Thursday, April 16, 2009

Grading Myself

Posted By on Thu, Apr 16, 2009 at 6:47 PM

Back in October, as part of my season-preview story, I issued seven predictions about the then-upcoming Grizzlies season. With that season now (mercifully?) over, it's only fair that I look back and see how I did:

1. The Grizzlies will finish last in average home attendance. And it may not even be close. Last season, the Grizzlies finished 29th of 30 NBA teams, outdrawing the Indiana Pacers by about 500 spectators a game. This season, with the Pacers having jettisoned more of the players who alienated a once-strong fan base, the New Orleans Hornets a legit title contender, and the former Seattle Sonics embarking on their first season as the Oklahoma City Thunder, three of last season's other bottom-five draws should be in line for a significant bump. With the economy in trouble, things will be bad in New Jersey, Charlotte, Sacramento, Milwaukee, and Minnesota, as well. But look for the Grizzlies to be four-digits worse than anyone else this season.

Verdict: I guess I'm happy to report that I wasn't quite right on this one. The Grizzlies were not a distant last in average home attendance. In fact, they weren't last at all, coming in 29th again at 12,745 a game, just ahead of the Sacramento Kings at 12,571. The Grizzlies were nearly 1,500 behind the 28th place Pacers. I was dead on about the rest of the dregs: Minnesota, Charlotte, New Jersey, and Milwaukee.

2. O.J. Mayo will finish third in an unusually strong Rookie of the Year race. Mayo will trail only Miami's Michael Beasley among rookie scorers at just under 18 points a game, but both will come up short to Portland's Greg Oden in the ROY race. Marc Gasol, who will start all season, will be a second-team all-rookie selection, while fellow rookie Darrell Arthur, who will end the season as a starter, will just miss all-rookie honors.

Verdict: I'll give myself partial credit on this one. Mayo may well finish third in an unusually strong ROY race, though second place is probably more likely. I was dead wrong about his competition, though: Oden got hurt again not long after I wrote this and had a very disappointing rookie year. Beasley was productive in spots, but pretty up-and-down. Instead, Derek Rose is the strong frontrunner, with Brook Lopez likely Mayo's chief competition for second. I came close on Mayo's scoring average, his 18.5 slightly better than my projections and first among rookies, not second. As for the rest: Gasol is a good bet for second-team all-rookie, but could sneak onto the first team. Arthur did end the season as a starter, but wasn't quite as productive as I thought he'd be.

3. Rudy Gay will be a Top 15 scorer but not an all-star. After finishing 26th in scoring average last season at 20.1, Gay will push his scoring average closer to 23 per game, knocking on the door of Top 10 status. He'll warrant all-star consideration in a conference lacking great small forwards, but the team's dismal win-loss record will keep him out — this year.

Verdict: I was wrong here. Rather than ticking up, Gay's scoring declined to 18.9 and he ended up the league's 25th leading scorer. His mid-season slump in the waning days of the Iavaroni era, along with the team's poor showing, killed even a faint suggestion that Gay might be worthy of all-star consideration.

4. Mike Conley will be wobbly early but will establish himself and get some Most Improved Player votes. Few players in the league are in as difficult a spot as Conley: trying to establish himself as an NBA point guard at age 21 with two other perimeter teammates in Gay and Mayo hungry for the ball. Conley will feel his way for a couple of months before taking off, establishing himself as one the league's best young point guards heading into next summer.

Verdict: I'll give myself partial credit on this one. Conley did get off to a wobbly start and did make big strides in the second half. He won't get any MIP votes because his early struggles torpedoed his per-game averages and because the Grizzlies were too much a non-factor, but I do think that, over the course of the season, Conley was one of the league's most improved players this season.

5. A trade will be made — but not a big one. Behind Conley, Kyle Lowry will bristle at his bench role while Javaris Crittenton and Marko Jaric will struggle to find minutes. Something's got to give. Look for Lowry to rehab his trade value after a bad pre-season and be shipped to a point-guard-needy team by mid-season.

Verdict: I nailed this one, with Lowry indeed being shipped out at mid-season. Crittenton, unable to find minutes, was also dealt.

6. Marc Iavaroni will survive the season; Antoine Walker will not. A bad economy and declining revenues will make Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley more cautious about buying out one coach to hire another, giving Iavaroni a longer leash than he might otherwise have, and the team will show enough improvement for Iavaroni to last the season. Despite a reluctance to take less money in a buyout, unneeded vet Walker will find some way to exit Beale Street Blue before the season ends.

Verdict: Partial credit here. I was right about Walker, though that was the easy part. On Iavaroni, I do think Heisley's reluctance to make a move gave Iavaroni a longer leash (which turned out not to be a good thing). I was dead wrong about the improvement, though, and Heisley was forced to make a move.

7. The Grizzlies will finish 28-54. After a rough early start, the young guys will gel and improve enough for the Grizzlies to play competitive basketball down the stretch, setting the stage for a bigger leap forward next season.

Verdict: I overshot by four wins here and the Grizzlies finished 24-58. I was pretty much right about the arc, with the young "core" beginning to play better down the stretch and with a competitive end to the season as the team went 7-5 in its final 12 games. Whether that improved late play carries over into a leap forward next season remains to be seen.


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