With the dog days of summer wearing on the patience of fans we at 3 Shades of Blue decided to get a snapshot of what people are thinking about the team and its chances heading into the 2013-14 season.
There have been some roster moves, with the potential for more still to come, and the rest of the league has made some moves and probably a few more to come for them as well. Still things are starting to firm up as teams prepare for the new campaign. With that in mind here are five questions from 5 of the writers at 3 Shades of Blue discussing their hopes and fears for the upcoming season.
What team worries you most in the Southwest Division?
Red Coleman: The Spurs remain the team to beat in the division. At this point, I’m halfway convinced that they will never retire, but instead just become zombies that continue playing beautiful, fundamental basketball for all of eternity. They did enough in the off-season to stay on top of the heap.
Jonathan May: Until the wheels finally come off, the Spurs remain the cream of the crop in our division. They, like Memphis, have not dramatically overhauled their team but have gotten better around the edges. It’s hard to get much better than taking the NBA Finals to a Game 7.
Lee Eric Smith: San Antonio. Who else? I mean, seriously. I almost put Houston because of the Harden/Howard combo and ooh, they got stars on paper, but will it work? Thought about Dallas. “Nahhh.” New Orleans Pelicans? Don’t bring a bird to a bear fight. Like many of us do, I forgot about the Spurs. And every year, someone pays for forgetting the Spurs. Not me. Not this year.
Steve Danziger: San Antonio. The division may be tougher than ever this year, with the Pelicans and Rockets coming in as wild cards, but I’d put my money on old faithful to still be there when the dust settles.
Chip Crain: Call me crazy but I am becoming more concerned with Houston than San Antonio this season. The Spurs are aging while the Rockets have size, speed and superior outside shooting.
What teams worries you the most in the Western Conference?
RC: Although I think the Spurs and Thunder present the most obvious challenges to the Grizzlies having playoff success, it is the Warriors that make me pause more often than any other squad. Their addition of Andre Iguodala changes my view of them as a potential contender in the West. If they continue to develop Harrison Barnes as well, they will be very dangerous in April and May.
JM: Again, I think the Spurs are the team to beat in the conference. Oklahoma City is still searching for a replacement for Harden/Martin and the Clippers lack of interior depth and toughness will still be their weakness. The Warriors and Rockets are cute, but the gap between the Grizzlies and those teams last year was pretty significant and I’m not ready to leap-from them over Memphis just yet.
LES: San Antonio. Who else? I mean, seriously. I’d say now that the Western elite are the Spurs, Grizzlies, Clippers & Thunder (in no particular order). Houston is unproven, Golden State is at the edge. OKC gets Westbrook back, but loses Kevin Martin, so we’ll see. Perhaps no other team upgraded the roster more than the Clippers, who are frightening on paper. But what team has proven they can dissect you with surgical precision year after year with cold and disciplined efficiency? The San Antonio Spurs. That’s why they worry me.
SD: San Antonio. Going with old faithful again, here. The Grizzlies have been flat out incapable of executing against this team with any sort of regularity since upsetting them in the playoffs a few years ago. RAPM and WARP projections have Parker slowing down considerably this year, but I’m not buying it just yet.
CC: The Clippers have made serious upgrades at numerous positions and while thin on the front line which hurts against the Grizzlies the Clippers have top talent across their frontline and the playoffs are about the best five you can put on the court. If the Clippers can avoid meeting the Grizzlies in the playoffs for the 3rd straight year they could be a handful for everyone else.
Who’s the most replaceable starter?
RC: The easy answer here is Tayshaun Prince after the addition of Mike Miller and the postseason success of Quincy Pondexter. For every other starter, the drop-off to their bench counterpart is noticeable enough to make fans and coaches alike sweat over it.
JM: Tony Allen. A lot of what TA does is irreplaceable, but when you look at the roster it is clear that Bayless and/or Quincy could step into the starting spot and the team could continue to succeed.
LES: Hmmm. Tricky question. I’d prefer to have more offense at SG, but seriously, who wants to take Tony Allen out of the starting lineup? And while I have a hunch that Tayshaun Prince will be much better this year with a full training camp, Quincy Pondexter seems ready to provide defense and a corner 3.
SD: Until further notice, I’m going to say Tayshaun Prince, but I believe he has the chance to be the most surprisingly good Grizzly this year. He’s a master of the entry pass, which is such an undervalued asset on a team of bigs, and can still defend with the best of ’em for stretches. If that jumper comes around, my vote changes mid-season.
CC: Tony Allen. I know his defense is elite level but Tayshaun Prince’s isn’t too shabby either and QPon, Miller, Bayless and Franklin give the team more serious options at SG than at SF where rebounding and size are far more important.
Who’s the least replaceable starter?
RC: This comes down to two players: Marc Gasol and Mike Conley. With the acquisition of Kosta Koufos, that has assuaged fears about a Gasol injury, which leaves Conley and the uncertain bench behind him that the Grizzlies have worked feverishly to bolster over the last month. No Conley = big issues for the Grizzlies.
JM: Mike Conley. Again, if only because of the options (or lack thereof) behind Mike, a serious injury would torpedo the Grizzlies hopes of returning to the Western Conference Finals, and perhaps even the playoffs.
LES: This would have been a tossup between Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, since so much of our offense runs off their tandem playmaking. But the Grizz added Kosta Koufos — Marc’s best backup EVER, and we whiffed on Mo Williams. That means we may be leaning on yet another crop of unproven backup point guards (Nick Calathes? Tony Wroten?). And that means that Mike Conley is the least replaceable.
SD: Mike Conley. It was obvious last year that the Grizzlies offense was plain anemic last year when number 11 was off the floor, and his on court/off court stats are outrageous to back it up. Of course this is skewed by the fact that the Grizz have lacked a competent back up for years, but that may not have changed this off-season.
CC: Everyone is going to say Conley and he is needed but the position has depth with Bayless, Calathes, Wroten and Akognon capable of playing the position. Lose Zach Randolph and the team has only Ed Davis’ potential and Jon Leuer manning one of the toughest places to play in the league. That’s frightening.
What does Coach Joerger have to achieve to be viewed a success in his first season?
RC: I have the bar set at 50+ wins and the second round of the playoffs. Given the improvement of a few other teams in the West, I feel that both of those are reasonable expectations for a first-time NBA head coach who has a proven track record and a largely unchanged roster.
JM: Based on the way the team is constructed today, and assuming there are no major injuries, the team should get a Top-4 seed and home court advantage in the first round. If the team advances to the second round OR is knocked out in the first round of a very competitive series, the season will be a success. Anything beyond that would be a coup on the part of Coach Joerger.
LES: Joeger needs to lead the team to 55-60 wins, a top four seed and at least the Western Conference Finals. In other words, what Lionel Hollins did, not because he beat out Hollins for the job. He needs to win at that level quite simply because on paper, this roster is better than the one Lionel Hollins led to the WCF. The entire starting lineup is back, along with key reserves (JB, QPon) — all playoff tested. Ed Davis gets a chance to shine. Kosta Koufos means little drop off when Marc rests. Mike Miller brings shooting and championship experience. So it may not be fair, but to me, the WCF is the bar.
SD: Win. The Grizzlies have never faced higher expectations than they do this year. I say for Joerger to be considered successful, no worse than a close second round exit will be required. People expecting a dramatic change in style will be disappointed off the bat, though. The offense will get into sets earlier, but the roster is too big to play in the open floor all game.
CC: IF he fails to win more games in the regular season than last season (56) he could be catching some heat but to be a successful season he has to reach the Conference Semi-Finals at the least. Hollins won more games each season in Memphis and this year’s team is deeper so adding at least 57 games and a semi-final appearance is a realistic bar for success.