Premature Southwest Division Preview: Memphis Grizzlies


Dec. 8, 2010; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward (22) Rudy Gay , forward (50) Zach Randolph and forward (00) Darrell Arthur against the Phoenix Suns at the US Airways Center. Memphis defeated Phoenix 104-98 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Memphis GrizzliesRecord: 41-25Offensive rating: 104.0 — 19thDefensive rating: 101.8 — 7thPace: 90.8 — 18theFG%: 47.3% — 24thDefensive eFG%: 48.5% — 11th

Burning question: Should Memphis trade Rudy Gay?Former Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley insisted that the team was not shopping around Rudy Gay prior to the NBA Draft. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, there is a developing market for Gay.

Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley told the Memphis Commercial-Appeal that Gay, who will make $16.4     million next season, is not being shopped. Still, the Warriors, Charlotte, Toronto and Brooklyn all contacted     Memphis about Gay’s availability, according to league sources.

Gay is only 25-years-old so it seems shortsighted of Memphis to consider trading him before he enters the prime of his career. The problem is his contract: Gay has approximately $53.7 million left on his contract (AAV: $17.9 million). They vastly overpaid for a good but not elite player. The effects of an ill-advised contract could have drastic consequences in the near future.

Their core is good enough to make a deep run in the playoffs. The only thing holding them back is the salary cap. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph command $123.6 million over the next three years as well. If Memphis wants to continue their success and give themselves the best opportunity to improve their team, trading Gay is the best option. The No. 2 overall pick doesn’t seem like a bad consolation; an NBA ready Robinson or a developing professional in Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. They probably won’t produce like Gay but the difference in salaries could make that insignificant. Memphis needs to start finding more cost-effective options or risk breaking up their core.

Player(s) to watch: Darrell Arthur/Marreese SpeightsThe Grizzlies received little from their bench aside from O.J. Mayo. Hence the incentive to plant Zach Randolph on the bench while he rehabilitated from his torn MCL injury. Collectively, they averaged 29.9 points per game, good for 19th. As a result, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Rudy Gay logged 35+ minutes per game. Darrell Arthur tore his Achilles prior to the regular season. His season ended prematurely and a valuable cog to Memphis’ rotation never was allowed to contribute.

Why was Arthur so important? He was their primary big man off the bench, providing valuable floor spacing and defensive flexibility. His 41 percent mark from outside the paint made him a valuable pick-and-pop weapon. Not only that he gave Gasol and Randolph a reprieve from banging on the interior, a role that Marreese Speights attempted to duplicate this season. The difference between Speights and Arthur was negligible so Speights’ addition turned out to be a positive.

They both are, however, restricted free agents this year. They are both 24-years-old. The Grizzlies are dangerously close to surpassing the luxury tax line — maybe they go that route now that Robert Pera has purchased the team — and seem to be in a quandary (unless they re-sign both). Do they take a risk and re-sign Arthur for a discounted rate or side with Speights who succeeded in his role last season?

Important statistic: Memphis’ pick-and-roll offense.Memphis defeats their opposition by forcing their opponents into tough decisions. Those tough decisions usually lead to turnovers — opponents turned the ball over on 16.3% of their possessions against them — which Memphis capitalizes on, scoring 1.14 points per possession in transition, good for 13th.

Their offense, however, doesn’t sufficiently provide enough production to support a tenacious defense. In comparison to other Western Conference powers — ie: Oklahoma City, San Antonio — Memphis is strikingly deficient when they run pick-and-rolls. The Grizzlies’ ball handler score 0.70 PPP (27th) while 37.3% shooting from the field, both marks that are simply unacceptable in this league. They’ve hit the roll man on about a third of their possessions with little success either, ranking 25th. For reference, the New Orleans Hornets’ ball handlers averaged 0.85 PPP. This discrepancy is significant because, over 1000 possessions, it represents a 150 point difference.

It would appear that with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol as prominent players in the rotation, both posted above-average numbers running the pick-and-roll, Memphis has a foundation for an efficient offensive attack. That’s not the case. Another reason why the pick-and-roll is so important? They play the Spurs four times a year (and potentially more). San Antonio gave up the most points per possession to opposing ball handlers. This is an area that they should improve on.