The Grizzlies aren’t going to get a great deal of hype this off-season. They didn’t sign Dwight Howard, re-sign Chris Paul, or trade for Doc Rivers. This means the basketball media is struggling to find something to say about them right now. There’s going to be a lot of drooling over teams like the Rockets and Clippers, while folks gradually forget that the Grizzlies made the Western Conference Finals last season. And when people do remember that, they’ll inevitably bring up the absence of Russell Westbrook in the Thunder series, and the giant asterisk that comes as a result. That’s fine, after last off-season, we’re all used to people not taking the Grizzlies seriously.
But the fact is, the Grizzlies have had a surprisingly productive off-season. Their first key move came on draft night, when they traded Darrell Arthur to the Nuggets for Kosta Koufos. Now, I like DA, and I could see him being very productive in Denver, but this was an extremely smart move for Memphis. For one thing, it fixes the biggest problem with their big man situation: the lack of a true backup center. Last year, the team basically had three power forwards (Z-Bo, DA, Ed Davis), with Marc Gasol acting as the only true 5 on the team. This was a frustrating situation for everyone involved, especially Davis, who struggled to find playing time despite being an obviously talented player, as his time in Toronto indicated.
What really make this trade impressive, however, is just how productive Koufos was with the Nuggets last year. He shot .581 from the field, while averaging .171 win shares per 48 minutes. He did this on a 57-win team. Oh, did I mention he’s going to be the backup center? Yeah, this was a great move for the Grizzlies. One that finally sorts out the awkward depth problem with regards to their big men, and gives them a fairly deep second unit. Koufos and Davis could both start for many NBA teams. Having them come off the bench is a great luxury for the Grizzlies.
Now, onto the other, somewhat less big move, the signing of Mike Miller this past week. The fact that the battle to sign Miller became a “sweepstakes” of sorts shows just how valuable three-point shooting has become, especially in the playoffs. There are plenty of role players who can hit threes at a rate similar to Miller, but few are as reliable, and few of them have two rings. It remains to be seen how much Miller can hep the Grizzlies, but this certainly feels like a low-risk high-reward move. At worst, he’s ineffective, and too far past his prime, and struggles to crack the rotation, at best, he becomes a reliable three-point man for the Grizzlies, changing the dynamic of the team, and making a ton of key shots. The positive far outweighs the negative here.
My one concern is how the Grizzlies can find ways to play Miller and Quincy Pondexter at the same time. Miller and Qpon are the best three-point shooters on the team, and their ability to stretch the floor could give us a version of the Grizzlies offense that we’ve never seen before. One that doesn’t struggle so much to find spacing, and one that doesn’t get bullied in the post the way did in the WCF. The problem is Miller and Quincy essentially play the same position (although Quincy calls himself a guard on twitter), and it may difficult for Coach Joerger to find a lineup where they are on the court together, especially if he values always having either Tony Allen or Tayshaun Prince on the court due to the defensive prowess they provide. Joerger may have to tinker with the lineup a little bit to create a situation where they can play together, but the end result would be worth it. In the mean time, I’d like to suggest a Conley-Allen-Pondexter-Miller-Gasol lineup. Now that would be fun to watch.
Even if the little details are still being sorted out, however, this was a solid signing for the Grizzlies. Miller is the exact type of role player they’ve needed for awhile, and if he has even a little left in the tank, he’ll go a long way in helping the Grizzlies with their shooting problem. Meanwhile, with the Koufos trade, there’s a strong case to be made that the Grizzlies have both the best center in the league, and now the best backup center. The Grizzlies have quietly gotten better this off-season, and they will be a force to contend with once again. If the rest of the basketball world doesn’t want to talk about that, it’s their loss.