NBA Preview: Grizzlies give it another go

You can talk about how the Memphis Grizzlies did nothing of significance this offseason, how they’re banking on nothing more than familiarity of the players and their coach.

All of it is true.

But when you’re the Grizzlies, hey, that’s not such a bad thing.

Their ascension began two seasons ago, when they shocked San Antonio in the first round of the playoffs. Last season, they took the L.A. Clippers to seven games — which was actually as impressive as their Spurs feat.

So the fact the Grizzlies have remained the same should be viewed as a good thing. No need to make a move out of desperation, right? Right.

Especially when your roster consists of guys who have tasted success, who have made progress (even if small), who are good enough for good things. That’s the situation with the Grizzlies, who return all five starters, most of their key bench players and the ideal coach in Lionel Hollins.

As for the players, you know the names: Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Marc Gasol. Aside from potentially Gay, there probably isn’t an All-Star in the group. Again, doesn’t matter. The Grizzlies do enough well, enough together, enough intelligently and enough athletically.

That makes them a true sleeper in a Western Conference expected to be heavy at the top. And if the Grizzlies continue to stay the course, ride out the occasional bumps, and respond to their coach, they could be right there, too.

Sometimes, standing pat makes good sense.

Last season: 41-25, lost to L.A. Clippers in first round of playoffs.

Coach: Lionel Hollins (seventh year, 158-175)

Top returnees:
SF Rudy Gay, PF Zach Randolph, PG Mike Conley, C Marc Gasol.

Key additions: SG Wayne Ellington, PG Jerryd Bayless, G Tony Wroten Jr.

X-Factor: (tie) Ellington and Wroten. The one key loss for the Grizzlies this past offseason came in the form of O.J. Mayo, a volume shooting guard who left via free agency. It’s not necessarily a major blow, as the Grizz were more than willing to part ways. But his scoring potential off the bench must be replaced. Ellington arrives after three so-so seasons with Minnesota. He’ll get every opportunity to fill Mayo’s old role, and Ellington certainly has the ability. As for Wroten, chances are he’ll be worked in slowly. Bottom line: The Grizzlies hope that, together, Ellington and Wroten will provide a backcourt upgrade in reserve.

Strengths: Gay is as dynamic as they come. He’s a rare breed who possesses the ability to score pretty much at will — but doesn’t mind deferring and fitting into the team concept. He’s good in every area, exceptional in a few. Meanwhile, Randolph is still a consistent force near the basket, even if he is somewhat grounded. He remains one of the league’s most versatile power forwards. Also, Conley seems to have improved via an off-season weightlifting program, Gasol is forever underrated and Tony Allen one of the best defensive guards around.

Weaknesses: Well, consistent perimeter shooting is an area of concern, albeit a small one. And while the Grizzlies can boast familiarity and multiple weapons, it’s still difficult to determine the best option when the outcome’s in the balance and you need a bucket. Defensively, the Grizz aren’t atrocious (far from it), but they aren’t real consistent, either.

Outlook: Most observers feel it’ll just be more of the same from this bunch, and that prediction probably isn’t too far off. And that’s just fine. The Grizzlies only need to keep a good thing going this season. A major push is more likely to come in a year or two. In the meantime, they’ll be just fine playing the role of potential postseason pillagers.

Prediction: 48-34.

2012-13 schedule: Link

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