Among the Grizzlies' many options would be using Tony Allen (left), the team's top defender, alongside scorer Quincy Pondexter.
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
MEMPHIS — With no shortage of opinions from fans on which of the Grizzlies’ plethora of wings should start, the focus of the players themselves is what that group’s depth means.
"I never played with two really good bigs on the same team," rookie Jordan Adams said. "I feel like it frees up so much space for all the wings and guys for shooting opportunities."
Adams is one of a more than a handful of players who can make up the wing combinations coach Dave Joerger goes with. The luxury he and the likes of Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince, Courtney Lee, Vince Carter and Quincy Pondexter have is center Marc Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph.
While players are correct that the Grizzlies’ NBA-defying identity remains inside, what shakes out on the outside will be the piece of the puzzle that could complete a team ready to go from contender to champion.
Two weeks before the regular season begins, Joerger expressed a hint of urgency to make some decisions.
"At some point, you’ve got to pick and go, so guys know what their role is when they’re coming in and out of the game," he said before Wednesday’s practice, "Who they’re playing with, once we get to that point, that will help."
While players won’t talk a whole lot about their personal suggestions, fans will.
There is a fan ideology that Joerger is too loyal to Prince and that he will have one of the starting spots, but on a team that needs scoring to go along with its grit-and-grind defensive mentality, the 13-year veteran brings a lot to any team, especially length, but Memphis ranked 27th in the league in scoring last season with 96.1 points per game, with Prince supplying six points per game.
So what are the options? Not many less than you’d find at the new mixable Coke fountains at a Five Guys.
Allen is by far the team’s best defender, and while he’ll provide an occasional three-pointer, he creates havoc on the other guys’ top scorer. Mixing him with a scorer would be ideal if both are producing. If Pondexter returns from the right foot stress fracture that kept him out all of last season back to his 2012-13 playoff form â nine points and 2.5 rebounds in nearly 24 minutes per game â that may be the best option.
"I have all the confidence in our coach and in our front office to make the best decisions, who plays and who doesn’t," Pondexter said. "But at the end of the day, we just care about getting wins. We don’t care who’s out there. We just care about each other and winning games. That’s the most important thing. Who cares about playing time?"
Lee, though streaky, is lethal when hot and could interchange or combo with Pondexter. An all-offensive duo is attractive, but on a team that prides itself on defense, maybe not as sensible as it would be for, say, the Thunder.
The problem is no one is sure how Pondexter will look and he’s not the only, for lack of a better word, new piece.
Enter Carter. He could be the x-factor of the whole conundrum. At age 37, he still provides maybe not Allen-equality defense, but more than Mike Miller did. Plus, he can score, averaging 11.9 per game, including 12.6 in the playoffs, where he shot 48 percent from deep for the Mavericks.
"It’s nice to have so many tremendous guys, Tayshaun, Vince, Courtney, TA, guys that have been All-Stars, a guy that’s almost a Hall-of-Famer," Pondexter said of Carter. "We have so many great, talented players. It just helps us a lot you have a lot of resources to go to."
Some are clamoring for Adams to be given an early role. There was criticism for Memphis taking the 6-foot-5 shooting guard — who averaged 17.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.3 and shot 49 percent in his second season at UCLA — with the 22nd pick in the draft, his reputation has only grown.
"The young rookie, I think Jordan’s really coming of age," Carter said. "He’s really starting to get a hang of it and I constantly try to stay in his ear, just shed light, a little bit every other game, because he’s getting so much information from the coaching staff, other players, so it can become overwhelming. We’re adjusting as a unit."
Carter says the practices among the wings have been difficult, a plus so that once rotations are decided, the games will come easier.
And Gasol, whose only information leak on Wednesday was that his wife now cuts his new short hair so they can save money, is right. What shakes out to be the wing rotation for the first week or month may need to be re-shaken down the road.
"That’s the good thing about being a player. You’re just a player. Coaches coach and everybody’s got to do their job. That’s coach’s decision. He’ll figure out what’s best for the team and what might be best for the team right now might change down the road because it’s a long season," Gasol said. "We know how long and tough seasons might be and people might get hurt and things change real quick. In this league, you’ve always got to be ready. Doesn’t matter, just stay ready. Just stay ready."