Last year we debuted the “Highs and Lows” system — previewing the upcoming NBA season by predicting the respective ceilings and basements for each team. Same theme, different season…
Added: Allen Iverson, Zach Randolph, Hasheem Thabeet, DeMarre Carroll, Sam Young, Mike Taylor, Marcus Williams
Lost: Hakim Warrick, Darko Milicic, Darius Miles, Quinton Ross, Greg Buckner
Ceiling: 35 wins
Inarguably, the Grizzlies are a more talented team than they were last year. O.J. Mayo is on his way to being the NBA star he’s been expected to be since birth; Rudy Gay added 20 pounds of good weight to a body that already holds one of the League’s top young wings; Randolph gives Memphis their first legit post scorer since Pau Gasol; and rookies Thabeet (defense) and Young (offense) can contribute right away. Then there’s Iverson, just one season removed from finishing 3rd in the NBA in scoring, playing this season with an extra chip on his shoulder. Working together, they could make a move in the standings — although it still may not get them past last-place in a tough Southwest Division. And if nothing else, at least the Grizzlies are relevant for once. When was the last time anybody outside of Memphis was excited for this team’s season opener (vs. Detroit)? Two national TV games this year looks like nothing compared to the Lakers or Celtics, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Basement: Worst in the West
With all that talent, there are legit concerns and justifications for why the Grizzlies won’t be any better than usual. Foremost in the national media is Iverson, and whether he will prove his critics right by sinking this ship. But I’m looking more at the two men whose job descriptions hold them responsible for getting a roster full of misguided talent on the same page — unproven head coach Lionel Hollins and unproven PG Mike Conley. The third-year pro Conley was solid in the final month of last season, and his notoriously shaky outside shot is improving, but he’s still got a long way to go. Hollins is going into his first full season as an NBA head coach, and has two of the League’s (deserved or not) reputed coach-killers on his roster in A.I. and Z-Bo. The top six in the rotation (Conley, Mayo, Gay, Randolph, Marc Gasol, Iverson) looks solid on paper, but depth beyond that is an issue. And while this team can put points on the board, defense will be their undoing. Last season, only the Kings, Clippers and Thunder won fewer games than Memphis. Each of those squads have improved as well, and could realistically leap Memphis in the standings.
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