Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Opposing View: 2/19 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. Also check out Graham Kendrick's preview of tonight's game for Grizzlies.com.

Is it safe to say that, post-Pau Gasol trade, this is a new Grizzlies era headlined by Rudy Gay and Mike Conley, Jr.?
I’d say so. Clearly, Rudy Gay is the focal point right now. He’s a 21-year-old, second-year player who is averaging 20 points a game, shooting well from the floor and the three-point line, and shows signs of developing into a disruptive force defensively. He’s on the all-star track. (You could argue that he’s the best 21-and-under player in the league right now, though Durant, Oden, Bynum probably have more upside.) It’ll be interesting to see what Gay does in the second half as the clear-cut first option: Can he push that scoring average closer to 25 points per game? Can he be that kind of scorer heading into next season?

Conley’s only played 23 games so far because of injuries and a decision to break him in slowly, but he’s acquitted himself very well for a 20-year-old rookie point guard. He hasn’t done anything to shake the faith that he can be an All-Star level point in a few years, though there is some concern about his durability. (He’s got a pretty slight frame.)

Add those two to whomever the team drafts with what is likely to be a Top 5 pick in this summer’s rookie draft and you’ve got the young core this team will probably be built around.

With the deadline coming up on Thursday, do you see Memphis making another move?
Anyone, aside from general manager Chris Wallace, who claims to know what the Grizzlies are going to do before this week’s trade deadline is not to be trusted. Wallace has developed a reputation for candor this season, especially in the wake of the Gasol trade, but that’s only after moves have been made. Word of the Gasol trade didn’t leak out until the day it happened and people I talk to around the team say there’s no real scuttle about potential deals.

That said, it’s clear that Mike Miller, Kyle Lowry, and Hakim Warrick (and possibly Javaris Crittenton) are potentially available.

Miller was made available to Houston in the trade that netted Rudy Gay (the Rockets chose to take Shane Battier instead – oops!) and also was being discussed with the Bobcats last summer (with the Bobcats acquiring Jason Richardson instead). His potential availability is nothing new.

As for Lowry, Chris Wallace has already stated his intention to trade one of the team’s three young point guards before next season. Conley isn’t going anywhere, but there’s plenty of reason to suspect Lowry is going to be the odd man out, now or this summer.

Warrick has played well since the Gasol trade, but no one thinks he’s the long-term answer as a starting power forward.

My best guess: That there’s reluctance to trade Miller and risk further alienating a dwindling fan base that didn’t understand the Gasol trade. If a team (like the Heat) were willing to take Brian Cardinal’s contract as well in return for expiring contracts, then I think Miller will be dealt. Barring that, my hunch is the team waits until this summer to make a move with Miller. If I’m wrong, then I suspect Cleveland is the team that would end up with Miller if Wallace decides to pull the trigger now and can’t move Cardinal.

I think Lowry is a better bet to be dealt this week, probably in exchange for a first-round pick in this summer’s draft. Denver and Phoenix are teams I’d think most likely to make that deal.

Personally, I’d like to see the team stand pat this week and use those assets in potential sign-and-trade deals this summer to try and pry away a restricted free agent or two.

How will the situation at point guard eventually shake out?
Barring something unexpected, Conley is the point guard, now and in the future. Assuming Lowry is dealt, the hope would be that Crittenton can emerge as a combo guard off the bench, backing up Conley and sometimes playing alongside him.

What has Darko Milicic given the Grizzlies this season?
Darko has been erratic, plagued by thumb, knee, and ankle injuries, but probably a little underrated. He’s been a very effective post defender and has played some of the league’s best centers — Tim Duncan, Yao Ming, Marcus Camby — to draws.

Darko’s shown some positive signs since the Gasol trade. In his last five games without Gasol in which he’s gotten 30+ minutes (5 of the past 7 games), Darko’s averaged 13 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks.

He gets flack for not living up to his pre-draft hype, but Darko is still only 22, is a legit center, and has the chance to be a quality rebounder and defensive anchor. Optimistic Grizzlies fans would point to the slow development of players such as Tyson Chandler and Chris Kaman and assert that Darko still has a chance to develop into a center of that caliber.

What don't we know but should about the Grizzlies?
After playing fewer than 20 minutes for three consecutive games, Kyle Lowry played 40 against Philadelphia prior to the All-Star break. Many assumed he was being showcased for a possible trade. If that’s the case again tonight, he should get plenty of minutes to match up with the player Grizzlies fans most often compare him to: Former Griz and current Sonic Earl Watson. Both are physical, attacking point guards with shaky jumpers and limited playmaking ability. Early on, Lowry was thought to be the evolutionary version of Watson, but this season fans are starting to wonder if he’ll really be any better in the long term. That limited upside is one of the reasons Lowry is the most likely of the team’s three point guards to be dealt.