Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Season Recap: 100 (Or So) Word Reactions

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2009 at 10:19 PM

The Grizzlies ended their season Wednesday night with a 98-90 win over the Atlanta Hawks to finish 24-58, tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves (who folded to the Kings — boo!) for the fifth worst record in the league.

I'm excited to get into the offseason stuff, but my plate is extraordinarily full on my other beats the next two weeks. So I'm going to get on the record with this batch of quick thoughts on Lionel Hollins and the entire season-ending Griz roster.

The rest of this month, Beyond the Arc will be on semi-hiatus. I might pop in with breaking news, links, or responses to reader comments as warranted, but don't expect much else here until the first week of May.

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Lionel Hollins: I was probably a little unfair toward Hollins a few weeks ago in my post-Calipari piece. He's gone 13-26 as head coach — a slightly better record than Marc Iavaroni had this season with slightly less talent (following the Kyle Lowry trade) and against a much tougher schedule. Despite his disappointing reluctance to give O.J. Mayo serious point guard minutes when Mike Conley sits, he's done a pretty solid job with this team, particularly getting Rudy Gay refocused. Mike Conley also blossomed on his watch, but I think that started when Iavaroni left, not when Hollins started. Given the solid finish, the response from the team, and financial factors, he's very likely to remain head coach heading into next season, and that's fine. My biggest concern: That he'll have too much off-season influence, often a danger with head coaches, as Griz fans have seen. More on this later.

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O.J. Mayo: Mayo averaged 38 minutes a game and played all 82 as a rookie, so it shouldn't be a surprise that he couldn't quite keep up his torrid November scoring pace. But more than 18 points a game on 44/38/88 shooting is very good for a jumpshot-dependent rookie that defenses have been keying on most of the season. His limitations in terms of size and athleticism by NBA two-guard standard in conjunction with his promising playmaking ability suggests a fulltime move to the point could be in his future. He's too turnover-prone for that now and has proven he can be a big-time player at the two (potentially on both ends of the floor), so the team has a lot of options with Mayo in the backcourt. Mayo is clearly the most significant player on the team, but doesn't profile, to me, to be a top tier ballhandler/scorer (Lebron/Kobe/Wade). He can clearly be a second-tier guy (Roy/Billups/DWilliams), but that means this team is still on the "balanced-talent" rather than the "star and role players" team-building plan. (Which is fine by me, actually.)

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Marc Gasol: From a "fan" perspective, maybe my favorite player on the team. (Well, other than Haddadi.) The pre-season word on Gasol was that his Tremendous Upside Potential was going to be Brad Miller — a high-level starting center but not quite an all-star. One year into Gasol's NBA career, that's not a hope anymore. It's a reality. Gasol averaged 12 and 7 on 53% shooting and, rather than wearing down, got stronger as the season progressed. He's not a star, but he is a terrific building block, and one that will be even better if the team can put a more dynamic scorer/rebounder next to him at the four: Gasol is a solid rebounder and viable scorer on the block, but his athletic limitations make him better as a second banana on both fronts. And there could be more to come: Gasol can improve his conditioning and has passing and perimeter-shooting skills that I don't think have been fully tapped yet. Probably the best "glue guy" intangibles in a Griz uni since Shane Battier.

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Rudy Gay: On the surface, Gay's third season looks static, but there was a definite arc to it and that shows up most clearly if you look at this free-throw attempts (which is at least partially a reflection of effort and aggressiveness): After averaging 5 free-throw attempts a game in October/November, Gay's attempts fell to 3.7 in December and 2.5 in January as he grew visibly frustrated and all but quit on Marc Iavaroni. After the coaching change, Gay started playing hard again and those attempts rebounded to 6, 4.7, and 5 in the final three months. The other change was the return of his three-point stroke, with Gay shooting very well from long range in March and April after shooting pretty poorly early on. Gay's lack development off the ball — especially defensively — is discouraging, but even if this is all he's going to be, his scoring ability makes him a good player. Ideally one of two things should happen with Gay this summer: If he isn't traded in a blockbuster-style deal for an all-star caliber power forward (and he should absolutely be made available in any such potential deal), then the team should look to extend Gay for a reasonable number (which would be more than mid-level but considerably less than the max). Even if he ends up not being the best long-term fit, he's an asset the team should make use of.

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Mike Conley: The most controversial player on the team because of how bad he was early on in his second season. The reality is that the very coach who wanted to draft Conley utterly failed in developing him and Conley started to take off almost immediately after Iavaroni left (even before Hollins started). Conley is a 21-year-old point guard who is only three years out of high school and has only 135 NBA games under his belt. Despite the rocky start, he's now right on track to becoming a high-level NBA point guard. His shooting from the floor, line, and especially from three (41%!) improved significantly over his rookie year — and the three-point shooting is key for him to be able to play with Mayo, which will take him off the ball some. His steal-rate finally came around in the final three months, joining his playmaking ability and relatively strong rebounding in making him the kind of player who can impact a game even without scoring. Based on his age, skill set, and work ethic, I think Conley is still going to get significantly better. If he's not the point guard on this team going forward, it will only be because Ricky Rubio or O.J. Mayo (or John Wall?) are. But Conley is legit.

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Darrell Arthur: Arthur teased Griz fans by opening his career with consecutive double-digit rebounding games. He had three more the rest of the way. He also shot only 44% from the floor — falling in love with a mid-range jumper that didn't make the transition from the Big 12 to the NBA — which just isn't good enough at power forward. Arthur had no business being a starting power forward in the NBA this season, but the Grizzlies didn't have anyone else fit for the job either. A little undersized for the position, Arthur needs to keep his rebounding effort at a very high level and get that shot worked out to be a quality player. I think he's got a chance to be a very good back-up forward and comes cheap the next few years, but I don't see much more than that and even at that level he's not a sure thing.

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Hakim Warrick: A relative veteran at age 26, Warrick continues to make small improvements each season (he had his best rebound rate this year, if still subpar for a power forward). At this point, he's a proven commodity as an efficient and versatile bench scorer with severe defensive limitations. Warrick will be a restricted free agent this summer and can probably be retained at a reasonable price either on a long-term deal or on a one-year qualifying offer. If the Grizzlies can — and, really, they must — acquire a significant upgrade as the starting power forward slot, I probably like Warrick better than Arthur in the reserve role. But Arthur comes cheaper and is already under contract for the next several seasons. It's a mild dilemma for the team.

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Darko Milicic: Darko quietly had his most efficient offensive season and equaled his career-high rebound rate. No one really noticed because he averaged only 17 minutes a game and missed 20+ games to injury, and because Marc Gasol seized the starting job for good in his absence. Though still only 23, the potential for a big leap seems to have faded for Darko, but he's at least settled in as a highly useful if inconsistent player. When healthy, he's probably one of the league's better back-up centers. He can help the Grizzlies in that role next season or, if the team can find a viable cheaper option to back up Gasol, Darko's sizable expiring contract could become a useful trade chip.

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Hamed Haddadi: Haddadi! I was really rooting for this guy and I think he's going to work out okay. Haddadi is still very much a project, but he got some meaningful minutes down the stretch and proved to be a more promising big-man project than the likes of Cezary Trybanski and Robert Archibald. The good: Haddadi can clearly rebound and block and alter shots at the NBA level. He also seems to have a high basketball IQ, is a surprising passer at times, and seems to be well liked by teammates. The bad: Even though he shot a decent 15-31 from the floor, that number is very misleading. He looked dreadful offensively, with a bizarrely labored jump shot and weak, wooden moves around the rim when he wasn't in a catch-and-dunk situation. His conditioning and strength are clearly not at an NBA level. Haddadi needs to put in serious work this summer, but the reasonable hope is that he can give the team at least legitimate spot minutes as a back-up center next season.

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Marko Jaric: Yikes. Jaric looked good in training camp and I thought he'd play a sixth-man type role as one of the few veterans on a very young team. Instead, Jaric went out and had his worst season as a pro — shooting a career-low 33% from the floor and putting up the worst turnover rate of a turnover-heavy career. Every minute he spent playing back-up point guard instead of O.J. Mayo was wasted time for this team. Jaric is owed close to $15 million over the next two seasons and thus is highly unlikely to be in a different uniform next season. He's sure to bounce back a little bit, but if Jaric is getting rotation minutes for the Grizzlies come November, then the team will have had an F- offseason.

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Greg Buckner: Pat Neely look-alike Buckner played nearly 900 minutes for the Grizzlies this season. He's meaningful for the Grizzlies this summer solely due to his contract, which is set at $4 million next season but with a $1 million dollar buyout. This makes him essentially an immediately expiring contract that can be traded this summer. With a lot of teams bumping up against the luxury tax potentially willing to dump decent players to save money, Buckner is a good bet to be dealt for a useful part.

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Quinton Ross: Ross had a disappointing season at the back end of the rotation, shooting a career-low 38% from the floor and not making the kind of defensive impact the team was expecting. I still think he's an NBA-caliber player and can probably be retained for the league minimum again, so I wouldn't complain if the team brought him back on a one-year deal. But he should be considered a very-end-of-the-bench player, not a rotation/spot minutes guy.

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Darius Miles: Thanks Darius: You played well enough initially to let the Grizzlies screw Portland without it looking like that was the only goal and you provided a few laughs. Good luck with your comeback, but your services are no longer needed here.

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