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Memphis Grizzlies Season Preview: The Supporting Actors

May 19, 2013; San Antonio, TX, USA; Memphis Grizzlies power forward Ed Davis (32) shoots during the fourth quarter as San Antonio Spurs shooting guard Tracy McGrady (1) defends in game one of the Western Conference finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs at AT

Newer doesn’t always mean better. However, change is sometimes needed. In the case of the Memphis Grizzlies, it was getting close to that point. After sneaking into the Western Conference Finals by knocking off a malaise Clipper team and Westbrook-less Oklahoma City squad, Memphis found itself swept at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. Just like that, Memphis found itself on the verge of change. Tony Allen and head coach Lionel Hollins were free agents at season’s end, and after a porous showing in the conference finals, and three years, 45 million dollars remaining on his contract, many wondered if Memphis would flaunt Zach Randolph out as a trade piece in order to change the roster.

In the end, Hollins was the only one to be let go. Tony Allen returned on a four-year, 20 million dollar contract, Zach Randolph wasn’t dealt, but Hollins was gone. The man that oversaw Memphis’ development from a Western Conference cellar dweller to contenders was replaced with a man with zero head coaching experience. Assistant coach David Joerger took over the reigns. He’s known for his defensive schemes, and was secretly one of Memphis’ defensive masterminds over previous seasons. Along with his defensive tenacity, Joerger has expressed a way to mix up Memphis’ offense a bit by pushing the ball more. Instead of prodding and picking the offense, Joerger wants to the team to go more up-tempo, and rank higher than the 29th best pace in the league.

The changes wouldn’t only come in the coaching staff, as Memphis made a couple changes to the roster. The first was freeing Ed Davis from the bench with the trade of Darrell Arthur to Denver. While Davis is still an improving player, sitting on the bench wasn’t a way for him to learn and develop. By shipping Arthur out, Davis has a chance to claim a spot as Memphis’ fourth big man, and backup power forward. He’s a solid finisher on the left side of floor, and his undersized frame comes into play near the rim. Davis is only average around the rim, finishing with 60% shooting at the rim, registering as average, per Stats.NBA.com. He doesn’t get blocked much (5.3%, compared to a 6.8% league average for power forwards who average at least 20 minutes per game), and he’s actually great at finishing, with a 4.1 and-1 percentage. Already a great pick-and-roll man (1.05 PPP, 60% FG), Davis will need to improve his spot-up game (0.77 PPP, 37%) in order to fully maximize his talents.

The subtraction of Darrell Arthur saw the addition of Kosta Koufos. Last year, Koufos was Denver’s starting center, and played well. Not only did he do the little things, such as setting picks and screens well, but he also offers a solid low-post player, averaging 12.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per 36 minutes last season. He’ll provide cheap points in the interior beside Gasol or Randolph, and he also removes a bit of the rebounding duties off both of them. In 24.4 minutes per game last season, Koufos grabbed 11.6 percent of Denver’s avaliable offensive rebounds and 19.2 percent of the defensive rebounds. Different teams- Denver was a team that largely used one big man – but for smaller lineups, Koufos could be an efficient big man in spurts.

The other big addition to the team was playoff hero Mike Miller. After six seasons with the team, Miller returns and offers two things. The first is a veteran presence – someone who has championship experience. The second is a deadeye shooter. In his three seasons with Miami, Miller shot over 36% in each season. He’s someone who can stretch the floor for possessions at a time. In the series against San Antonio, the Spurs constantly packed the paint, knowing Memphis couldn’t shoot the ball from the outside. With Miller joining Quincy Pondexter (42% three-point shooter last season), the Grizzlies can have shooters on the court to extend the defense for Gasol/Randolph post-ups, as well an open avenue for Mike Conley to knife through.

The Grizzlies are going to be an interesting team going into next season, and the changes they made this offseason, albeit small, will be a factor in how good they are, and if they can replicate last season’s success.

qhaynes