With the pre-season in full swing and the regular season just a couple of weeks away; it seemed like a good time to do the annual pre-season ranking games of the team.
This year‘s team has a tremendous amount of pressure on their backs. Not only has the competition from LA (both teams) improved, but OKC managed to keep their core together and that should only make them more difficult, San Antonio successfully reloaded last season and has improved their experience and depth in the process, Denver picked up an Olympic team member in Andre Iguodala and just about every other team in the West has improved on paper at least.
Just repeating the 4th place finish in the conference will be difficult enough but Memphis fans expect improvement every season. Reaching the semi-finals will take a few things Memphis has struggled with lately, namely perimeter shooting, rebounding off the bench and most important health! If the off-season moves can shore up these areas and the team doesn’t suffer month-long injuries to a starter then this could be a really great year in Memphis.
That being said here are the rankings for this year’s team according to the 3 Shades of Blue staff with selected comments on each player:
1) Mark Gasol –
Red Coleman: I’ll go ahead and say it: given my choice of any center in the league, I’m taking the big Spaniard first. That’s right, over Dwight Howard (limited offensive game) and Andrew Bynum (head case). Gasol is a complete offensive post player who plays tough defense and displays a deft passing ability that has left more than a few point guards green with envy. Possessing one of the highest basketball IQs in the league, Gasol is simply a winner.
2) Rudy Gay –
Matt Noe: Improved defense, end-game toughness, and DANGIT HOW GOOD CAN HE BE? WILL WE BE ASKING THIS QUESTION IN OCTOBER OF 2020? Gay’s natural talent and length give the Grizzlies a nearly constant matchup advantage at small forward. He’s a steady threat whenever he’s on the floor, and it’s a good thing. The Grizzlies, like any team, need weapons.
3) Zach Randolph –
Chris Avis: He’s the difference between the Grizzlies being good and great. Without Z-Bo, the team can still make the playoffs, but falters. With him, they are a true title contender. The question is whether he’ll be back to full strength or not.
4) Mike Conley –
Lee Eric Smith: He will never get the pub for it, because he plays in an unprecedented golden age of point guards. In some ways, his game doesn’t shine because the team is so balanced. I’ve said before that Conley is quick and crafty enough to get to the lane whenever he wants — meaning he can do many of the same things that guys like Steve Nash, Tony Parker & Rajon Rondo can do. Plus he can make threes. What we need from Conley now is a willingness to take over a game.
5) Tony Allen -
John Hugar: Wait, he was 1st-team all-defense and I have him as the worst starter? Well, that’s what happens with a team this deep. I had to rank Conley ahead of Allen, if only because Allen’s offensive game is fairly limited. Still, he is an absolute monster with his perimeter D, and that fact he is capable of doing some scoring makes him one of the better 2-guards in the game.
6) Jerryd Bayless -
Chip Crain: Bayless has struggled with injuries, missing nearly as many games as Z-Bo did last season. Bayless has never played more than 74 games in a season which makes his reliability behind Conley a question mark but he’s a slick ball-handler who is developing his outside shot and fills a huge need on the team.
7) Maurice Speights -
Red Coleman: From end of the bench/doghouse resident in Philly to frontcourt savior in Memphis, Mo Speights experienced the highs and lows of an NBA player last season. With his big body, smooth shooting stroke, and need-to-win attitude, he provided a lift that saw him get rewarded with a much-deserved new contract this offseason. Although Darrell Arthur is a better defender, Speights is a more complete offensive player with a bigger frame, which is why he gets the nod here.
8) Darrell Arthur -
Matt Noe: This position would be even more solid for him were he not seemingly composed of glass. Arthur is an underrated defender, good rebounder, and a nice reliable option from the elbow on pick-and-pops. Lots of teams would have wanted this guy as an FA was he not so injury-prone?
9) Quincy Pondexter –
Chip Crain: Every team has a player the fans absolutely love no matter how bad he really is and a player the fans ignore no matter how good he really is. Q-Pon is the latter in Memphis. A competent 3 point shot and a solid defender, Q-Pon doesn’t do anything flashy and gets lost in the crowd but his contributions help the team win games. This is his 3rd NBA season also which is when players either bust or out or fade away.
10) Josh Selby-
Lee Eric Smith: If this guy can deliver even half of the promise he showed in summer league this year, then the Grizz has to be a serious threat to run to the Western Conference Finals. The team has been craving someone who can quickly heat up off the bench, particularly from beyond the arc. Here’s hoping Selby shines in his sophomore season.
11) Hamed Haddadi –
Chris Avis: A fan favorite. You could do worse for a 3rd string center. He’s acquitted himself well when called into action (no pun intended).
12) Tony Wroten -
Red Coleman: The next Tyreke Evans (or even Rajon Rondo)? Or just the next rangy athlete that never manages to put it all together? After seeing him in limited action this summer, I’m more inclined to lean towards the former than the latter. With his speed and physical tools, Wroten has the ability to be a special player. Now, he just has to learn how to shoot. Fortunately, that’s something that can be taught.
13) Wayne Ellington -
Matt Noe: Could he be more than we’ve seen in his meager NBA court time? Certainly. Will he? Who knows? He is a good outside shooter (though maybe not as good as advertised), and has shown not much else. Memphis has been a good spot for quasi-reclamation-type projects, and he could be the next one. He’ll have to get better on D if he expects Hollins to give him a lot of time.