Sunday, October 28, 2007

Conclusions from the Grizzlies' Preseason

There are three stories that have emerged from the preseason.

  1. Rudy Gay has improved.
  2. The point guard rotation is a work in progress.
  3. The Grizzlies are still inconsistent.
1. Rudy Gay has improved.

Gay has been impressive in his preseason play. He's led the team in scoring, but has also contributed assists, rebounds, blocks, steals, and three point shooting.

He's still not even the fourth best three point shooter on the team, but he's come a long way from the player that would make Fratello cringe every time he took a shot that wasn't a dunk.

The emergence of Gay is key for the the Grizzlies development. If Gay turns out to be a flop, that sets the Grizzlies back another couple of years. However, it looks like Gay may be almost ready to take on the role of the Grizzlies' number 2 guy.

More than any other player (save Gasol), Gay has the all the characteristics (ie skill, size, athleticism) to be dominant. Mike Miller is not quite dynamic enough to be a great number two player, but Miller will excel as the Grizzlies' third option. Gay has the all around game to be Gasol's number two, and he appears to be on his way.

2. The point guard rotation is a work in progress

Coach Iavaroni has all but decided that Damon Stoudemire will start with Kyle Lowry coming off the bench and Conley filling in where he can. However, the only certainty is that the point guard rotation is a work in progress. Though reports suggest Stoudemire has improved upon last season, he's bound to have nights where his body doesn't respond as well as the Grizzlies need.

I wouldn't bee surprised if Stoudemire isn't starting by December. Lowry is being touted as a defensive specialist a la Earl Watson. However, at this point I think Watson comparisons are sand-bagging Lowry's potential.

I'd also bet that once reality sets in and Iavaroni realizes the Grizzlies aren't going to win 50 games, he opts to give Conly more experience at the point.

3. The Grizzlies are still inconsistent.

The Grizzlies still rely too heavily on offensive weapons. As a result, there are huge swings.

One day the Grizzlies are dominant, the next they're being destroyed by a mediocre Pacers team. The Grizzlies' swings aren't daily either. The Grizzlies can be a completely different team from one quarter to the next.

The steady areas of basketball that teams rely on during times of adversity, free throw shooting, defense, and rebounding, are still the Grizzlies' worst areas.

The Grizzlies are young and most are new to one another, so there's hope that they can develop these areas, but the preseason demonstrated that the Grizzlies' weaknesses haven't yet been overcome or even masked by Iavaroni's new system.

I'm excited to see how it comes together during the first 10 games of the season...

Unfortunately, I won't be able to catch the first game on League Pass, but if any one is able to attend and get a photo, please email me, and I'll post them to this blog.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Gasol Injured with Ankle Sprain

Gasol sprained his ankle in last Tuesday's loss to Indiana and will miss at least two more pre-season games. What does this mean?

Realistically, it means Iavaroni gets to experiment with other players in Gasol's position. There are quite a few power forward / centers on the Grizzlies that deserve some playing time. Some of them will have to sit, when the season kicks off, and it will be interesting to see which those are.

My rotation is Gasol, Mililcic, Warrick, Swift, Cardinal, Brown, in that order.

Also, Gasol's injury brings back bitter memories of last year's broken foot. Hopefully, by giving Gasol extra rest, he won't be prone to more long term injuries.

Finally, what strikes me as most interesting about these preseason games is how much I care. I don't like to see the Grizzlies lose even when when the objective is not winning but preparing for the season. Maybe I'm insecure because I'm loyal to a small market team. Maybe I'm grasping at any bit of hope after painfully enduring last season, where the Grizzlies were the worst team in the league and had the worst record in Memphis history. Perhaps there are too many unknowns for me to understand how good the Grizzlies are, so I'm frustrated by the anticipation.

Whatever the motive, I still get pissed when I see the Grizzlies down by 20 to a Pacers team that, on paper, looks inferior. I want to Grizzlies to enter the season with momentum, and send a message to the league that they won't be repeating last year's performance.

Unfortunately, reason dictates that Iavaroni remain cautious with Gasol and prioritize teaching and evaluating over dominating opponents. I guess I will have to wait for two weeks to find out how the Grizzlies truly stack up against the rest of the league...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Brian Cardinal and Stromile Swift

No two players personify Grizzlies fans' frustrations more than Brian Cardinal and Stromile Swift.

Cardinal reminds us of Jerry West's miss calculations, Drew Gooden and the countless veterans who were good enough to mask the Grizzlies' deficiencies but too old to win a playoff game or inject some excitement into the fan base.

He also reminds us of the injuries that have stunted the Grizzlies' growth. Pau Gasol's and Damon Stoudemire's injuries had the biggest impacts on the team, but no Grizzly (well, other than Bryant Reeves and Michael Dickerson) has missed more games due to injury than Brian Cardinal. In each of his three seasons, Cardinal played in 56, 38, and 28 games. Even when he has played, he's been hampered by injury.

Stromile represents a whole different set of frustrations. He has an athleticism that few players equal, yet at his best, he's never been more than a serviceable back-up big man. Every year it's the same questions: Will this be the year that Swift reaches his potential? Will Swift shake the criticism?

Those questions can be ask of the Grizzlies as a team as well. Every year: Will this be the year the Grizzlies break out? The Grizzlies have had some success. They've made the playoffs 3 of the last four seasons. However, they haven't shaken the label of a young developing team. They haven't been known as winner. Since the Grizzlies moved to Memphis, even when they were old, they were known as a young team with potential.

The Grizzlies need to demonstrate that they can perform at that next level. They are no longer an expansion team. It's no longer about the future.

The same can be said about Cardinal and Swift. If Cardinal matches his best season, and if Swift matches his best 5 game stretch with consistency, the Grizzlies cal reach that next level.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

How Long Will Damon Stoudemire Last?

If you were a sometime All Star who had played in the Western Conference Finals, would you want to spend the twilight of your career training your replacements while losing sixty percent of your games?

You'd probably rather play on a contender at that point. However, the Grizzlies shouldn't trade Stoudemire solely as a favor to him.

The Grizzlies should also do it for selfish reasons. Even if he's 100% healthy, at 34 years old, I'm assuming Stoudemire can't be good for more than a handful of wins. (I hope he proves me wrong.) Those wins - for a team that has no chance of winning a playoff series - aren't worth the cost in Conley's and Lowry's playing time that keeping Stoudemire create.

Stoudemire does add value both on and off the court as a leader. Undoubtedly, he can still perform well enough to make solid contributions and teach the young guard some valuable lessons. However, Conley and Lowry would probably learn more from the extra playing time, and a draft pick would be more valuable to the Grizzlies at this point in their development.

That's why the Grizzlies should trade Stoudemire to a team in Texas for a first round draft pick.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Grizzlies' Training Camp Begins

It's less than a month until the Grizzlies play their first game. Though I usually can't predict how good they'll be, this year their are more unknowns than usual. The team has changed more during this offseason more than any other since the offseason before the Grizzlies' first season in Memphis.

The result is that there is a different attitude coming into camp, and that attitude is overwhelmingly positive.

As a fan, I'm extremely pleased with what the Grizzlies have done. Though they still haven't acquired a bona fide superstar, they've clearly made a commitment to winning.

Michael Heisley is beginning to make up for last year's catastrophe by taking control of the direction of the team. He's dampened the distraction that his desire to sell has caused, and he's committed to a series of moves - the best of which was hiring Marc Iavaroni - that give the impression that he's interested in building a winning team instead of a team that's priced to move.