Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Preseason Starts Tonight

Posted By on Wed, Oct 6, 2010 at 7:00 AM

Finally, real live basketball is back. The Grizzlies begin their eight-game preseason schedule tonight at 7 p.m., hosting the Indiana Pacers at FedExForum. Here are the five players I'm most interested in watching tonight:

We've seen him in the cap, but Xavier Henry makes his game debut in Beale Street Blue tonight.
  • We've seen him in the cap, but Xavier Henry makes his game debut in Beale Street Blue tonight.
1. Xavier Henry: Because he missed summer league due to his contract dispute with the team, I haven't seen Henry in a game since he was at Kansas. And my only up-close exposure has been at Henry's pre-draft workout and in a few minutes of scrimmaging at the two practices I've been able to make it to in the past week. So tonight will be a chance to get a better initial read on Henry.

The Grizzlies really need someone on the bench they can rely on to put up double-digit points when given the opportunity and, sadly, Henry, a 19-year-old rookie, is probably the bench player best equipped to do that.

The Pacers match-up also provides a lot of interesting contrasts to Henry among wing players: There's Paul George, who seemed to be the other player the Grizzlies were most interested in at Henry's pick, but went to the Pacers two picks earlier at #10. There's fellow rookie Lance Stephenson, who I thought outperformed both at his Grizzlies workout. There's Dahntay Jones, a former Griz player who has carved a niche as a solid rotation/spot minutes guy. There's Brandon Rush, who profiles similar to Henry in many ways — swingman with good size, good shot, and seemingly average athleticism who was an elite high school prospect and very good college player at Kansas before becoming a mid-first-round pick. Rush has been a middling pro so far; the Griz need Henry to be better than that. And, finally, there's Danny Granger, a true all-star-level player.

It's only one game, but judging Henry alongside all these players (not to mention Grizzlies wings O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, and Sam Young), should give a decent early indication to both his starting point and his ceiling.

2. Hasheem Thabeet: I thought Thabeet looked better in the Summer League, making surer catches and (somewhat) quicker decisions. But, honestly, there was nowhere to go but up. The early word out of camp was about Thabeet's improvement. I barely noticed him in the two stretches of practice scrimmages I saw and I didn't hear good reports from the public scrimmage last weekend that I missed. Will he look any different than the lost soul we last saw patrolling the FedExForum paint back in April? It's okay if he doesn't look as good the Pacers still-developing Big East behemoth Roy Hibbert, who has a bit of a head start on him, but if Thabeet gets manhandled by second-round rookie Magnum Rolle, it will be a bad sign.

3. Tony Allen: I've seen plenty of Allen over the past few seasons, but this will be the first chance to really focus on him up close and begin getting a sense of how he might fit with the Grizzlies. Allen has been on the ball some in practice, and served, at times, as a caretaker point guard — in spot minutes — for the Celtics. But check out what John Hollinger in his player profile of Allen, which posted yesterday:

Offensively, Allen continues to own one of the league's shakiest handles and makes horrible decisions with the ball. As a result, he captured last place among shooting guards in turnover ratio and second-to-last in pure point rating.

Is he really a better fit for minutes on the ball than Mayo?

4. Zach Randolph: Though I talked to one Grizzlies official at practice this week who downplayed the amount of weight Randolph seems to have lost and didn’t think it would impact his game much either way, Randolph looks much leaner to me. Will this lesson the probability of injury? Make him more of a threat in transition? Make him even quicker on moves to the rim? Will it hurt his ability to seal his man in the post and carve space for rebounds? Initial answers begin tonight.

5. Mike Conley: Conley, who starts a season as an uncontested, essentially non-controversial starter for the first time, and who is looking to restricted free agency next summer, is embarking on a crossroads of a campaign. New Pacers acquisition Darren Collison, a speedy late-pick rookie who seems to already have passed former high-lottery pick Conley in the point-guard pecking order, provides a nice early test.

I'll be there tonight. I won't start doing standard post-game reports until the games count, but might tweet some and will have some form of a post-game notes blog up at some point after the game.

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