Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Positional Rankings: How the Griz Stack Up

Posted By on Tue, Aug 31, 2010 at 10:32 PM

Over the past couple of weeks, NBA blogger Kelly Dwyer (of Yahoo's Ball Don't Lie) has done a smart, entertaining series of posts ranking the top 30 NBA players at each position. I took a particular interest in this not only because I'm a fan of Dwyer's work, but because I had done this little exercise myself just a couple of weeks before as a way to get a feel for how I thought the Grizzlies' talent stacked up against the rest of the league.

Seems worth a post to highlight Dwyer's rankings and go on the record about where I think the team's starters fall in the positional hierarchy.

Mike Conley

Dwyer ranks Conley 27th among point guards. I've got Conley 26th on my own cheat sheet, so that's pretty much a wash. And I agree with his Conley commentary:

Even though he doesn't turn 23 until this October, does Mike really seem like a guy who is just waiting to take a big step forward? His game, and sometimes middling quickness, just don't seem suited to it. Which is fine, for a sound backup or starter in the pinch. Trouble is, the Grizzlies seem la hotshot point guard away from being a real player, and though Conley's youth should encourage, for some reason it doesn't. Hopefully Mike makes me look a fool with his play this season.

O.J. Mayo

Dwyer has Mayo at 18th among shooting guards (the link will show 19th, but a later adjustment suggests Mayo should move up a slot on Dwyer's list), but does honor him with a hilarious visual motif. I've got Mayo at 14. The players Dwyer has rated higher than Mayo that I have lower: J.J. Redick, J.R. Smith, John Salmons, Ben Gordon, Jamal Crawford. (Dwyer has Vince Carter lower. I have him higher for some reason.)

I think Dwyer misreads Mayo's summertime point guard experience slightly — Mayo would like to play more on the ball and the seeming finality of his "failure" is rooted more in the team's unwillingness to give him much leeway at that position rather than his poor play in a very brief summer-league stint. (Which is not to say that Mayo would necessarily get much better with more of a chance. Who knows?)

A lot of people took Mayo's failed (miserably failed, if we're honest) attempt at playing point guard during the summer leagues as a desperation move. Going with the glass-half-full approach, I'm wondering if Mayo just took the crash course in order to become a better-handling off-guard, rather than a full-on backup point man. Mayo has stagnated since his rookie year, but if his confidence and driving improves he could have a significantly better season than the players ranked below him on this list (ones that were, admittedly, better than him last season).

Rudy Gay

Dwyer has Gay 10th among small forwards. I've got him slightly higher at 7th. The three players I have behind Gay that Dwyer puts in front of him: Andrei Kirilenko, Luol Deng, and Gerald Wallace. I think Gay is just better than Deng. Dwyer sways me a little on Kirilenko, but I think Kirilenko is more effective at the four. As for Wallace, I know he was better than Gay last season, but I'm skeptical about him maintaining this level of play. Wallace enters the season the better player, but I project Gay passing him this season. It's that second tier of small forwards — Wallace, Danny Granger, Andre Iguodala, an aging Paul Pierce — that Gay needs to be targeting. He has the ability to pass them all and move to the top of the second tier.

That said, I certainly can't dismiss Dwyer's skepticism about Gay's lack of progression or all-around game:

Gay didn't deserve the contract he just signed, he's certainly not twice the player that he was last season (in jumping from 18th to 10th), and there's always a sound chance the Grizzlies forward will fall off a bit now that he's secured his massive contract. Considering how stagnant his career has been of late (and that's putting it nicely; his career-year, thus far, was in 2007-08, and he's fallen off in the two seasons since), it wouldn't be a surprise.

But he can play. He can score, shoot a passable-enough percentage and pile up buckets without having many plays called for him. I'm not going to demean what he can do just because others have overrated him and forgotten about what he can't do.

Zach Randolph:

Dwyer slots Zach Randolph at 9th among power forwards. I've got him 8th. (I initially had Randolph 7th, but I was classifying Tim Duncan as a center. I moved Duncan to the power forward list so the rankings would match up.) The one power forward Dwyer ranks ahead of Randolph that I disagree on: Josh Smith. Smith is a terrific young player and I have him right behind Randolph at 9th, but I prefer power in my power forwards when it's a close call.

Dwyer provides some smart, on-point comments on Randolph:

Randolph didn't really change the way he looked just before he tossed in another lefty hook or pulled in another defensive rebound last season, but the way he went about setting up those hooks changed completely.

Or, "sped up quite a bit."

Zach didn't hold the ball last season. He got the pill, made a move, and didn't muck about. Either passed it back out, or put it up. Didn't wait for everyone to leave his side of the court. And helped, kind of, defensively. So, though his statistics didn't change much, but his impact did. More of the same in 2010-11, please.

Marc Gasol:

Dwyer has Gasol 9th among centers. I have Gasol fifth. Given the injury questions facing Yao Ming and Greg Oden (and with Tim Duncan slotted as a power forward), the center rankings are very debatable after Dwight Howard. I agree with Dwyer on Andrew Bogut and Brook Lopez as the next guys on the list, but the rest of the top ten could defensibly go in any order. The players Dwyer ranks ahead of Gasol that I don't: Al Horford, Chris Kaman, Joakim Noah, and Nene. I think Gasol is just better than Kaman even if his team context didn't allow him to put up as impressive per-game numbers last season. As for Noah, I think his defensive and rebounding advantages over Gasol are minor compared to Gasol's more considerable offensive advantages. Nene and Horford are closer calls for me, but I give Gasol the nod over Nene for durability and a more expansive offensive game. I love Horford and think he and Gasol are very close, but I'll give the tie to the true center over the guy playing out of position. (If I could pick any non-"star" to pair with Gasol on the Grizzlies frontline, I think I'd pick Horford.)

Though we disagree a little bit on his ranking, I co-sign Dwyer's comments on Gasol:

Because he doesn't stand out in any one area, Gasol is continually overlooked as one of the league's finer centers. He's just all-around great, and at age 25, still has room to get better. A sound passer, like his brother, Gasol can score in the post effectively because he can hold position, something that's lost sometimes in a league full of defensive-minded six-foul guys. He does well enough on screen-and-roll defense and remains a tough rebounder.

Now it's up to the Grizzlies to understand what they have and feature him in their offense more often.

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