Friday, March 4, 2011

Deflections: Leon Powe Signing, Big Game Tonight, Standings Watch, etc.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 4, 2011 at 11:58 AM

The Leon Powe Signing: The Grizzlies are adding what is presumably the final piece to their playoff-push roster today with the expected signing of free-agent forward Leon Powe for the remainder of this season.

Leon Powe: The Celtic Invasion Continues
  • Leon Powe: The Celtic Invasion Continues
Powe, like new Grizzlies teammate Tony Allen, is a former member of the Boston Celtics who was scouted and drafted by the Celtics while Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace as part of that team's front office. He's probably best known for coming off the bench to score 21 points in 15 minutes against the Lakers in Game 2 of the 2008 NBA Finals.

Wallace wasn't kidding when he said, recently, that the team was "all in" on the playoff race.

A lack of frontcourt depth was the team's only immediately addressable need, and credit owner Michael Heisley for giving Wallace the latitude to address it. The same owner who had to be convinced to sign Quinton Ross to a minimum contract a couple of years ago has been more than willing to commit resources to bolster this team's playoff chances — first bringing in free agent point guard Jason Williams, then taking on extra salary to import Shane Battier back from Houston, and now signing Powe — who was recently bought out by the Cleveland Cavaliers — to bring his team's roster to the maximum 15. (Powe replaced Rodney Carney, whose 10-day contract with the team had come to an end and who was no longer needed given the acquisition of Battier.)

Powe vs. Lakers:

This concludes what has been a radical transformation on the team's bench from the beginning of the year, replacing poorly performing players Acie Law, DeMarre Carroll, and Hasheem Thabeet with Williams, Battier, and Powe, elevating veteran Tony Allen over now-injured rookie Xavier Henry, and getting improved play from second-year swingman Sam Young.

As a result, the Grizzlies depth has evolved from possibly the league's worst bench a season ago to a team with that goes 15 deep in terms of useful players and brings multiple playoff-tested veterans off the bench. (This will create some interesting decisions for coach Lionel Hollins if and when the team does make the playoffs.)

What to expect from Powe? It all depends on how healthy he is. Powe, 27, has suffered three serious knee injuries since college, the most recent a torn meniscus that required surgery in January and kept him out for six weeks. He hasn't played in an NBA game since January 5th and has played only 34 games over the past two seasons for the Cavaliers.

But the Grizzlies worked Powe out and think he's ready to play spot minutes. Historically, Powe has been a highly productive per-minute bench player whose size limitations (he's a 6'8" power player, albeit with a 7'3" wingspan), injuries, and tendency to foul have limited his appearances and minutes.

Powe is a limited offensive player who doesn’t bring much skill level in terms of passing, shooting, or ball-handling, but he's a physical player who has always been a strong rebounder, aggressive defender, and effective finisher around the basket. Somewhat like Tony Allen, he brings toughness, a defensive demeanor, and playoff experience to the roster.

The bulk of the team's frontcourt minutes will continue to go to the trio of Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Darrell Arthur. And I suspect that, especially if Rudy Gay returns, Shane Battier will operate as the team's primary fourth "big". But Powe will challenge Hamad Haddadi for spot minutes and give Lionel Hollins a much-needed extra option in case of injury, foul trouble, or — as we saw recently — ejection with one of his main three frontcourt players. And if he shows good signs of recovery, the Grizzlies could have the inside track on an affordable, effective bench player for next season.

Powe also has a compelling personal story:

Tonight's Game: Leon Powe is not expected to be in uniform tonight in what is shaping up as a very important game. The Grizzlies host division and conference rival the New Orleans Hornets for the first time this season with a chance to move up in the playoff standings with a win.

The Hornets were 31-16 just more than a month ago, but are in the midst of a 4-12 slide in which superstar point guard Chris Paul is clearly suffering — apparently from the lingering effects of off-season knee surgery. Over his past 10 games, Paul is averaging 11 points and 8 assists on 34% shooting, compared to career averages of 19 and 10 on 47% shooting. Over his past three games — all losses — Paul has scored a total of 17 points on 7-29 shooting.

The Grizzlies, meanwhile, have been surging, particularly on the home floor, where they've won 9 of 10, the only loss in that stretch coming against the defending champion Lakers on February 7th.

Tonight's game, which tips off at 7 p.m., is not being televised locally — unless, I suppose, you have NBA League Pass. If you can't make it down, you can follow the action via my Grizzlies Twitter feed, @FlyerGrizBlog.

Standings Watch: A win would vault the Grizzlies ahead of the Hornets in the Western Conference Standings, into essentially a tie with the Portland Trailblazers for the 6th seed. Other games of note tonight: The Oklahoma City Thunder will be an underdog on the road against the Atlanta Hawks, while the 9th place Phoenix Suns will visit the Milwaukee Bucks. It might seem like the Thunder are too far up the standings to be relevant, but a Grizzlies win tonight and a Thunder loss — a very reasonable scenario — would have the Grizzlies only 3.5 games back of OKC for the 4th seed.

Procrastination Time: I'll out myself here as one of the "anonymous" writers who participated in this fun project from friend-of-the-blog Andrew Unterberger of The Basketball Jones, who quizzed 16 NBA writers on a myriad of hoops trivia topics.

I got 47 of a possible 56 answers, which I feel pretty good about, but only got a perfect score on naming the 12 members of the 1992 Dream Team. Stupidest mistake: Somehow omitting the San Antonio Spurs (my only wrong answer on the question) on the list of teams the Kobe-era Lakers have defeated in the Western Conference Finals.

Anyhow, if you've got a few minutes, check it out — it's a really fun piece.

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