Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Roster: 100 (or so) Word Reactions

Posted By on Tue, May 18, 2010 at 7:24 AM

The Grizzlies begin the process of remaking their roster tonight. But before we get to that, let's take stock of the roster as it enters the summer.

Darrell Arthur: Missed 50 games with shoulder injury, came back a carbon copy of the below-average-reserve-level player he was as a rookie. The missed time really hurt Arthur, whose athleticism, activity, and theoretical scoring potential suggest at least a valuable bench player. Can run the floor and rebound well enough, but he's too small to work in the post (23% of non-dunk inside attempts rejected) and hasn't shown the mid-range game he had in college (35% on jumpers last season). Has to find a reliable jumper to be a quality rotation player. As it is, with Arthur still a question mark and Zach Randolph entering the last year of his deal, a Power Forward of the Future should definitely be on the draft radar.

Ronnie Brewer: Griz waited too long to acquire Brewer then got nothing from it when he got injured in game one. Played only 80 minutes in five games for the Griz, only 12 of those in good health, so there's a limit to what we can know. Certainly helps defensively, but looked lost on the offensive end. Brewer is a smart, athletic, and active player, but he can't shoot and isn't particularly dynamic with the ball. He was a good fit in Utah's offense because he was able to make cuts off the ball to create shots. With the Grizzlies' more iso and pick-and-roll offense, the weak-side wing player needs to be more of a shooter. It would have been nice to see Brewer on the floor more with Marc Gasol, whose interior passing and basketball IQ might have worked well with Brewer's cutting ability. Is he just a system player? Can the Griz figure out how to use him effectively? Based on the limited info and big question marks, it would be hard for the Grizzlies to offer him a substantial contract. But after giving up a future pick to get him, it would be equally hard to let him walk. Luckily there probably won't be a big market for Brewer this summer. My guess is he's a good bet to be back on the one-year qualifying offer.

DeMarre Carroll: A disappointing rookie season. Early on, showed the kind of hustle plays that can impact a game and inspire fans, but was too busy taking and missing shots and committing fouls and thus worked his way out of consistent minutes. Was a little better later when he got run, but doesn't seem capable of being more than a 10th man. Not a bust, but also not good use of a first-round pick. If he could develop into a better man defender or reliable spot-up three-point shooter, then the story would change.

Mike Conley: Oh, Mike Conley. Is he a baseball player stuck in a basketball player's body? A classic second-half player? Last season his pre- (10.2/5.0) and post- (14.8/5.8) all-star-break splits were very similar to those from his second season (8.8/3.6 to 14.5/5.5). He topped 12 points only once in his first 17 games. He did so in 14 of his final 17 games. Does the team need to change his calendars to always show "March" and "April"? Or just not mess with his role (the real common denominator in those early-season slumps)? But doesn't that apparently shaky psyche itself suggest he can't be counted on to max out his potential? Barring a move of O.J. Mayo to the point (wildly unlikely) or a significant trade that nets an established upgrade (unlikely but not impossible), Conley should return. But the Griz need a backup and should at least be interested in someone with the upside to potentially push Conley (Avery Bradley? Eric Bledsoe?). And if he can't handle the competition, it'll be time to move on.

Marc Gasol: Randolph, Gay, and Mayo scored more points and got more ink, but I'm not sure Gasol wasn't the team's best player. Very consistent month-by-month toward season averages of 14.5/9.5/58% shooting, and his offense was biggest statistical indictor of team success (shot 68% in wins and 52% in losses). No accident that the team, 35-32 when he got hurt, finished 5-10 without him. Scoring, rebounding, and assist rates and shooting percentage all went up while his turnover rate went down (though could stand to go down more), but the most important improvement was defensively, where his improved mobility allowed him to guard the best frontline player (he defended fours better than Randolph) and be more effective on the pick and roll. Result was a noticeable impact on both ends of the floor and a season-long case (among others) why the Thabeet pick was so misguided. With his mid-range shooting and interior passing still under-explored, there's more to come. If he can score 15 a game on 58% shooting, he could probably score 18 a game on 52% shooting, and if the team context changes, the trade-off might be worth it. Needs more touches regardless.

Rudy Gay: The lingering deficiencies likely to keep him from maximizing his athletic gifts (lacks defensive focus, doesn't create for teammates) are well documented, but his shot-making (the ability to create and make a shot anywhere on the floor) is under-appreciated. Rebounded from a regressive third season but didn't quite break out. De-emphasized his three-point shooting, and got to the line more. Result was career-best .466 shooting. But can be better from long-range, and needs to be. Turnover rate also down. As with Mike Conley, his rebounding decline had a lot to do with having Randolph and Gasol dominating up front. Will turn 24 this summer as a borderline all-star on a slight upswing. Not worth max money. Probably not worth close to it. But given his advantages of age, athleticism, and track record, a better long-term investment than Randolph, if it comes to that. I still think he'll be back one way or another.

Hamed Haddadi: He drop-stepped. He went around Shaq. He dunked that shit. Got double-digit minutes in 12 games (five as a rookie) and proved a viable rebounder and shot-blocker with sneaky passing skills but very little scoring ability. He's also a fun guy to cheer. Essentially, he's a lesser version of Jake Tsakalidis. Third-string center as folk hero.

Lester Hudson: Over-aged rookie and local product played 61 minutes in nine games, 12 of those minutes dropping buckets on the Lakers in a home win. Seems better at creating shots than making them at this point, but shot creation is a skill and Hudson is also a live athlete with some raw play-making ability. A borderline prospect, especially considering his age, but seems to still have a shot at establishing himself. It remains to be seen if that shot will come with the Grizzlies.

Steven Hunter: Still only 28 and a reasonable third-string center despite the wear-and-tear. Unlikely to be back with the Grizzlies. A contract, and nothing more.

O.J. Mayo: Improved from his rookie year, but only modestly. For now, the assertion of Mayo as a future top-tier star is a matter of faith and projection more than performance. Still, became much better finishing in the paint, which led to field-goal percentage improvement, and his turnover rate declined. He adjusted his game to a team concept and became more efficient. But did he adjust too much? As the team's best combination scorer/creator on the perimeter, he shouldn't have the team's fourth-highest usage rate (behind Sam Young!). That I remain agnostic on the subject of Mayo's potential to man the point after two seasons is a function of the lack of evidence the team has provided. Rather than allow an internal debate on this question that mirrors that among fans and media, the organization should have approached the issue with a united front of nonjudgmental curiosity, developing Mayo at both guard spots and letting his performance lead the way. Is it too late now? Apparently Mayo will be granted exactly two full summer-league games to disprove his point skills. Whatever happens, he needs the ball more.

Zach Randolph: A charmed season. Kept out of trouble, had perhaps his best season, won over the home fans big time. Notched second-highest scoring average of career and best shooting percentage since becoming a full-time player. Beasted it on the boards all year toward a career-high rebound average. And yet, a .488 shooting percentage isn't really that impressive for a player with Randolph's immense inside scoring abilities. Just look at the career bests of some of his similarly gifted power forward contemporaries: Carlos Boozer (.562), Pau Gasol (.567), Amare Stoudemire (.590), Elton Brand (.533), Tim Duncan (.549). The difference is shot discipline, and while Randolph was a new man in this regard early last season, his shot selection wobbled in the second half in ways that few noticed, becoming much more jumper happy, particularly from three-point range, where he shot only 28%. Making noises about wanting a Pau Gasol extension (three years, $57 million) this summer. He won't get it, but if he did the total bill would be five years, $90 million. What would David Lee have cost on the five-year deal last summer? Half of that? A three-year extension makes sense for both parties, but not for more than $40 million. Otherwise, wait it out and let him try to get more on the open market under the next CBA.

Hasheem Thabeet: A bad draft pick in conception became even worse once the games started. But, though Thabeet certainly was — and, I think, will remain — a bad pick, declarations that he's a bust are premature. Based on his rookie season, it seems reasonable to label him a legit shot-blocker who can impact a game defensively when he's able to stay on the floor, a decent rebounder (so what if that was purely a function of size and athleticism rather than skill or hustle? The boards still count!) who runs the floor well for his size and can finish above the rim on the rare occasions when he can cleanly catch the ball. In 13 games as a starter, he averaged a very unimpressive 5 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 blocks in just over 22 minutes per game. He can ("can" is not "will") become a quality starter … eventually. But if his presence (no pun intended) becomes an excuse to let Gasol walk next summer, I'll lead the protest march.

Jamaal Tinsley: A reclamation project that didn't work out. Started well but fell off fast. Couldn't make shots or stay in front of his man. Only 32, but his NBA future looks very much in doubt.

Marcus Williams: Somewhat rehabbed his faltering career by playing like a viable third-string point guard. Unfortunately for the Grizzlies, with Allen Iverson AWOL and Jamal Tinsley's early effectiveness fading rapidly, he was charged with being a second-string point guard for much of the season. Could latch onto a team again as a cheap end-of-the-bench option, but don't expect it to be in Memphis.

Sam Young:That Young, the last of the team's three draft picks last summer, turned out to be the team's best rookie was entirely unsurprising. Something of a poor-man's Bonzi Wells — a power wing who is hard to handle within 15 feet and has a knack for making plays around the rim. An almost total lack of ball skills on the perimeter (save a wildly exaggerated yet surprisingly effective up-fake) and a flat jump shot limit him. Really needs to develop a reliable corner three to make the transition from viable reserve to meaningful rotation player. Last year had a case of rookie-itis so severe that it spurred memories of Drew Gooden and Gordon Giricek. Whenever he got the ball, he acted like he was more confident about making a shot than completing a pass. (Yes, I can relate.) Obviously needs to work within the system more and be less of a ball stopper. Will be 25 this summer and has limited upside, but already — sadly — the best second-round pick in Memphis Grizzlies history.

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