We open today with an excerpt from the "Things Your Humble NBA Columnist Actually Wrote" segment of the program, which is where we demonstrate the type of stuff that helps keep your humble NBA columnist from being anything other than humble about his (my) prognostication skills.
8. Memphis Grizzlies: New coach Marc Iavaroni is a keeper who will help permanently change the culture in Memphis. To the surprise of many, Darko Milicic will prove himself worth the money, and he will be in the running for recognition as the league's most improved player. With Pau Gasol, Mike Miller and Rudy Gay all raring to go, the only major question mark right now as at the point. The decision to go with Damon Stoudamire for the time being represents a belief in Memphis that this team can get to the playoffs right now. We agree.
I can't believe I'm admitting this.
Milicic has yet to prove himself as anything except for an overpaid guy whose production has declined this season. The only place Pau Gasol was raring to go was Los Angeles. It appears that culture change has yet to arrive. And entering Wednesday night, the 15-48 Grizz had the third-worst record in the NBA. I haven't even mentioned yet that the Grizz were slated to come in ahead of Golden State and the Lakers in these projections. It might be possible for a prediction to turn out more terribly than this one has, but I'm not sure how.
All that said, while I have no choice but to concede that this year's pick didn't go so well, there is still hope for the future in Memphis, and for all Mike Conley's virtues, that hope might well have plenty to do with three individuals on the front line.All of Steve's daily posts can be found in the CelticsBlog: NBA blog. Check him out!
The first is the easy one at this point, the one who became a much better pro than many expected. For all his slacking and apparent disinterest during his days at UConn, Rudy Gay has become a very respectable NBA player early in his career. He certainly has a ways to go as far as his passing and discipline is concerned, but the explosive athleticism that observers always knew he had has come to the forefront with increasing regularity. He is attacking the rim hard, shooting an acceptable percentage from the field (45.7), keeping defenses honest with some decent outside shooting (37.6 percent from deep) and grabbing more than six boards per game, which isn't shabby for a small forward. With wondrous quickness and a wingspan of incredible proportions, Gay has shown signs this season of becoming the defender that his body will enable him to be if he is willing to commit to putting in the work. Scoring 19.9 points per game, he has taken a dramatic step forward in his sophomore professional campaign, and he has at least provided one of the few reasons for long-suffering Memphis fans to be excited this season.
Next, believe it or not, is the man who many see as destined to be forever known as the dude Joe Dumars drafted in between Bron and Melo. Indeed, Darko Milicic has had a rough first year in Memphis and hasn't lived up to the expectations that came with some late-season production last season in Orlando and a $21 million contract this off-season. But there is still a ways that this guy has the capability to go. While Milicic may be in his fifth season, it is worth remembering that he was absolutely buried on Larry Brown's bench in his first two years in the league and didn't see much action for the first half of his third campaign in Detroit prior to being traded to the Magic. In many regards, the 22-year-old Milicic is still a very green pro baller.
Though Milicic's scoring and rebounding hasn't been ideal, it is crucial to remember that he barely playing 24 minutes per game, and he is still blocking 1.7 shots per outing. He is already showing signs of becoming a force defensively, and continued work with defensive maven Marc Iavaroni as player and coach move into season two in Memphis together -- as well as the maturation of the perimeter defenders around him -- will only help him grow in that regard. The southpaw has shown flashes of being able to hold his own inside offensively, and the man has the size to hit the boards well. If he can step up to the point of upping his field-goal efficacy toward 50 percent, averaging a double-double and becoming an even better interior defender than he already is (all of which really is doable), the neophyte legitimately could become a big difference-maker for the Grizz.
Finally, there is the man who needs to be freed. This the man who is best known for a blocked shot of enormous importance in his college days (the one that sealed the NCAA tourney clincher over Kansas in 2003) but who is also an athletic freak who has done nothing but produce when given big minutes. At 6-foot-9 but just 219 pounds, the concerns coming out of Syracuse were that Hakim Warrick wouldn't be able to hold his own inside in the NBA. Thus far this season, when he has been given the chance, he has done just that. Warrick has started 13 of the 56 games he has played in, averaging 16.8 points, 8.6 boards and 50 percent shooting as a starter for the Grizzlies. Like Gay, Warrick is blessed with a sizable wingspan and has a fair bit of jumping ability and more than his share of quickness for a 6-foot-9 power forward. Ideally, Warrick probably comes off the bench as a high-energy combo forward once the Grizz have acquired a more dominant post player to put in place at the four, and he would likely excel in that spark plug role. But until then, the man deserves to play and to keep proving his worth for this young team.
Undoubtedly, the present is bleak in Memphis. But with a front line that is more up-and-coming than might meet the eye -- and never mind that the team has two of the league's most promising rookies in the back-court in Mike Conley and Juan Carlos Navarro -- a coach who will only be more comfortable in year two and plenty of cap space moving forward, the Grizzlies might not be quite so far away from returning to the realm of the competitive as they often appear to be.