Everyone knows the Grizzlies weren’t ready to make a serious playoff push this year. If you don’t then watch any of the playoff series in the Western Conference to see what real playoff teams look like.
But that doesn’t mean the Grizzlies need to be blown up and start over. Building a successful NBA franchise is not a overnight process. It is a process that takes time to get into position and then a move is made to push the team over the top. Likea chess game you don’t want to launch out with an all out attack after 3 or moves. You need time to get your pieces in place so when you do strike you have the support needed to make it fatal for your opponent.
So what pieces need to be moved on the Grizzlies chessboard to get closer to a position where that one move can make the difference needed? Glad you asked because if you weren’t curious about that I really titled this blog poorly.
In my opinion, and the opinion of people in the know within the Grizzlies organization, there are five distinct areas the Grizzlies need to shore up before next season to continue the development the team has shown over the last 12 months.
First, the team needs to develop some strength off of the bench. That doesn’t mean the team simply needs to score more points either. It means that players such as Thabeet and Arthur need to step up and contribute more than they did this season. Darrell Arthur needs to regain his confidence and become a more productive player every night. Arthur averaged 7.9 ppg and 5.2 rpg in April and that has to become a bad night for Arthur not an average one. Hasheem Thabeet needs to become a defensive menace off the bench. That doesn’t mean he needs to be running starters minutes or throwing down 8-10 pts a night either. The team has plenty of players capable of scoring and it would take a miracle for Thabeet to earn minutes over Gasol but when he is called on he needs to stop other teams from having free lanes to the hoop.
The good news is that both players should be spending a lot of time this summer working under the guidance of the Grizzlies. Thabeet has already said he plans on spending the majority of his summer in Memphis working with the coaching staff. Arthur needs to make a similar commitment as well. For that matter Young, Carroll and Hudson should all spend the majority of the summer in town working out as well. Professionals in all other fields take a week or two vacation in the summer but not many take more. These pros need to have the same attitude. Still internal development without having to look outside of the franchise is a major positive in that regard.
Second the Grizzlies need to become a far better 3 pt shooting team. This is more problematic because it isn’t likely that Gay, Mayo and Conley will improve much more and no one else on the team should even be taking threes unless the shot clock is winding down. There aren’t any real candidates on the bench to assist in that role either. Ronnie Brewer (if he returns) is not a good outside shooter. Neither Sam Young inor DeMarre Carroll is likely to develop into a long range bomber either. This creates a problem. If the team needs to improve 3 pt shooting and the team’s most likely candidates for the backup spots don’t appear capable of making that leap this summer where will this come from? Perhaps from issue #3.
Thirdly the Grizzlies need improvement from the Point Guard. This isn’t simply an indictment on Mike Conley. The point guard position was by far the weakest link on the entire team all season. Marcus Williams doesn’t appear to be the answer at back up PG, Conley struggled tremendously for most of the season and Jamal Tinsley isn’t an answer for any question the Grizzlies need to ask.
Conley finished the season averaging 12 ppg and 5.3 apg. In a different system he could easily have averaged more points and assists too. That isn’t the problem. Theproblem is that Conley is not defending well enough, not taking an emotional leadership role within the team and isn’t a clutch shooter. When the pressure is on Conley isa terrible shooter.TheGrizzlies PG needs to be able to hit outside shots, push the ball, defend dribble drivesand hopefully be over 6 ft tall. Conley obviously isn’t going to be able to fill all of those conditions. Of course no team can survive for long without two capable point guards. Don’t be surprised to hear a PG’s name called out with one of the later Grizzlies picks.
Fourth, the Grizzlies need to become a longer, more athletic team especially in the backcourt. That need may already be filled on the roster with Ronnie Brewer. He is probably the best defensive backcourt player on the team right now. If he is retained that will help tremendously, except he isn’t a great outside shooter of course. If he isn’t retained then the Grizzlies will need to use their lottery pick to acquire a perimeter player (maybe a SG/SF type of player)who has anoutside shot. The problem is thatthe draft is held before the free agency period. Well no one said thiswould beeasy after all.
Finally the Grizzlies need some veteran leadership.The benchneeds a firm hand on the court that can help calm the nerves of an extremelyyoung and talented team. Ledership off the bench is prevalent on almost every elite level team. These players don’t have to be stars either. They need to be the type of player who understands his role as a bench player and changes the tone when he enters the game. This type of player is not expensive usually because most teams undervalue what this player brings to the game.
Can the Grizzlies achieve all of these needs in the off-season? not likely. The list is rather extensive and not something that can easily be changed. For instance, Mayo and Conley seem entrenched as the starting backcourt. It isn’t possible for them to acquire length and athleticism via summer workouts.
The draft can provide some length andathleticism buta contributing bench player with experience will be diifficult to acquire without a trade of some sort. Who will the Grizzlies be willing to partwith to acquire that type of player may be a larger question this summer than wondering if the Grizzlies will resign Rudy Gay and Ronnie Brewer.