How does Memphis take that next big step? That’s the question for the Grizzlies this year after a solid 2012–13 season that saw them record a franchise-record 56 wins and reach the conference finals for the first time in club history.
GM Chris Wallace ensured that the team would remain a top-flight defensive juggernaut (even without the tough-minded Lionel Hollins at the helm) by re-signing Tony Allen, one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, to preserve a gritty core that also includes Zach Randolph, Mike Conley and reigning defensive player of the year Marc Gasol. But Allen’s return does little to solve Memphis’ biggest problem.
Offensively, the Grizzlies were putrid last season, finishing 27th in points per game (93.4), 24th in assists per game (20.9) and dead last in made threes (382). Dropping the West final to the Spurs in four straight, Memphis averaged just 87.5 points a night. In the modern NBA, that total lack of offensive production simply won’t cut it — even if your team boasts the second-best defensive numbers in the league. The bottom line is: this isn’t the 90s, and if the Grizzlies want to fulfill their championship aspirations, the offence is going to have to get better in every regard.
Additions: Mike Miller, Kosta Koufos, Josh Akognon, Nick Calathes, Dave Joerger (coach)
Departures: Darrell Arthur, Austin Daye, Keyon Dooling, Lionel Hollins (coach)
Wallace’s most prominent off-season move was bringing back Mike Miller. The 33-year-old veteran shot 42 percent from behind the arc in his final four seasons in Memphis and, even if he hits closer to his career rate (40.6 percent) this season, should help shore up the Grizzlies’ poor three-point attack coming off the bench.
Bringing Kosta Koufos over from Denver for Darrell Arthur was also pretty smart as Koufos is younger and more of a traditional back-up five. Arthur’s exit should also open up more opportunities for promising young big man Ed Davis, who barely played after coming over from the Toronto Raptors in the Rudy Gay trade.
- The trade that sent Gay to the Raptors was the biggest in-season move of 2012–13. The feeling that had been building for a while in Memphis was that the Grizzlies would be a better team without their top scorer, and the 38 regular-season games Memphis played without him—amassing a 27-11 record—seemed to lend it some credence. But can the Grizzlies really survive an entire season without a top-20 scorer?
- The decision not to renew Lionel Hollins’ contract was a little surprising, but it made sense once it came out that Hollins was demanding a salary that Memphis simply wasn’t able to afford. Thus, enter Dave Joerger. An assistant on the Grizzlies’ bench for the past three seasons, Joerger was the man Hollins put in charge of Memphis’s stifling defence. So, in theory, nothing much needs to change, as the players are familiar with Joerger and his coaching style. Considering Memphis’s offensive woes, a slight philosophical change might actually be just what the team needs.
- Can Zach Randolph get back to the player he once was? Just three seasons ago, Randolph was the best player on the Grizzlies roster. Now, that distinction belongs to his fellow frontcourt bruiser, Marc Gasol. So, what happened to that Z-Bo from 2010–11? After averaging 20.1 points and 12.2 rebounds per game, Randolph has been snake bit with injuries over the last two seasons. Coming into this year, Randolph appears fully recovered and as such he should be relied upon to carry a big offensive load.
Breakout Player: Ed Davis. The former Raptor was on the verge of breaking out when he was shipped to Memphis midway through last season, shooting 55 percent from the field and averaging 9.7 points and 6.7 rebounds in 24.2 minutes per game. After the trade, though, Davis saw his minutes plummet to just 15.1 per game, leading to a serious drop in production. With Arthur out of the picture, Davis should be the Grizzlies’ key reserve big man behind Randolph and Gasol.
Scale of Decency: Quite decent. The Grizzlies are a good team but they just aren’t championship material. During the regular season they should figure to top 50 wins again, but their offensive woes will ultimately be too much to overcome in the playoffs. Besides, the Grizz did get pretty lucky last season, with Russell Westbrook out of the Western Conference semis. Memphis will likely be a darling of NBA pundits again, but they’ll struggle to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.
NBA team previews: Rockets | Spurs | Lakers | Clippers | Suns | Kings | Warriors