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2014-15 Memphis Grizzlies Season Preview

Basketball Insiders continues our season previews with a look at the 2014-15 Grizzlies.

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A perennial playoff team in the Western Conference for the last four years, the Grizzlies proved last year that even with Dave Joerger replacing Lionel Hollins they’re still a formidable team capable of competing with anyone in the West. While their aging core has another year of mileage on their legs, they’ve revamped their bench and appear to be headed for a fifth-consecutive postseason appearance.

Basketball Insiders previews the 2014-15 Memphis Grizzlies.

Five Guys Think

While the Grizzlies aren’t the exciting upstart team they once were, they’re still a perennial 50-game winner that should, by all estimations, get pretty close that mark again this year. All of the key players are back for another go-round, but they’ve added Vince Carter and talented rookies Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes to the roster. They have continuity, playoff experience and a talented coach in the recently-extended Dave Joerger. All that, added to the talents of guys like Marc Gasol, Tony Allen, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley make for a pretty good team, which Memphis should be once again this season.

4th Place – Southwest Division

– Joel Brigham

After Dave Joerger’s unexpected flirtation with the Minnesota Timberwolves and then his unexpected return to Memphis, anything is possible out in Tennessee, apparently. While the Grizzlies are certainly a team worthy of our respect, they did not do enough this past offseason for us to reasonably expect anything more than what we have gotten from them already. The argument can be made that Mike Conley is the most underrated point guard in the entire league, but unless he suddenly morphs into Chris Paul, there is little reason to believe that the Grizzlies will be anything better than the third or fourth-best team in their own division, especially considering the improvements that the Dallas Mavericks have made. Securing Zach Randolph on a two-year, $20 million extension is a great value and if Vince Carter can give the Grizzlies anything close to what he provided the Mavericks last season, he will certainly be an asset. Still, after a somewhat uneventful summer in which they failed to make a splash, being leapfrogged in the division by the Pelicans isn’t completely out of the question, even if I am not necessarily betting on that.

3rd place – Southwest Division

– Moke Hamilton

Quietly, the Memphis Grizzlies have become one of the most successful franchises in the league over the past four seasons. But because the team plays outside the glare of mainstream media attention, it’s easy to take Memphis’ success for granted. Forward Zach Randolph and center Marc Gasol anchor one of the best frontcourts in the game today, while guards Mike Conley and Tony Allen remain an underrated tandem who hold their own versus their matchups on a nightly basis. The Southwest Division is going to be tough to navigate so Memphis may slip a bit in the standings. But come playoff time, the Grizzlies will be in the mix – as usual.

4th Place – Southwest Division

– Lang Greene

This was a nice summer for the Grizzlies, re-signing Zach Randolph and adding talented players like Vince Carter, Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes among others. Memphis should be better than last year for a few reasons. Marc Gasol missed time last season and he’s extremely important for the Grizzlies. Now, he is healthy and looked good in the FIBA World Cup. Also, the Grizzlies will be more comfortable playing for head coach Dave Joerger since they have a year of experience under him. Carter should help the Grizzlies’ offense if he plays as well as he did last year with the Dallas Mavericks, giving Memphis some points off of the bench. I like what Memphis did this offseason and they could be back in contention this season.

2nd Place – Southwest Division

– Alex Kennedy

What I would have done to be a fly on the wall in the Grizzlies’ front office this summer. It seems like the inner turmoil there is juicy and entertaining; unfortunately, we may never know the true extent of it. Somehow, through all the turnover, fighting and uncertainty, though, they managed to put together a pretty nice offseason. The starting five there is as proven, tough and physical as any in the league. And now, with the additions they made in free agency and with a really solid draft, their depth is much improved. This is the kind of team that is difficult to pick against, because they know how to play together and believe that they can compete with anyone in the league. Their division is absolutely loaded, but nobody ranked ahead of them is going to be excited to see them in the playoffs.

4th Place – Southwest Division

– Yannis Koutroupis

Top Of The List

Top Offensive Player: The Grizzlies were one of the elite defensive teams in the NBA last year, holding teams to only 94.6 points per game (third-best in the NBA), but one of their major weaknesses was generating points. One of the players the Grizzles can fully count on to score is veteran forward Zach Randolph. Throughout the course of his 13-year career, Randolph has consistently put up 20 and 10, and he held close to that mark last year by averaging 17.4 points and 10 rebounds. Randolph is the go-to player for the Grizzlies when in search of points thanks to his variety of post moves and great ability to draw fouls. Randolph has also steadily improved his mid-range jump shot. This is key to stretching defenses and giving his teammate Marc Gasol space to operate in the post. An expert at establishing great post position, Randolph also relies on strong box-out position to track down his own misses and capitalize on second-chance points. Head coach Dave Joerger has made a point to try and pick up the offensive pace and improve their three-point shooting. The Grizzlies ranked dead last in the NBA last year at only 89.9 possessions per 48 minutes. However, it can be assured the Grizzlies will still heavily depend on Randolph to score if shots are not falling.

Top Defensive Player: Spearheading the Grizzlies’ tremendous defensive approach is guard Tony Allen. While Allen was finally unseated from the All-Defensive teams last year at the age of 32 after three straight appearances, he is still considered one of the premier perimeter defenders in the NBA. Going head-to-head with the opponent’s best offensive player, Allen is unafraid of any match up and routinely limits even the best players in the NBA as last year’s postseason match up against Thunder forward Kevin Durant showed. Allen pressured Durant constantly in the series, even holding the NBA scoring champion to just 15 points in Game 4 and never allowing him to be completely comfortable until the deciding Game 7. Allen is also the leader on defense; not only does he take on the best opposing player, but he plays great help defense and has an eye for picking off passing lanes as he averaged 1.6 steals per game last season. Allen will be depended on as a mentor and to teach the Grizzlies’ defensive philosophy to the younger players.

Top Playmaker: Point guard Mike Conley is the unquestioned leader and quarterback of the Grizzlies’ offense. While never being named to an All-Star game in the crowded Western Conference, Conley is considered one of the best and unheralded point guards in the NBA. Conley has always had elite speed, but now he has expert decision-making as well, which helps him effectively run Memphis’ offense. Conley has been excellent at running Joerger’s post-oriented offense, hitting the open man and feeding the hot hand on the floor as he averaged a solid six assists per game last season. Conley will again be counted on to direct his teammates and deliver effective offensive possessions either by creating plays with his speed or running the offense off the post for open shots.

Top Clutch Player: Not only does Conley keep his teammates involved, he has also increased his scoring nearly every year of his seven-year career, including his career-high 17.2 points per game last year. As his scoring increase last year shows, Conley has also grown into a go-to scorer in the clutch with the confidence to look for his own shot if needed. While criticized for not having a consistent jump shot when he entered the league, Conley can now spread the defense with his three-point shot, as he shot 36 percent on four attempts per game last season. Conley displayed his clutch abilities many times last year, either hitting a last-second shot or securing a late steal or layup to lock up a close game. The Grizzlies’ late-game execution will still rest on Conley’s shoulders next year as his offensive production is expected to increase once again.

The Unheralded Player: One of the more under-the-radar trades of last season was the Grizzlies deciding to ship guard Jerryd Bayless to the Boston Celtics for guard Courtney Lee. While Bayless provided an offensive spark off the bench, Lee added more balance to the starting unit with his defensive ability and all-around offensive game. Lee took advantage of his opportunity by averaging 11 points and nearly a steal per game in his half season with the Grizzlies. Lee quickly developed chemistry with guards Conley and Allen, both in their defensive focus, but also in Lee’s ability to run the offense and allow Conley to play off the ball. After a full training camp with the team, Lee should have an increased role and will be an important contributor to the offense and defense even if he’s not the most noticed player on the team.

Best New Addition: Guard Vince Carter may not be the “Vinsanity” of his past, but the 37-year-old Carter can still be a valuable offensive contributor off the bench. One of the biggest holes for the Grizzlies last year was their lack of bench scoring. As Carter showed last postseason against the NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in a seven-game series, he can still bring some magic to the court with his three-point shot and an occasional vicious dunk. The Grizzlies are hoping Carter can be the Sixth Man of the Year candidate they need off the bench and a go-to scorer once the starters come off the floor.

– Kyle Cape-Lindelin

Who We Like

1. Marc Gasol: Despite the great balance of veteran talent on this roster, the Grizzlies and their fans know the team will only go as far as Gasol will carry them. In previous years, a healthy Gasol evolved the Grizzlies into one of the best teams in the NBA. Without him, they come dangerously close to missing the playoffs completely like last season when Gasol missed 23 games. With his offensive post presence, defensive shot-blocking and some of the best passing ability of any NBA center, Gasol is the key to the Grizzlies reaching elite status in the West.

2. Quincy Pondexter: Forward Quincy Pondexter was greatly missed last year after breaking a bone in his foot and only appearing in 15 games. Pondexter is a much needed three-point threat off the bench with a career three-point percentage of 36 percent. Returning to new faces added to the roster in hopes of helping bench production, Pondexter will be expected to be a contributor with not only his three-point shooting ability, but also his defensive effort off the bench.

3. Jordan Adams: The Grizzlies’ first-round pick Jordan Adams was added in an attempt to increase bench production and scoring. Adams displayed a natural talent to score the ball in both high school and his two-year career at UCLA with both his finishing ability and a nice shooting stroke. While the 20-year-old will be given time to develop on this veteran team, Adams has the ability to be a spark plug contributor for offense off the bench. Fellow rookie Jarnell Stokes should also emerge as a significant contributor, coming off of the bench behind Randolph.

4. Chris Wallace: After the surprising front office turnover by owner Robert Pera last year, Wallace has emerged at the helm with VP of Basketball Operations John Hollinger. With Pera already displaying a quick trigger for change in both the front office and on the court, Wallace will be on the look out to add players to help them win this year if opportunities arise.

5. Nick Calathes: Guard Nick Calathes finally found a place in the NBA after playing overseas and quickly established himself as the team’s back-up point guard behind Conley for the Grizzlies last year. Calathes follows Conley’s lead of running the offense and not turning the ball over. Most importantly, he brings a calming presence to the bench by not making bad decisions or forcing ill-advised shots. With younger players expected to grow into larger roles off the bench next year, Calathes will be counted on to mentor and direct the offense when the bench comes in.

– Kyle Cape-Lindelin

Strengths

The Grizzlies’ strengths are well known by now – their commitment to defending, rebounding and protecting the ball. This has been a standard for the Grizzlies thanks to their veteran leadership. The Grizzlies’ defensive rating of 104.6 and opponent’s points per game of 94.6 are some of the best in the NBA, ranking seventh and third respectively. The backbone of their defensive approach is to win the rebounding battle. Thanks largely to their big men Gasol and Randolph, the team tied for third in the NBA with 52 total rebounds per game. Lastly, the Grizzlies’ slow offensive pace and limited possessions means they must put a premium on controlling the ball and not committing turnovers. The Grizzlies have done a solid job at this thanks to Conley running the show and only allowing 13.1 turnovers per game, which ranks 10th in the NBA. The Grizzlies will need to continue to rely on these strengths if they hope to compete in the talented Western Conference.

– Kyle Cape-Lindelin

Weaknesses

While the Grizzlies’ experience is one of their strengths, the NBA is becoming increasingly more athletic and younger, which the Grizzlies are not. The team has been able to use their veteran defense to slow down young, athletic teams like the Thunder and the Clippers in the past, but it’s a major question if they can keep this up and overcome injuries. The lack of transition scoring and limited three-point shooting adds to the Grizzlies’ inability to score and may keep them from staying with the strong offensive teams in the West, even if their defense is on point. Depth has also been an issue for the Grizzlies, especially if the injury bug bites again like it did last year. The Grizzlies have taken steps to address these weaknesses this offseason, but these are still issues that could keep the Grizzlies from reaching elite status.

– Kyle Cape-Lindelin

The Salary Cap

After spending $3.9 million of their Mid-Level Exceptions, the Grizzlies locked in a hard cap at $80.6 million.  The team used their $2.1 million Bi-Annual Exception to bring back Beno Udrih, and an additional $725k of their MLE on rookie Jarnell Stokes.  The team now has 14 guaranteed players with $75.6 million in total salary, slightly below the $76.8 million luxury tax threshold.  The Grizzlies can choose to keep one of their two camp invites Patrick Christopher and Luke Hancock without hitting the tax.  Memphis also has a $3.1 million traded player exception for Jerryd Bayless, but that may go unused with the luxury tax in mind – barring a deal to simultaneously reduce salary.

– Eric Pincus

Dunc’d On

Best Case

56-26

The Grizz resemble the team that scared the daylights out of Oklahoma City in the first round for the entire season.  Conley continues his amazing history of improvement and finally makes his first All-Star team.  Gasol reverses his decline on the boards and avoids injury, while Randolph proves his ground-bound game is more impervious to aging than the average 33-year-old.  Carter, Pondexter, Lee, Allen, and even Adams give the Grizz the deepest wing rotation they have had in this era, and allows Joerger to experiment with some small lineups to spread the floor for Conley and Gasol pick-and-rolls. Tayshaun Prince doesn’t play at all.

Worst Case

47-35

With their solid defensive culture and Conley’s sparse injury history, the Grizzlies have one of the smaller spreads between their best and worst case.  Part of that is because the lack of top-end talent on offense limits their ceiling on that end, but they also have a lot of depth in case of injuries.  But in this worst case, Randolph falls off a cliff and Gasol and Conley miss some time. Randolph is relatively unathletic, but that is no guarantee he will age well.  Sometimes, it can later become clear that less athletic players are barely subsisting on what limited athleticism they do have, only after they suffer a massive decline if they lose even a bit of it. In this worst-case scenario, Joerger relies too much on Prince and Allen, the latter of whom is extremely useful against wing scorers, but has somewhat limited utility aside from that.  Memphis’ offense falls back into the 20s, while the defense remains good rather than elite.  Last year’s relatively middling 1.2 net rating proves an unfortunate harbinger of things to come instead of a blip due to the time Gasol missed.

– Nate Duncan

The Burning Question

Can Memphis score enough to keep up in the wild West?

The Grizzlies’ defense has always been among the best in the NBA. Offense always seems to be their downfall from being a championship contending team. With the Grizzlies’ window potentially closing in the near future with Randolph and Allen getting older and Gasol approaching free agency, they will need to focus on getting easy points through transition and become a threat from three-point range this season. There is hardly any drop off in the stacked West, with younger teams only gaining more experience and adding talent. The Grizzlies are dangerously close to losing ground if they can’t score and increase their offensive output to go along with their tremendous defense and rebounding. With their young, athletic players looking to earn bigger roles, this could help the Grizzlies keep up with the other Western teams and earn a playoff spot. Once in the playoffs, the Grizzlies have as good of a chance as any to compete in a seven-game series. However, if the Grizzlies can’t overcome their own tough Southwest Division, last year’s playoff appearance may be a thing of the past.

– Kyle Cape-Lindelin

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Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal

The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.

David Yapkowitz

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It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.

Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.

There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.

Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.

Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.

That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.

Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.

At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.

It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.

One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.

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NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind

Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.

Dennis Chambers

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When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.

“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.

Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.

That didn’t last long.

“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”

With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.

As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.

After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.

In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.

“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”

Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.

“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”

Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.

“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”

After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.

Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.

“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”

All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.

“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”

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Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team

Basketball Insiders

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Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.

“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”

Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN

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