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Runnin' Fives: Memphis Grizzlies

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mem.gifWelcome to the latest edition of the CelticsBlog NBA page's newest feature, Runnin' Fives.  Over the course of the next few months, we'll be picking a five-man all-time team for each of the Association's thirty currently active franchises.  The rules are simple: The goal is to put together the best possible standard five-man line-up (two guards, two forwards, one center, with some room for finagling if need be) for each team based on the performance of the players while with said team.  For instance, it's hard to imagine Michael Jordan making the Washington squad or Karl Malone or Gary Payton challenging for spots in Los Angeles (or Mark Blount making any team, anywhere).  We'll be progressing from youngest franchise to oldest at the rate of one to two teams per week, pursuant to the workings of the NBA's news cycle and availability of sources as we'll be checking in with bloggers, beat writers, fans and anybody else we can get a hold of for insight on their teams.  And of course, we're alwayslooking for your input, and we invite all readers to submit their own line-ups, honorable mentions, dishonorable mentions and everything in between in the comments section below.  We eagerly look forward to hearing from you!

We continued Runnin' Fives last Wednesday with the Toronto Raptors, one of two franchises admitted with the NBA's penultimate expansion in 1995.  This time around, we take a look at the other '95 newborn, which is our first franchise to commence a geographical relocation as well.  The Vancouver Grizzlies won a total of 101 games in six seasons before moving to Memphis and winning 101 in their next three campaigns and making the playoffs in three of their first five years in Memphis.  However, every win in Grizz history remains a regular season victory as the team has been swept out of the playoffs on each of its three trips.  Suffice it to say, the Grizz don't provide the largest pool of talent imaginable, but they have had a few folks whose efforts are worth recognizing.  Let's run fives with the Grizzlies:

jasonwilliams.jpg Point Guard: Jason Williams - Call it being in the right place at the right time, but Williams gets what some might view as unnecessary extra recognition over Mike Bibby largely on the strength of the fact that he ran the show offensively through two of the best seasons in team history.  Joshua Coleman of 3 Shades of Blue is one of those individuals, reminding us that for the most part, Bibby had the edge statistically.  However, save for Bibby's big edge in shooting percentages, the differences weren't enormous, with Bibby averaging almost three more points per game and just more than an extra rebound and half an assist per game (14.7-3.5-7.8 to 11.9-2.4-7.2).  

But unlike the situation with Damon Stoudamire and Alvin Williams at the point in Toronto, there isn't enough of a disparity in statistical production to obscure the fact that Williams was the leader for two very successful regular season Grizz units.  While Bibby wasn't at fault for how atrocious the roster was during his time in town, it also bears noting that without such a poor roster, his numbers might have looked similar to Williams' as he probably would not have shot the ball as much.  Bibby took nearly two more shots per game than Williams did while with the team, and while he was more efficient, the extra scoring was likely a result of Bibby having to take the shots that he did.  It also bears noting that Williams took better care of the basketball, turning it over less than 2.3 times per game compared to Bibby's average 2.99 giveaways while in Vancouver.

The Vancouver Bibby was also a neophyte in his first three years in the league while Williams played the prime of his career in Memphis.  For much of his tenure, he was a dynamic offensive player who wowed fans and teammates alike with his hightlight-reel passes, dribble moves and ball fakes, and he certainly made his share of big plays for the only Grizz team to ever win 50 games (and the one that one 45 the following year).  We Are Nation of Grizzlam's Orlando Gray gives Williams the nod for his "impact within the organization and longevity with the team," and we'll place special emphasis on that first clause.  During his time in Memphis, the enigmatic Williams reached his peak as far as conduct and leadership were concerned when he got his act together more effectively than usual under Hubie Brown for the 50-win team in 2003-04.  Bibby didn't begin to grow into his role as a leader until he grew a bit older and moved on to Sacramento.  For the performance for a winning team, his dynamic style, leadership and general intangibles and location in his career arc, Williams is our pick.

Honorable mention: Bibby - The extended commentary from Joshua: "While I'm sure that many Memphis fans will staunchly defend Jason Williams' right to this spot, the fact is that Bibby's averages, shooting percentages and willingness to drive to the bucket put him ahead of Whit E. Boy in this ranking."  As discussed above, the case here for Bibby is understandable, but given the relative closeness in his and Williams' statistics, the fact that Bibby's teams won 53 games in three seasons (including an 8-42 mark in the lockout-shortened 1999 campaign) and that Williams was a leader on the teams that temporarily put Memphis on the NBA map, Bibby falls to second here.

Read More..All of Steve's daily posts can be found in the CelticsBlog: NBA blog.  Check him out!


Shooting Guard: Mike Miller - It really isn't even close here.  For five seasons and change, the guy did a little bit of everything with the Grizz.  Known best for his nice shooting touch, he shot 40 percent or better from the outside in four of his five full seasons in town, As a result, he posted true shooting percentages better than 60 twice and better than 58 two more times in those five full campaigns.  Though not a terribly high volume scorer, Miller was one of the league's most efficient at putting the ball in the basket throughout his tenure.  Miller played both guard and forward and finished with averages of 14.6 points, 4.9 boards and 3.3 assists per game in Memphis, all of which are solid numbers at the swing spots, particularly for an off-guard. 

It doesn't hurt Miller's case that the other options aren't too promising.  Joshua suggests Michael Dickerson as a possible honorable mention, but the guy was just too injury-prone to make a real run at this team.  He played in 162 games as a member of the Grizzlies, and 152 of them came in his first two seasons with the team.  He wasn't as productive as Miller on the glass or in terms of dishing out assists.  While Dickerson averaged 16.7 points per game with the team, it is of note that in Miller's two highest field-goal-attempt seasons, he took fewer shots and scored more points than Dickerson did in his corresponding seasons.

After Dickerson, the drop-off is really quite steep.  Anthony Peeler?  Eddie Jones?  Wesley Person?  We'll pass.

While Joshua did give Dickerson some love for the back-up spot here, he takes the eloquent last word on the Miller pick: "MM33 was a chameleon during his tenure with the Grizzlies.  He was used as a solid starter and the first man off the bench, winning the Sixth Man of the Year award in 2005-06.  He was the primary perimeter threat when he wasn't one of the leading rebounders or assist men on the team.  He adapted his game to whatever was required by the coaching staff and was a key cog in the team's three straight postseason appearances."

Small Forward: Rudy Gay - Already, the neophyte from UConn ranks fourth, sixth and fifth in team history in average scoring (15.6 per game), rebounding (5.3) and shot-blocking (1.0) respectively.  Possibly the most naturally athletically talented player to ever don a Grizz jersey, Gay made huge strides with his sophomore-year explosion, going from 10 to 20.8 points per game and from 49.7 percent to 54.7 percent true shooting.  The 6-foot-9 forward has incredible length and jumping ability, and he can line up at either forward spot.  He is still working toward improving his habits and becoming the defender his physique gives him the potential to be, but once again, the picks are slim, and the firepower Gay brings to the table is too much to overlook.  One of only three players in team history to average 20 points per game in a single season, Gay is joined by the other two in the front-court on this team.

Honorable mention: Shane Battier - Orlando actually gave him the top spot seemingly based on longevity, and Joshua goes out of his way to point out Battier as a coach's dream.  Just as he did at Duke, Battier listened to instructions well and put his heart and soul into every play on the court and earned the hearts of the faithful.  He really became more of a premier defender and solid all-around player once he left town for Houston, but for Battier's time in Memphis, Joshua is still dead on the money in his assessment of the forward as the "ultimate glue guy."

Power Forward: Shareef Abdur-Rahim - Yes, the guy is renowned for his ability to play for bad teams, but a big part of the reason his career record as a player is so bad is because he spent five years in Vancouver, beginning in 1996.  With his steady play, he was the anchor in the front-court for the early Grizz teams, and only the center of this team comes even close to matching Abdur-Rahim's production: 20.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game, good for first and second in team history respectively.  He is the only player in Grizz history to average 20 per game for his tenure as well as the only one to put up a season of double-digit average rebounding.  This is his job to lose, and he won't be doing that.

Center: Pau Gasol - The best, longest tenured and most dominant player in team history, bar none.  

The forward-center came to be the face of the franchise during the squad's best years, and rightfully so.  Gasol averaged 18.8 points, 8.6 boards and 1.8 blocks in Memphis, putting him in second, first and first respectively in those categories in team history.  His 50.9 percent shooting from the field is also a club best, and he is third in true shooting.  The sizable Spaniard's finesse-oriented play down low provided the team with a major scoring presence on the interior, and despite occasionally getting hit with the dreaded 'soft' label, he often got enough of the job done on the boards and on the defensive interior as well in Memphis.  The only All-Star in franchise history no doubt earned his spot.

In addition to Gasol's top-notch play, he has the longevity as well.  Pau tops the team's all-time leaderboards in games played, minutes logged, field goals made and attempted, free throws made and attempted, shots blocked and offensive, defensive and total rebounds.  He also averaged at least 20 points per game in two of the team's three playoff series and 18.5 points per game in the other, thus continuing to provide scoring at the high level that he did in his several regular seasons with the team.

Pau Gasol is The Man in Grizzlies history.  There's no doubt he gets the nod.

Honorable mention: Lorenzen Wright - As discussed above, Orlando focused largely on longevity with the team and influence on successful eras in Grizz history.  While Wright's numbers weren't eye-opening (9.4 points and 7.1 boards per game), they were solid contributions for five seasons that included the best three-year run in team history, so Orlando moves Gasol over to the four and slots Wright at the five.

Secondary honorable goofy nickname mention: Bryant Reeves - There has to be some criminal statute out there that prohibits long-winded discussion about the Grizzlies without at least one mention of the man they called Big Country.  It's more the name than anything else that has us sold, but as Joshua points out, the guy did average 15.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game for the first three seasons of his career before tailing off thereafter.   But no matter the level of production and whether or not he was good enough to merit the sixth overall pick in 1995, the dude's nickname was Big Country!  He was bound to make it in here somehow.

So the all-time Grizz time can be summed up by some efficient scoring and front-court firepower along with what could be a sizable lack of disciplined defense.  How well does this team do against the squads from Charlotte and Toronto?

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Thanks again to 3 Shades of Blue's Joshua Coleman and We Are Nation of Grizzlam's Orlando Gray for taking the time to provide their Grizz insights for us.  Both were quite helpful, and suggest checking out their work when you have a free moment.  Much appreciated, fellas.

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Previously on Runnin' Fives:

07.19.08: Charlotte Bobcats

07.23.08: Toronto Raptors  

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