This is the third part of the pre-season breakdown of the Grizzlies roster. Previously 3 Shades of Blue covered the Point Guard position Monday and the Shooting Guard position on Tuesday. Thursday and Friday we cover the Power Forward and Center position.
The 2012-13 season began with Small Forward considered one of the strengths of the team. Rudy Gay was destined to be an All-Star at some point in his career and with a large contract it seemed safe to assume he would be here for at least a few more years. All that changed with the new owners. After the team started hot, Rudy and the offense went south in December and were ranked among the least efficient offenses in the league at the start of the new year. Quincy Pondexter injured his MCL early in the season and the lack of depth was a problem for the Grizzlies as well.
By mid-January the rumors were flying that Rudy or Zach were going to be traded. It was Rudy who was sent packing along with Hamed Haddadi to Toronto in a three team deal that brought Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye and Ed Davis to Memphis. It isn’t often a team in the midst of a playoff push trades their leading scorer. The general consensus among the media was that the trade was done for financial not basketball reasons.
And then a funny thing happened. Despite Prince being a shadow of the player he was in Detroit and Daye rarely seeing the court during the Pistons glory days, the Grizzlies responded well to the change ranking in the top half of the league in offensive efficiency after the trade. Without a ball dominant player like Rudy Gay on the roster other players were forced to take more dominant roles on the team and they did so far more efficiently than Gay. Prince, while no longer an elite defender, was capable of slowing down his man far better than Gay as well. The overall effect was that the team became more balanced, stronger defensively and Prince’s ball handling skills gave Conley much-needed rest from constantly bringing the ball up the court.
When Pondexter returned from his injury he was brought along slowly and didn’t hit his potential until late in the playoffs but against San Antonio he showed a sharp shooters mentality and gave fans optimism that the future was not as dire as some worried after the trade. However, San Antonio exposed the great weakness of the Grizzlies despite Pondexter’s shooting when they ignored both Prince and Allen outside of the paint to concentrate on defending Randolph and Gasol. That focus on stopping the interior scoring enabled the Spurs to control the Grizzlies for long stretches of time and ending their season in four straight games.
Tayshaun Prince struggled understandably last season after his trade from Detroit. For the first time in his career Prince had to adapt to a new team, a new city and new expectations. The mental strain clearly showed down the stretch. This season, after a full season to acclimate to his new surroundings and to get in better shape, the team is expecting a stronger and more comfortable Prince in the regular season. Prince is not expected to be a dominant force on the offensive end as Gasol, Conley and Randolph will be the primary offensive options.
Prince will be expected to help spread the court however and that means improving on his 3 point shooting. Prince hit 36.6% of his long-range shots for the Grizzlies but only took 1.1 attempts a game and, as San Antonio showed, was not a serious threat to score on the perimeter last season. He enters this season having worked hard to improve his 3 point shooting realizing that he will be expected to provide a more consistent threat from beyond the arc when teams double down low.
Even that won’t be enough however so the Grizzlies brought back fan favorite Mike Miller as the sharp-shooter off the bench. Miller hasn’t played in more than 50 games in a season since the 2007-08 season but in the playoffs last spring Miller shot 44.4% from the arc and took more than 2 attempts per game despite playing only 13.2 minutes. Miller is the best three-point shooting threat for the Grizzlies since O J Mayo was allowed to walk two seasons ago. Miller, like Prince, will also be able to give Conley rest from the pressure of bringing the ball up the court every time, which should help Conley be more effective on the offensive end as well.
Miller is expected to split time with Quincy Pondexter who led the team in 3 point shooting last season and entering his 4th NBA campaign is expected even more elements to his game. Pondexter was never a spot up distance shooter in his career and it is hoped he can become more of a playmaker as well as providing long-range shooting to help spread the court. Pondexter also plays solid defense which means the team shouldn’t have to sacrifice defensively to spread the court on the offensive end. Unlike Prince (6-9) and Miller (6-8), Pondexter does not have traditional SF height at only 6-6 so defending taller SFs will be a problem for him as well as assisting on rebounds. However Pondexter young legs should help him get out quicker on breaks as well.
What Can Go Right/What Can Go Wrong:
Clearly the combination of Prince, Miller and Pondexter give the Grizzlies the potential of improving both the accuracy and consistency of their perimeter game. While Prince and Miller are aging they still have high basketball IQs which can help mask the effects of age on the defensive end. However, Prince has yet to play in the pre-season due to illness or injury and Miller has a long history of failing to stay healthy for a full season. Pondexter has also dealt with injury so the team has three SFs who can contribute on any given night but having them all for each night may not be realistic.
The best case scenario for the Grizzlies is for all three players to rotate along the perimeter (either SG or SF depending on matchups) and provide deadly outside accuracy while maintaining defensive intensity for a majority of the season. If the three players can average 40% from the arc it will make it much more difficult for teams to double Randolph and Gasol and clog the lane against Conley drives. At times the Grizzlies can move Prince or Miller to the 4 and play all three players at the same time with Gasol and create matchup issues for teams.
However, if injuries arise the team could be forced to go small and use that could hurt the team on the defensive end. Even worse, issues can arise among the players for minutes when healthy. Pondexter and Miller can play both perimeters positions but with Jerryd Bayless, Jamal Franklin and Tony Allen on the roster the minutes will have to be judiciously rotated to prevent attitude problems on the team. The likelihood of constant trade rumors and coaching favoritism could dog the players all season. Rookie Coach Dave Joerger will need to massage the players egos to get them to buy into the rotations. None of the players have ever been considered attitude problems but then again they haven’t been placed in this position before either.