Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Four Questions, Four Predictions: A Preview of the 2009 Memphis Grizzlies

(NOTE: cross posted from my piece at Bleacher Report)

The 2009 Memphis Grizzlies will be one of the most interesting stories in the NBA. With new additions Allen Iverson, Zach Randolph and the second-overall pick Hasheem Thabeet, the team have improved. But will that increase in scoring and talent lead to more wins and (dare I say it) a spot in the playoffs?
As the season is about to begin, let's ask four questions and made four predictions about the new season.

Question No. 1: Will AI start?

That one has been answered. No, for now. According to the Sporting News and other sources, Iverson will come off the bench as he rehabs a hamstring injury. Mike Conley, Jr. has been decent in the preseason. With the makeup of this team, I think Conley can be steady at point guard.
However, if healthy, AI will be the starter.

Prediction No. 1: AI will have nagging injuries all season and Conley will get more starts that people think.
The whole "Should Allen Iverson start?" debate is rather silly. If he was wiling to come off the bench, he could have stayed in Detroit. Or, he could have gone anywhere in the league.
He wants his minutes and shots. You better believe the Grizzlies "management" told him that he would be the starting point guard.
But my hunch is that the hamstring will only be one is a series of small injuries AI will have throughout the year.

Question No. 2: Will there be a breakout rookie on the Grizzlies' roster?
Center Hasheem Thabeet will not be getting a lot of playing time as he is still developing his offensive skill set. He will see some action if the team wants to give Marc Gasol a rest.
The two players to watch are both forwards: Sam Young and DeMarre Carroll. Both players will be bigger contributors in Year One than Thabeet and should be solid reserve players. But I do not see any rookie on the roster putting up big numbers.

Prediction No. 2:
Thabeet will have a decent second-half of the season and will exceed expectations.
Let's be honest. If he averages 12 points with eight boards and three blocks, it would be better than what people expect.
I am curious about this prediction though. Tell me in the comments: What do you think Thabeet will average in his rookie season.

Question No. 3: Who will be the team's primary scorer?
Good question. I have no clue. My hunch: O.J. Mayo. He showed what he could do late last season. He put up numbers that was good enough to finish second in the Rookie of the Year race last year.
Rudy Gay is also a strong choice. Of course, he is playing for a new contract. Gay and the Grizzlies "management" are talking about a contract extension. If there is not a contract in place by Oct. 31, he becomes a restricted free agent next summer. So a good season can net him a big offer sheet that the Grizzlies can match or not.
The other big names: Zach Randolph will get his shots and points, but is not really a primary scorer and Iverson is currently injured and will need to play himself into shape.

Prediction No. 3: You just saw it. O.J. Mayo will emerge as the primary scorer for the team as Rudy Gay will have a below average numbers.

Question #4: Will the Grizzlies win 41 games this season?
They went 24-58 last season. If I say yes, that means I believe Memphis will go .500 this season. If they were in the East, it would be a lock.
The team can score. But they will have trouble keeping opponents under 100 points a game. If they had one less scorer and one more perimeter defender, the team would probably be better off.
Compared to last season, they have a deeper bench and they have better overall talent.
Of the "Big Four" (Iverson, Gay, Mayo, Randolph), one will have to sacrifice their scoring to defend and be a facilitator. One of them will have to give up shots some nights to help the team win. Will one of them do it? If they do, they can go .500 for the season.

Prediction No. 4: They will improve in wins. They will even flirt with .500 most of the season. However, do not expect a playoff run. 2009 Record: 38-44.

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