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Team Preview: Memphis Grizzlies

By Ryan Eisner, RotoWire.comView: All Team Previews

STATE OF THE FRANCHISE

Rudy Gay will have the opportunity to produce in this his second season in the NBA.
(Joe Murphy/NBAE/Getty Images)
Looking at the Grizzlies’ 22 wins from last season, you would have never known they scored 101.6 points per game last season – fifth best in the Western Conference and better than every Eastern Conference team not named the Wizards. If franchise player Pau Gasol hadn’t missed their first 22 games with a broken foot, their season might have turned out very differently. After posting the league’s worst record, some major house cleaning took place. Two-time NBA Executive of the Year Jerry West left the team in May and was replaced by former Celtics GM Chris Wallace. Marc Iavaroni, a member of the 1982-83 champion 76ers, was brought in as head coach and will push the already high-scoring offense into a more international style of play.

With management in place, the team spent the rest of the offseason trying to build talent around Gasol. Darko Milicic arrived from Orlando, giving the team a second seven-footer in the frontcourt. Milicic is still only 22 years old and still has the chance to play up to the hype that surrounded him entering the 2003 draft. The team drafted the best point guard in the draft with Mike Conley, Jr. and acquired Spanish guard Juan Carlos Navarro, more of a shooter than a true point guard, from Washington for a future first-round pick. Navarro is good friends with Gasol, and that chemistry can only be beneficial to the team. Casey Jacobsen comes from the 2007 German Basketball Championship Brose Baskets and gives the Grizzlies another player with international experience off the bench, as well as a threat from behind the arc (career 37 percent three-point shooting percentage in three NBA seasons). Andre Brown was brought in for frontcourt depth. If all these new parts meld together under the new coach, the team could go from the basement to the playoff bubble.

PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION

Conley will likely begin the season as the team’s starting point guard, seeing around 25 minutes there a game. Damon Stoudamire will probably seeing 15-20 minutes at the outset, filling in for Conley if he has rookie struggles. Navarro will alternate between point and shooting guard, seeing 20-30 minutes a game, depending on how well his shot translates to the NBA. Rudy Gay should see time at two and three, getting 30 minutes a game between those two positions. Jacobsen and Kyle Lowry will be lucky to get 10-15 minutes a game.

Mike Miller will play mostly at the three, but he could play at two if the circumstances demand. Either way, he’ll match his 40 minutes from last season. Gasol is a no-brainer to see 40 minutes, most likely at power forward, though he’ll slide over to center every so often. Milicic was brought in to start at center and could play 25-30 minutes per game there. Swift will be allowed off the bench for 20 minutes per game at most, spelling Gasol and Milicic. Hakim Warrick will play 25, a number which could increase if Milicic struggles. Tarence Kinsey should see 20 minutes. Brian Cardinal’s playing time will depend on his health, but it’s hard to imagine him seeing more than 15 minutes even when healthy. Brown could see 5-10 minutes a game.

PLAYER OUTLOOKS* = Projected Starter

CENTER

* Darko Milicic – MEM [PF]: He’ll always be remembered as the guy drafted ahead of D-Wade and Carmelo, but don’t call the 2003 second overall pick a bust just yet. Milicic is young and showed some promise in shared minutes with the Magic (5.5 boards, 1.8 blocks, 8.0 points in 23.9 minutes a game). He will get more playing time in Memphis, and the team will introduce a more familiar European-style offense, which could improve his overall numbers significantly.

Stromile Swift – MEM [C]: While the jury is still out on Darko, Swift, 2000’s second overall pick, clearly isn’t the player expected at that draft position. He will see time as the first sub in at center or power forward, but not a lot. He’s been pretty much an eight-point, four-rebound guy the past couple years, and there’s no reason to believe he’ll improve much this season.

POWER/SMALL FORWARD

* Pau Gasol – MEM [C]: Gasol played in just 59 games for the Grizzlies last season, yet he put up 32 double-doubles, an indication of how talented he is. He led the team in points, rebounds, blocks and field goal percentage last year and also averaged 3.4 assists per game. He’ll probably cede his team blocks title to Darko Milicic, but there’s no reason to believe he won’t put up elite numbers once again. He should go in the first couple rounds of your draft.

Hakim Warrick – MEM [PF]: Warrick was a huge surprise last season, playing his way into the starting lineup and averaging 12.7 points (consistently putting up 20 or more) and 5.1 boards a game. The addition of Milicic will likely push Warrick back to the bench, but he will still see his fair share of minutes and could see his point total rise with the team’s new up-tempo offense.

Why? Warrick showed some tremendous scoring potential towards the end of last season- posting double-digit scoring in all but one game in April and 16 times in the season’s final two months. He’s under the radar because he won’t start, but he’s just a Darko-slump away the starting lineup.

* Mike Miller – MEM [SF]: The 2005-06 Sixth Man of the Year enters 2007-08 as the Grizzlies’ starting small forward. Pau Gasol’s return in mid-December took the burden of the team’s offense off Miller’s shoulders, but Miller’s scoring average actually increased significantly with Gasol back on the floor (14.0 points per game in November, 18.5 for the entire season). Miller was hampered by knee tendonitis late in the season, but he played for Team USA without incident this summer. It doesn’t look like it will be an issue during the season.

Brian Cardinal – MEM [SF,PF]: Cardinal missed the second half of the 2006-07 season after knee surgery, but indications are he’ll be ready for the upcoming season. He won’t see a lot of time and really isn’t a fantasy factor.

Andre Brown – MEM [PF,C]: A D-League star who finished last season with Seattle, Brown will add some frontcourt depth to the Grizzlies.

Tarence Kinsey – MEM [SG,SF]: Kinsey got an extended tryout after the All-Star Break last season and put up some points (11.1 points in 28 minutes per game). He’s too low on the Grizzlies’ depth chart at this point to be taken seriously, but he could have some time to shine if a starter gets injured.

POINT/SHOOTING GUARD

* Mike Conley, Jr. – MEM [PG,SG]: Drafted fourth overall in June, Conley is the team’s point guard of the not-so-distant future. While critics may target his age (he’ll be 20 in October), he matured a lot during the Buckeyes’ run to the NCAA Championship game, playing much older than a freshman in the tournament. He plays in the unselfish style that makes Steve Nash an MVP for the Suns. Not to mention, a variation of Phoenix’s offense will be implemented in Memphis. While it may take him some time to adjust to the NBA and to the international-style offense, he could be a very good point guard by season’s end.

* Rudy Gay – MEM [SG]: Gay will look to build on an impressive rookie campaign (10.8 points, 4.4 boards, 1.3 assists) as his role expands in 2007-08. He’ll need to shoot better to stay on the court (42.2 percent in 2006-07), but the team still envisions him as a superstar of the future and will give him the minutes to develop.

Juan Carlos Navarro – MEM [PG,SG]: He’s a 27-year-old rookie who left Europe as one of the continent’s best players, drawing comparisons to Manu Ginobili. He’s a very good shooter and should see time at two, especially considering his extensive experience playing with Pau Gasol on the Spanish National Team.

Casey Jacobsen – MEM [SG,SF]: Jacobsen played three seasons in the NBA, but he has played the past two years in Europe. He’s perfect for the role of perimeter shooter off the bench and can play either the two or three.

Damon Stoudamire – MEM [PG]: Stoudamire is far and away the most experienced player on the Grizzlies with 13 NBA seasons under his belt. The young Grizzlies guards are breathing down his neck, and he clearly isn’t comfortable with his situation. He should get decent minutes, but Mike Conley, Jr. will start.

Why? Two huge factors are going against Stoudamire entering the season – the crowded Memphis backcourt and his age (34).

Kyle Lowry– MEM [PG,SG]: Lowry played in only 10 games his rookie season before breaking his wrist. Though Lowry did show some potential in his brief rookie campaign, the addition of Mike Conley, Jr. means he won’t see a whole lot of time on the court. He will still get some time in the rotation – more so if Damon Stoudamire is traded at some point.

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