Let’s make 2017 the right kind of year. A few suggested goals for local sports figures:
• Dedric Lawson — Ten assists (or blocks) in a game. In the long, rich history of Memphis Tiger basketball, exactly two players have achieved a triple double: Penny Hardaway (twice) and Antonio Anderson. The Tigers’ sophomore star has already come within three assists of the feat (on December 13th) and on another occasion, within two blocked shots (on December 10th). The points and rebounds will come in metronomic regularity. If Lawson can achieve the right kind of outburst in passing or blocking the basketball, he’ll turn an exclusive Memphis duo into a trio.
• Zach Randolph — Win the NBA’s Sixth Man Award. Z-Bo graciously accepted his new role — off the Memphis Grizzlies’ bench — when new coach David Fizdale announced a significant rotation adjustment in the preseason. Why not turn the new supporting role into a major award? Through Monday, Randolph has averaged 13.3 points and 7.7 rebounds. When he missed seven games after his mother’s death in late November, the Griz went 4-3, each of the wins by less than five points, each of the losses by at least nine. The 35-year-old remains integral to the Grizzlies’ big-picture ambitions. A trophy presentation at FedExForum during the playoffs would be a career highlight.
• Anthony Miller — Make first-team All-America. After catching 95 passes for 1,434 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2016 — all new Memphis records — the Tigers’ junior wide receiver didn’t so much as make first team all-conference. In the American Athletic Conference. It’s unlikely Miller would be taken in the first two rounds of this year’s NFL draft. So why not rejoin forces with quarterback Riley Ferguson, do to the Tiger pass-catching record book what DeAngelo Williams did to the rushing charts, and gain some overdue accolades?
• Stubby Clapp — Make Redbird fans stop talking about backflips. When a fan favorite returns, the honeymoon becomes saturated with memories of a player’s achievements during his initial tenure. For the new Redbirds manager, this means countless photos and video clips of a second baseman going heels up as he takes the field. Assuming his first managerial gig above the Class A level, Clapp will be focusing more on replicating the achievements of his 2000 Redbirds team, a club that won the Pacific Coast League championship in AutoZone Park’s inaugural season. Winning baseball games — to say nothing of developing prospects — has little to do with pregame acrobatics. It will be fun to see a man called Stubby take baseball seriously (he always has) and assume a leadership role in the St. Louis farm system.
• Tubby Smith — Make it six for six. Smith would become the first man to coach six teams to the NCAA tournament if he can guide Memphis to the Big Dance. Why not this year? The Tigers have three wins over teams from Power Five conferences (two more than they had, combined, the last two seasons), but must earn tournament consideration in league play. The guess here is that January and February will be the veteran coach’s wheelhouse, when player roles come into focus and the rhythm of a two-games-per-week campaign toward the postseason feels rather familiar. Who knows if Dedric Lawson will be back for a third college season? His coach should make the most of a prime asset.
• Mike Conley — Establish the Grizzlies’ 700 club. The Grizzlies somehow won six straight games with their $30-million point guard sidelined by broken bones in his back. Don’t be fooled. Memphis needs Conley like Conley needs a healthy back. He’s 39 games from becoming the first Grizzly to play in 700 regular-season games. If he reaches the milestone this season, count on Memphis extending its playoff streak to seven years. And count one more reason no future Memphis player will wear the number 11.