Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Preseason Wrap-up: Prognostication and Predictions

Posted By on Tue, Oct 29, 2013 at 8:03 AM

Basketball season is finally upon us, and I can't wait—but I feel like there are some things we need to talk about first.

Preseason Blues

I've been trying to figure out how best to address the Grizzlies' final two preseason games in these pages—you know, the two where the Grizzlies looked lethargic, disinterested, and unorganized, and got beaten by the Raptors by 36 and the Rockets by 19—but here's the thing: I have no idea how much weight to assign a preseason game. The whole preseason for the Grizzlies has felt like an extended training camp, where the Grizzlies have been, whether due to injuries and illnesses or on purpose, running out whatever seems like it might be a good idea at the time.

We've seen crazy lineups—Conley, Bayless, Calathes, Leuer, Gasol, anyone?—and we've seen Mike Miller playing 30+ minutes, we've seen some plays that looked like "real" sets the Griz will be running and others where they revert to "bad old days" form, standing around until the shot clock expires trying to get a 20-foot contested jumper. We've also seen this team (most notably against the Milwaukee Bucks) decide to win "for real" and play hard down the stretch.

I'll just be honest and say I don't know what to expect. The last two games of the preseason were putrid, horrible excuses for NBA basketball, and the Grizzlies played like a dumpster fire.

But... the games didn't count, and the players—most obviously Zach Randolph, but all of them to an extent—know it doesn't count, and why play as hard as you can and risk getting hurt before you even make it to the games that matter for playoff seeding?

Which isn't to say that there's no reason to be concerned. If the Grizzlies stumble out of the gate showing the horrible offensive decision-making and absolutely horrific shooting percentages they had in the last two games, there are going to be problems, and we can forget making a run at a title this year. And, honestly, part of me wonders if the transition into the Joerger Era might need a season like that, a year where it doesn't quite click yet while everyone gets comfortable with each other and tries to figure out how to operate in what appears to be a completely refocused offense, featuring the Mike Conley/Marc Gasol pick and roll as its basic building block instead of the Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol high-low that's been slaughtering the Western Conference off and on for the last four years.

It's a big transition, and the possibility that we've all underestimated how big of a transition can't be dismissed until we get into this first stretch of four or five games.

The Q and Ed Question

The deadline for contract extensions is fast approaching: it's the 31st of October, which, as I'm sure your Halloween-costumed children have reminded you, is Thursday. We heard some chatter last week about the possibility that the Grizzlies may be looking to sign Ed Davis to a long-term extension that would secure his presence in Beale Street Blue after this year for a salary somewhat lower than he stands to make as a restricted free agent this summer.

It doesn't seem like that's going to happen, as several sources have reported on Twitter and elsewhere that the two sides don't appear likely to reach an agreement before the deadline.

Tucked in that same article (this one by Marc Stein) was the idea that an extension for Quincy Pondexter "hasn't been ruled out." It's well known that the Grizzlies are big fans of Pondexter, and his continued elevation of his play season after season means he probably still has some growing room. I'm not sure what an extension for Pondexter would look like; probably something under the Mid-Level Exception, maybe $4 million. For a guy who's a supposed "3 and D" threat, his "D" still needs some work to catch up with his "3." Otherwise I'd say the full Mid-Level (which is somewhere around $5 million) wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility.

But either way, if nothing happens by Thursday, both players are headed to restricted free agency this summer—and we'll just have to cross that bridge when we get to it, because there's a lot of basketball to be played between this point and that one.

Five last-minute predictions

I've held off on making official predictions here, because (1) I'm terrible at them and (2) there's not really any point—NBA seasons are long, grueling, unpredictable, beautiful chaos, and a million different things are going to happen between now and April that will render any attempt to prognosticate useless.

Of course, completely contradicting what I just said, I've got a few anyway:

•   The Grizzlies will finish 2nd in the Southwest Division, behind the Spurs but ahead of the Rockets.
•   Marc Gasol will average 32 minutes a game, down from 35 last year and 36.5 the year before (mostly thanks to Kosta Koufos).
•   Zach Randolph will not make the All Star team but will still average a double-double.
•   The Grizzlies will finish the season somewhere around 20th in the league in Pace, rather than 30th as they did last season.
•   The Grizzlies will trade one of the following players before the deadline: Tayshaun Prince, Jerryd Bayless, and Zach Randolph. Grizzlies fans will not be happy with how little they receive in return.

Commenters (yes, even the ones who were calling for Jason Levien to step down as Grizzlies CEO after a preseason loss to the Rockets), let's see your predicitions below. Only ten hours until basketball!

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