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Memphis Grizzlies 2014-15 Preview

Head coach Dave Joerger has a season under his belt and Marc Gasol is back at full strength, but the Western Conference playoff picture won't be easy to break down. Can the Grizzlies reach the 50-win mark for the third consecutive season?

Kevin C. Cox

Grizzly Bear Blues - Memphis Grizzlies 2014-15 Preview

At the risk of sounding like a homer, this team is really good, and really deep, and both of those things mean stacking wins on wins on wins. If this team played in the East and had something close to average health, I'd probably put their median win total at something around 57 wins, with an outside shot at 60.

I'm serious.

Yet the Grizzlies play in the brutal Southwest Division. The Southwest, whose worst team boasts a top five player - the best young guy since young Lebron. Which the reigning NBA Champions, the deepest team in the league, calls home. Which, depending on your particular fancy, holds between a quarter and a third of the best twenty basketball players on the planet.

2013-14 IN REVIEW
3rd in Southwest Division - 7th in Western Conference
Lost to OKC (4-3) - Western Conference Quarterfinals

In a shocking turn of events prior to the 2013-14 season, the Grizzlies decided to part ways with head coach Lionel Hollins in the summer after a 56-win season, which was highlighted by the first Western Conference Finals appearance in franchise history. For reasons still not fully declared, the Grizzlies went in a different direction and replaced Hollins with first-year head coach Dave Joerger.

Joerger would inherit an excellent group with a tough-minded culture already in place, and he helped the Grizzlies grind through another 50-win season despite some adversity. In late-November, Marc Gasol suffered a sprained MCL and missed 23 games, where the Grizzlies struggled and went 10-13 through the stretch.

In December, the Grizzlies lost Quincy Podexter for the season with a stress fracture in his right foot.

On top of that, defensive stopper and emotional leader Tony Allen sat out 27 games last season due to a hand fracture he suffered in January. A month after TA went down, Mike Conley missed two weeks with a sprained ankle.

Outside of that minor ankle issue, Conley went on to play the best basketball of his career behind a career high 17.5 points per game to go along with six assists and a terrific defensive display. A healthy Zach Randolph also returned to form and bullied his way to 17.4 points and 10.1 rebounds per game, good for ninth in the NBA, and his 47 double-doubles tied with Dwight Howard and Joakim Noah for fourth in the league. Z-Bo had a lot on his shoulders throughout the time Gasol missed, but he handled it well and produced at a high level.

Gasol spent a long time on the sidelines, but he came back strong to tie his career high in scoring (14.6 PPG) to go along with 7.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists per contest. The 7'1" Spaniard provided some relief from Zach Randolph's usage, as Randolph became much more efficient once the big fella returned.

Tayshaun Prince unfortunately did not work out and had the least productive year of his career since his rookie season in 2002-03. Joerger stuck with him through thick and thin as he started in all 76 games he played in, but Prince shot 40% from the field all year and just does not have it anymore from an athletic standpoint at age 33.

However, Memphis got some strong play on the perimeter to make up for some of what Prince lacked. Mike Miller experienced a complete resurgence in terms of health and was the only Grizzly to appear in all 82 games, where he played over 20 minutes per contest and played his best ball of the last four years. In January, the Grizzlies also traded backup guard Jerryd Bayless to the Celtics for Courtney Lee, which worked out for both sides as it saved Boston some money and gave Memphis the additional spacing they needed in their starting lineup. Lee was outstanding through 49 games with the Grizzlies, where he immediately replaced Tony Allen in the starting lineup and scored 11 points per game.

Memphis went reached the 50-win plateau for the second straight year and third time in franchise history, earning the seventh seed in the Western Conference. Most people expected the second-seeded Oklahoma City Thunder to take care of business and advance past the Grizzlies, but they wouldn't go down without a fight.

The Grizzlies made the series interesting by stealing Game 2 on the road before heading home for a chance to take control, but OKC fired back and split Games 3 and 4 in Memphis. The Grizzlies took the series lead with another hard-fought road victory in Game 5, and it looked like the Grizz had a chance to pull off the upset.

One of the biggest reasons Memphis was able to grind and compete with OKC is the play of Tony Allen, who we all know and love. Coming off of three straight All-Defense selections, Allen is well-known as one of the best defensive players in the league and his performance against Kevin Durant would further prove it. From Game 2 through Game 4, Allen was all over Durant and forced him to shoot a combined 27-76 (35.5%), highlighted by an atrocious 5-21 showing in Game 4.

Unfortunately, you can only keep a talent like Durant down for so long. The 2013-14 MVP stormed back with by scoring 36 points in Game 6 to force a series-deciding seventh game, where he followed up with 33 points and sent Memphis home with a double-digit victory.

Considering the troubles with injuries and a brand new head coach, it's tough to call Memphis' season a disappointment but it's safe to say everybody on board wants to advance beyond the first round. However, coming off of back-to-back 50-win seasons, they are headed in the right direction with a scrappy brand of basketball that everybody can appreciate.


Key Additions - Vince Carter, Michael Beasley, Jordan Adams
Key Losses - Mike Miller, Ed Davis, James Johnson

It was comforting to watch Mike Miller restore his career last season, but he entered the 2014 free agent market with a ring on his mind and took the opportunity to rejoin LeBron James and head to Cleveland. On the bright side, they replaced him with another guy who is sure to be a fan favorite. Vince Carter may be 37 years old, but he still has some game left in him and he has proven that over the last few years with steadily productive years in Dallas. He may be closer to the Half Man portion of his career while his Half Amazing alter-ego is engraved in our memory banks for timeless enjoyment, but he can still get the job done and he'll be sure to provide a much-needed offensive spark in Memphis this season.

To replace James Johnson, who left for Toronto after a serving as an excellent source of energy off the bench last season, Memphis brought in Michael Beasley. At this point, it's safe to say Beasley will never live up to the hype he created for himself coming out of Kansas State, but it will be interesting to see what he can do if he gets a chance to play. Last year in Miami, he played just 15 minutes per game in only 55 appearances, but he put up 7.9 points per game in those small spurts of action. He won't live up to being the second overall pick in a draft in front of Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, but he can score the ball and he still may be able to contribute off the bench.

Beasley is a combo forward but is most likely to see minutes at the four-spot this season, as Memphis could use the extra spacing and they need someone to fill in for the absence of Ed Davis, who signed with the Lakers.

The Grizzlies also landed a solid wing prospect in the draft, as they took UCLA's Jordan Adams with the 22nd overall pick. Adams is an extremely long-armed, wide-bodied 6'5" guy that may not be the most skilled or most athletic player, but he has outstanding defensive potential and has shown that he can be a strong slashing guard. He needs to become more consistent with his outside shot, but he still shot 35.6% from beyond the arc last season while putting up over 17 points per game. He can defend, he is an excellent rebounding guard, he does the little things and he is crafty finishing at the rim.

It will be tough for Adams to get minutes right away behind four established veterans, but he has an excellent group of mentors to learn from and may turn out to be one of the steals of the draft down the line.

C - Marc Gasol / Kosta Koufos
PF - Zach Randolph / Michael Beasley / Jon Leuer
SF - Tayshaun Prince / Vince Carter / Quincy Pondexter
SG - Courtney Lee / Tony Allen / Jordan Adams / Jamaal Franklin
PG - Mike Conley / Nick Calathes / Beno Udrih

X-FACTOR - Healthy Big Fellas
The Grizzlies don't have a certified superstar in elite territory, but they have arguably the best big man duo in the Western Conference. The number one key to Memphis' season is for Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to stay healthy and continue to play at an All-Star level. These guys are extremely fun to watch and they, along with Tony Allen, have established a gritty, tough-minded culture that you can help but root for. On top of that, they're as skilled a duo as you're going to find.

As long as the big fellas are healthy, the Grizzlies will have a chance to compete with anyone.

To make the Western Conference playoffs, you have to win 50 games. Last season, Memphis just made the cut and finished with one more victory than the eighth-seeded Dallas Mavericks, who went 49-33. As long as they stay healthy, the Grizzlies will absolutely be in the playoff hunt all season long but it is not going to get any easier to make the cut.

The Grizzlies are an outstanding team, but between Memphis, Dallas, Houston, Portland and Denver, someone is going to end their season earlier than they expect. The Pelicans don't look half-bad, either. Memphis can pull it off and it wouldn't surprise me if they were a six or seven seed if everything goes well, but it will be a serious challenge that I expect won't be decided until the waning moments of the regular season.

For the sake of the NBA, I hope Memphis makes it. Their brand of basketball is good for the game.

4th - Southwest Division
8th - Western Conference

Keep your eyes peeled for the Orlando Magic preview, coming tomorrow morning.

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