As I get ready for my own Griz preview stuff over the next couple of weeks, let's start with a survey of other Griz previews around the web:
Hollinger's team preview is on ESPN Insider, so you won't be able to read it without those privileges. But he projects the Grizzlies to go 27-55, deriding both the team's offseason moves and the decision-making process that went into them. Hollinger wonders how the addition of shot-happy scorers Allen Iverson and Zach Randolph will really help an offense that was 28th overall last season and a distant last in percentage of assisted baskets.
Hollinger also makes a point that I made in my Lindy's preview and will make again in my upcoming Flyer preview: That even in winning a mere 24 games last season, the Grizzlies were unusually fortunate in the health department, the top five players on the roster missing a total of 3 games. That was unlikely to repeat itself this season even before the Grizzlies added an aging (and already injured) Iverson and a relatively injury prone Randolph.
I think Hollinger makes a good point about the depth and diversity of the team's frontcourt rotation and how it could potentially be used against different kinds of match-ups, though he points out that the slowness of a likely Randolph/Gasol starting pairing could cause problems defensively. This is something that was on display last night against the Hawks.
Though I'm not ready to make my own prediction on the Grizzlies' record this season, I think Hollinger's rationale is sound, especially as regards to the Iverson and Randolph signings and the decision to let Hakim Warrick walk
There are a couple of details in Hollinger's preview I take issue with:
The Kyle Lowry trade: This is the one personnel move in the past year that I think has been wrongly criticized. Lowry was a bench player coming toward the end of his rookie contract. If he wasn't going to be extended (which looked doubtful), then it was the right decision to flip him for something of value rather than letting him walk (which is what ended up happening with Warrick). For a budget-conscious team (and most are these days), late-first round picks can be valuable if you draft well. If DeMarre Carroll pans out (and that looks promising right now), then the Grizzlies will have him under contract for the next 4-5 seasons on close to a minimum deal. Cheap role players can help subsidize greater spending on stars.
The Thabeet Pick: Hollinger writes that Thabeet was "reportedly" drafted over the objections of the basketball staff, the citation presumably in reference to his colleague Chad Ford's immediate post-lottery report about Michael Heisley pushing Thabeet on a reluctant staff. From everything I've been told, that doesn't appear to be entirely true. I don't think Thabeet was at all a universal pick, but I think he was as close as the team got to a consensus one. I believe that even people in the room who didn't have Thabeet at the top of their board still had him in the mix.
I highly recommend Basketball Prospectus to all the thoughtful hoops fans in Beyond the Arc land. The nearly 400 page book is now available for $10 as a downloadable PDF or $20 as a print to order book. Check it out here.
Grizzlies fans will be interested in what has to be the most optimistic Grizzlies preview around. While questioning the fit for Randolph and Iverson, Basketball Prospectus' statistical projection system still sees Grizzlies making a big leap, projecting them at 45.4 wins, 11th in the league.
Here's a sneak preview from the book's Griz rankings blurb:
Before the 2008 season, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA system tabbed the Tampa Bay Rays to win 89 games, drawing a lot of snickers in mainstream circles. By late October of that year, PECOTA was the one smiling, insofar as a series of algorithms can smile. Now, a year and a half later, SCHOENE [the acronym for BP's hoops projection system] is thowing its chips on the table. Our projections see the Grizzlies jumping from 28th to 12th in Offensive Rating and from 20th to ninth in Defensive Rating. If you're a betting person, the under on 45 wins for Memphis might be the safer pick, but consider yourselves warned. The Grizzlies are a team to watch.
Ball Don't Lie:
J.E. Skeets, Kelly Dwyer, and the folks at Ball Don't Lie, the Yahoo! Sports NBA blog, have a very entertaining preview of the Grizzlies (and all other teams), but they certainly don't think much of the Grizzlies chances this year and make that clear with this blunt opening line:
The 2009-10 Memphis Grizzlies will be an awful, awful basketball team.
Gay hasn't appeared to care about anyone else on the court during his short turn in the NBA. Randolph hasn't appeared to care about anyone else on the court during his long turn in the NBA. Mayo was only really on last year when he was allowed to dominate the ball, and Iverson's only been on throughout his career when he's able to dominate the ball. And AI dominating the ball isn't the biggest problem behind acquiring the former All-Star.
Maybe this is his finest come-uppance. Stuck on a team nobody watches with a roster full of players that did nothing but watch Allen Iverson while growing up. Zach Randolph, who never passes. O.J. Mayo, who is named after two of the greatest passing big guards ever, but who turned in an assist ratio barely better than Kenyon Martin's(notes) last year. And Rudy Gay, who somehow managed to play over 37 minutes a game in 2008-09, and average 1.7 assists a contest.
Free Darko's Bethlehem Shoals, writing for The Baseline, the Sporting News NBA blog, has a typically thoughtful take:
We've gotten used to thinking of the Grizz as a simultaneously intriguing and demoralizing black hole. They've had talent and some interesting coaches; the problem is, nothing seems to stuck for more than a month or two. Is Iverson the unorthodox savior they need, or has he found the ideal backdrop for an ultimately meaningless comeback?
Shoals grapples with the notion of Allen Iverson as the ultimate distraction, especially to the continued development of the team's leading young players, such as Mike Conley (whom Shoals is high on) and Rudy Gay (whom he sees a let-down season from):
You know how sometimes you just get that feeling? This year, I've got it about Rudy Gay. Not the good one I had about him last season, when I figured he was about to put it all together and become one of the league's underground kingz. No, I'm just seeing Rudy falling victim to the malaise that's been predicted for him since he entered the league: that he's plateaued already, and we'll have to live with him as a player capable of great things that never quite comes into focus.
Shoals ends with what I think is one of the more reasonable takes on the team, albeit one written before Iverson's torn hamstring injury:
A team with this core, plus Iverson, should be the favorite against almost any lottery team, even if they're headed there themselves. If they can't, this season's a failure, and it will be painful to watch. If they do, no matter how they do it, Memphis’s 2009-10 will have achieved a certain amount of dignity, and those millions and millions of unknowing people who only scan the box scores will be forced to conclude that the Allen Iverson Experiment was a success.
Sporting News also has a more conventional Griz preview, predicting them 27th out of 30 teams.
Chris Mannix at CNN/SI has a camp report on the Griz, ending with this on Hasheem Thabeet:
Hasheem Thabeet is raw. Very raw. During one recent practice, Thabeet missed six consecutive shots from point-blank range and was unable to shake backup center Hamed Haddadi. While acknowledging that Thabeet's offensive development will take time, the Grizzlies' coaching staff believes he can eventually develop a smooth right- and left-handed hook shot. In the meantime, the shot-blocking Thabeet can still expect to get significant playing time with Randolph shouldering the bulk of the offensive load in the frontcourt.
The always blunt Charley Rosen at FoxSports.com seems slightly more bullish on the Grizzlies than most, but still sees them coming well short of playoff contention and has this to say about the team's top draft pick:
Weaknesses: Hasheem Thabeet is a stiff and will continue to be one for the foreseeable future.