhibited after he injured his thumb. I know that he will never be the player that Joe Dumars (and Chad Ford, God bless him) envisioned when he was selected #2 overall, but I definitely think that he can be a solid rotational player for a playoff contender. Last year he displayed the ability to be an effective defender, especially against low post titans like Tim Duncan and Yao Ming. In fact, I haven't seen anyone frustrate Duncan so much since Rasheed Wallace got inside his head during the first part of the 2005 Finals. Fans of the Mad Serbian have told me repeatedly that Darko is best utilized as a PF. It appears that we will now see how true that is. The Dark One will need to find something other than the lefty hook shot in his arsenal if he plans on surviving the season without being mercilessly booed. Shaving off the sparse mustache he sported for much of last year wouldn't hurt either.
CONCLUSION: I don't know if Warrick or Walker will be the starter at the beginning of the season, or if Darko will be the closer. Darrell Arthur showed lottery level talent in college, but still fell all the way to #28 in the draft for unexplained reasons. This motley crew undoubtedly makes up the weakest position for the Grizzlies this year, but if all of them will commit to defense and rebounding, then two of them might survive until training camp next year. In any case, I don't believe that any of them will enter this season with preconceived notions about how much playing time they will be given, nor should they. This position is in need of serious help as the Grizzlies move forward.