Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Opposing View: 11/7 vs. Memphis

All season long, Sonics Beat will be consulting an expert on the opposing team as part our gameday preview. Today, Chris Herrington, who writes the Beyond the Arc blog as part of his coverage for the Memphis Flyer. Don't miss his Pre-Game Three-Pointer. Also check out's preview and the Memphis Commercial Appeal's look at the relationship between Rudy Gay and Kevin Durant.

Can we expect Marc Iavaroni to be more like his boss in Miami (Pat Riley) or his boss in Phoenix (Mike D'Antoni)?
That’s very much an open question at this point. Based on what Iavaroni has said to the media, stressed in practice, and tried to implement in games, he seems to be striving to be a blend of the two. From his tenure in Phoenix, he seems to have taken a few very specific things:

1. An emphasis on early offense, on looking for shoots before the defense is set. As an on-court reality, this is idea hasn’t totally taken hold. I suspect that the Griz’s potential growth as an up-tempo team will coincide with Michael Conley’s development at the point.

2. An interest in using small lineups, which, in Memphis, is dependent on the development of Rudy Gay as what Iavaroni calls a “Phoenix four” in the Shawn Marion mold.

3. An emphasis on three-point shooting.

4. A dislike of committing fouls.

On the other hand, Iavaroni has repeatedly said that he wants to emphasize defense first, though he doesn’t have great defensive personnel in Memphis and the team defense hasn’t looked very good so far. And, in the form of Pau Gasol, he has a more traditional post player at his disposal than he had in Phoenix.

At this point, the Griz have been at their best with two very different lineups: The big half-court-oriented starting lineup with two seven-footers (Gasol and Darko Milicic) in the paint, a 6-9 Gay at small forward and a 6-8 Mike Miller at shooting guard. But, in the preseason at least, the Griz tended to close-out or blow open games with a small-ball lineup that put Gasol at center and Gay as the “Phoenix four” power forward, with 6-3 Juan Carlos Navarro at shooting guard. (Gay’s foul trouble has precluded Iavaroni from using this lineup much in the first two regular season games.)

Whether these two very different lineup types continue to coexist equally or one becomes the team’s more dominant look seems totally up in the air, as the Grizzlies right now are a team — and Iavaroni a new head coach — still looking for an identity.

Five years from now, who is the starting point guard for Memphis: Mike Conley, Jr. or Kyle Lowry?
Conley, presumably. Iavaroni pushed for his selection with the fourth overall pick because Conley is the kind of speedy pure point guard Iavaroni envisions running his uptempo team. Lowry has the ability to be a quality starting point guard in the NBA, maybe as soon as this season, but he doesn’t have the court vision or playmaking ability that Conley has.

Iavaroni seems intent on taking his time with Conley, slotting him third on the depth chart to start the season and citing how long it took Steve Nash to develop, even after four years in college. But I haven’t seen anything from Conley or heard anything from Iavaroni to suggest Conley isn’t still considered the future at the point for this team.

What will this year say about Gay's future?
Gay is still only 21 and was thrown into a really bad situation a year ago, handed to a veteran-loving coach in Mike Fratello that didn’t want to play him, on a team that soon completely fell apart. So, this season is more like a second chance to properly develop Gay than some kind of final determinant on how good he can be.

That said, Gay needs to show strides this year — with his offensive decision-making and more consistent defensive and rebounding activity, primarily. The reasonable hope is that he starts looking like the team’s second best player by the end of the year. He’s definitely capable of that and will be helped greatly by being paired with more aggressive, uptempo point guards Lowry and Conley as the year wears on and Damon Stoudamire’s role recedes.

How about Darko?
The ghost of his workout hype and high draft selection still haunt Darko, but the Grizzlies aren’t paying him all-star money. They’re paying him quality-starting-center money, and that’s probably what the reasonable expectation should be: Rebound well, score efficiently, and, most importantly, provide a strong interior defensive presence.

Darko had a rough preseason, but in the first two regular-season games, when he’s been on the court (he’s been plagued by foul trouble as well) he’s done the job, probably playing better relative to expectation than any other Grizzlies player so far.

Freed from the burden of being expected to look like a future star and just asked to be an important role player on a deep team, the expectation is that Darko will be just that. If he can’t fill that more realistic role this season, then you have to doubt he ever will. The early returns are encouraging, though.

What don't we know (but should) about the Grizzles?
The playing-time controversy locally isn’t about Conley riding the pine (at least not yet), but about the elevation of new signee Casey Jacobsen as a widely-used reserve (playing 40 minutes through the first two games) while last season’s rookie surprise Tarence Kinsey (Western Conference Rookie of the Month in April) has been in street clothes on the inactive list. With Jacobsen not hitting threes at the rate he did in the preseason and the Grizzlies’ perimeter defense really struggling, Iavaroni’s favoring of new-regime-signee Jacobsen over previous-regime-find Kinsey is already provoking a lot of grumbling among those who follow the Griz closely.

UPDATE: Another look at tonight's game, this from Grizzlies blog Three Shades of Blue.