The Memphis Grizzlies were the fun group that knocked off
San Antonio two seasons ago in the first-round upset of No. 1 versus No. 8.
Last season, they went into the playoffs as the fourth seed, but lost a heart-
breaking Game 7 at home to the Los Angeles Clippers. It was a mild step back
in the progression of the Grizzlies.
"It's such a long season," said head coach Lionel Hollins. "Last year, our
health wasn't as good as we would have liked it. We had a great season.
There's a lot of expectations on us. It's not pressure, it's what's you want.
"You want to be playing for a championship. You want to have the opportunity
to be talked about as one of the elite teams."
That's the big question - are the Grizzlies an elite team?
The starting lineup is excellent. Marc Gasol is a top-five center in the
league and Zach Randolph, when motivated, is still a top-level big. Mike
Conley has emerged as a great point guard and if Tony Allen isn't the best
defensive shooting guard in the league, you'll have to produce evidence to the
Rudy Gay is probably still the most important piece of the puzzle.
Gay has averaged right around 20 points per game since his second season in
the league, back in 2007-08. His rebounding numbers went up, but Gay is not
quite the star that can carry a team.
This is a superstar-driven league and neither Gay nor Randolph is at that
"I'm not playing for an All-Star team, I can't say I haven't done that
before," said Gay. "It's all about us trying to get better as a team."
Gay's name gets bandied about in trade rumors as teams seek him to be a
second or third option. But he is the best option for the Grizzlies and one
that is not going anywhere, for the moment.
2011-12 Results: 41-25, second in Southwest; Lost to Los Angeles Clippers in
ADDITIONS: G Jerryd Bayless, G Tony Wroten, G Wayne Ellington
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Mike Conley
SG- Tony Allen
SF- Rudy Gay
PF- Zach Randolph
C- Marc Gasol
KEY RESERVES: G Jerryd Bayless, F Darrell Arthur, G Wayne Ellington, G Tony
Wroten, C Marreese Speights.
FRONTCOURT: Gasol/Randolph/Gay comprise one of, if not the best, starting
frontcourt in the league. Very few teams have that much quality at all three
Gasol is a star. He surpassed his big brother Pau and has no flaws in his
game. He's a scorer, rebounder, defender, passer and genius of the game. Gasol
made his first All-Star game last season and it won't be his last.
Randolph missed a good chunk of last season with a knee injury and he's not
getting any younger. At 31, and always a little doughy, Randolph reported in
good health and at a good weight this year. Randolph's skill set extends from
the low-block to the 3-point line. He's a good rebounder and seems to have
really embraced his role as a team leader.
Gay can do a lot of things, but he's not a great shooter or defender. He can
score and slash and is playing this season with some built-up attitude. Gay
was the last man cut from the U.S. Olympic team, in favor of Andre Iguodala.
BACKCOURT: Conley improved his shooting numbers last season, hitting 38
percent from the 3-point line and 86 percent from the foul line. He matched a
career high with 6.5 assists per game and has become the on-court leader
Memphis envisioned when it drafted him fourth overall in the 2007 NBA Draft.
Allen is a defensive animal. He averaged 10 PPG once in his career and
that was six years ago, but he's on the floor to terrorize opponent's
In years past, Allen wouldn't be needed to score because of O.J. Mayo.
BENCH: Mayo left Memphis and is now in Dallas. His scoring off the bench will
be sorely missed as there is no one on the roster right now who is capable of
scoring like he did.
Three-point shooting and a backup at the point guard spot were concern areas
for the Grizzlies in the offseason. They hope to have addressed both with the
signing of Jerryd Bayless.
He missed a hefty portion of last season with injuries, but when he played,
Bayless did well. He averaged 11.4 PPG and shot a very strong 42 percent from
beyond the arc. Bayless can play both guard spots, but is a defensive
Wayne Ellington was also brought in to shoot from long-range. Why, who knows?
He's a career 37-percent shooter from three, but only averaged 6.5 PPG in
three years in Minnesota.
Darrell Arthur missed all of last season with a torn right Achilles tendon.
The year before, Arthur scored a respectable 9 PPG and is a solid defender.
Marreese Speights came to Memphis early last season from Philadelphia and can
score. He can rebound a little, but beware -- if Speights gets the ball, it's
going up. There is no passing it.
COACHING: Hollins has this team believing in the hype surrounding it. He wants
them not only to be considered contenders, but also to consider themselves
contenders. He won't have a deep bench. Hollins turned this franchise around
and needs to improve on his playoff runs.
OUTLOOK: Memphis has a great core in its starting five. You can't be excited
relying on Bayless and Arthur as your bench threats, but the group that will
be introduced every night is very good.
Memphis is not better than Oklahoma City, the Lakers or Spurs, but they aren't
far from any other team. They could get that fourth seed and win a round, but
a trip to the Western Conference finals seems unlikely.
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