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2010-11 NBA Preview: Memphis Grizzlies

 How to be the Memphis Grizzlies in 5 easy steps:

Step 1. Sign your non-all-star small forward (who is young and good, but not great) to a 5-year $82 million contract (the 6th largest of the summer) on the first day of free agency.

Step 2. Then refuse to make a $3.7 million qualifying offer to restricted free-agent Ronnie Brewer for no inexplicable reason (especially after trading away your 2011 first-round pick to get him last season).

Step 3. Sign Tony Allen (the poor man’s version of Ronnie Brewer) to a 3 year, $10 million contract after he has a good playoff run with the Celtics.

Step 4. Watch Ronnie Brewer sign with the Bulls for nearly the same contract as Tony Allen (3 years, $12.5 million).

Step 5. Get into a contract dispute with your first-round draft pick over what amounts to $336,700.

Boom, done. You are now one of the cheapest and most confounding teams in the league. I’ve been sitting here for 10 minutes attempting to describe the concept of giving Rudy Gay $80 million, but refusing to pay Xavier Henry 120% of rookie scale when it’s customary around the rest of the league to do so. And I can’t, because it doesn’t make sense.

And with all of that, it’s understandable why Grizzlies fans are working overtime to rationalize the Rudy Gay deal. Blowing your load at the beginning of the free agency period to resign one of your best players is WAY at the bottom of the list of questionable Grizzlies’ decisions over the years. At least this one involved ownership spending money to try to make the team better. It’s hard to fault the team for making it rain all over Rudy Gay when the rest of the Grizzlies’ moves this summer have all been straight out of the Michael Heisley guide on how not to make friends and influence people.

Memphis does have a playoff-worthy collection of young talent, including Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and O.J. Mayo. No, that’s not a lineup about to challenge the Lakers for the Western Conference title this season, but it’s a team that Memphis fans can be proud of. Well, proud of it up to the part where ownership tight-wads their way towards mediocrity at every possible turn.

The Depth Chart

PG Mike Conley, Greivis Vasquez
SG O.J. Mayo, Xavier Henry, Tony Allen
SF Rudy Gay, Sam Young, DeMarre Carroll
PF Zach Randolph, Darrell Arthur
C Marc Gasol, Hasheem Thabeet, Hamed Haddadi

It’s a squad that packs a surprising amount of fantasy punch. According to the GMTR 9-cat player rater, Randolph finished last season ranked at #30, Gasol at #34, Gay at #42, and Mayo at #66. Memphis was only one of six teams in the league to have at least four players ranked among the top 70 fantasy players.

Since the starting lineup is identical to last year, can we expect the same type of performance from all of these guys this season? In short, yes. At least there is no indication so far this offseason to think otherwise.

The Analysis

You can’t mention Zach Randolph’s name without mentioning ‘drug kingpin’ in the same sentence, can you? A couple months ago, Randolph was accused of being a “major marijuana supplier” in the state of Indiana, a charge he has obviously denied. I can’t find any more recent information on this story, so let’s assume for the sake of this preview, that Randolph’s name is eventually cleared and he does not start the season suspended or in jail.

As far as his on the court performance, the consensus is that Randolph had a career resurgence in Memphis last season, but a closer look at the stats shows they were in line with what he had done on the Knicks and Clippers the previous two years. He did average a career high 37 minutes a game in 09-10, and maybe a healthy Darrell Arthur reduces those minutes somewhat, but expect Randolph to continue with his 20 and 10 ways as the team’s offensive force down in the paint.

I’m not sure what Rudy Gay did last season to deserve an extra $20 million on his contract compared to the previous year’s offer (other than timing his free-agency correctly) but Grizzlies fans seem to be down with the signing. And to watch him play is to see why: Gay is a young, dynamic and athletic player, capable of doing just about anything he wants on the court. He can shoot, rebound, handle the ball, and uses his athleticism to his advantage defensively. At the high end, Rudy Gay could end up like Danny Granger, a similar player who officially broke out at age 25.

However, the Granger/Gay comparison starts to fall apart when you look at their career trajectories. Granger got significantly better each of his first three seasons in the league before blowing up, while Gay’s stats have been flat ever since his sophomore season. Since he is only 23 years old, there is still a good chance that Gay improves again this season, but considering all the other options that the Grizzlies have on offense, it’s tough to see him averaging much more than 20 points and a three a game. Overall, Gay will make a nice early mid-round pick in fantasy drafts with some upside, tempered by the fact that SF is the deepest position in fantasy.

Marc Gasol was having a very impressive sophomore season before tearing a neck muscle or whatever crazy thing happened to him in March. No longer the punch line to the joke that was the Pau Gasol trade, Marc got himself into shape by losing 20+ pounds last summer and finished the season with averages of 14.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.6 blocks. If you were building a fantasy underrated list, Marc would have to be near the top of that list. The only worry I have about Gasol repeating those numbers again this year is that he is playing on the Spanish National team this summer. But that doesn’t make him enough of an injury risk to avoid him in drafts.

Two games at PG from O.J. Mayo during the summer league (and a 6/15 assist to turnover ratio) was all it took to realize that O.J. Mayo is a long way from being a passable PG. But he is a good SG, who unselfishly took a lesser role on offense last season after the addition of Zach Randolph to the team. It’s going to be nigh impossible for Mayo to hit the 20 ppg mark on a team that already has two 20 ppg scorers, but 16-18 points and 1.5-2.0 threes a game has value in the mid-rounds.

‘Serviceable’ is a charitable way to describe Mike Conley. He did average a career-best 12 points, 5.3 assists and 1.4 steals in 32 minutes a game last season. Yet those numbers were only good for 126 on the GMTR player rater, because he‘s not a particularly good shooter from either the floor or the line. Conley is also prone to long stretches where he doesn’t appear to be trying (or caring), which drives fantasy owners crazy to the point where he is usually dropped multiple times during the season. Conley did end last year on a strong note, with averages of 16.3 points, 5.6 assists and 1.7 steals over March and April. You ultimately don’t know which Mike Conley will show up next season (it’ll probably be both), yet if you’re looking for a serviceable PG at the back end of the draft, the 23 year old still has a little upside left in him.

None of the other Grizzlies players look to have any significant fantasy value next season. Hasheem Thabeet has apparently been “looking better” this summer, which is code for “hey, he’s not a complete disaster like when we first drafted him.” At this point, if Thabeet can slide into the backup center position and give the Grizzlies 15 solid minutes off the bench, it will be a victory. Maybe Thabeet can eventually carve out a Theo Ratliff like defensive presence, but he still needs a lot of work developing it.

If Xavier Henry gets his contract thing worked out, he has the potential of becoming a solid spot-up shooter who has good size (he’s 6-6) and can hit the three. This season, his main fantasy effect will be siphoning some minutes away from Mayo (which is probably the reason why Mayo is attempting the switch to combo guard) but Henry won’t get enough minutes of his own to have a fantasy impact. The team’s other rookie, Greivis Vasquez, is a 6-6 PG who could be a nice change of pace in limited minutes compared to the smaller Conley. He’s big and already uses his size well, but he’ll need time to develop both a shot and learn how to take care of the ball a lot better.

Memphis fans will come to despise Tony Allen and the fact that he lacks the part of the human brain that controls decision making. Sam Young has been channeling Carmelo Anthony during the summer league with huge scoring performances. Unfortunately, he slots behind Rudy Gay on this team.

So, among the players to draft… Here’s your official GMTR Guidance (for a 12 team league):

Zach Randolph – 3rd
Marc Gasol – 3rd
Rudy Gay – 4th
O.J. Mayo – 6th-7th
Mike Conley – 10th+


More on the Griz:
Fantasy Knuckleheads take a look at Zach Randolph’s Keeper Value


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