2013-2014 NBA Preview: Southwest Division

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May 25, 2013; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies shooting guard Tony Allen (9) Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley (11) Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) and Memphis Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph (50) take a walk off the court in game three of the Western Conference finals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs against the San Antonio Spurs at FedEx Forum. San Antonio Spurs defeat the Memphis Grizzlies 104-93, and lead the series 3-0. Mandatory Credit: Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis Grizzlies (47-35)

The Grizzlies are just sitting here waiting in the weeds. Memphis won 56 games last season and the only “loss” they had between last season and this season is Rudy Gay, who actually left in the middle of last year after being dealt to Toronto. Why, then, are they penciled-in for only 47 wins? The answer is two-fold.

First, the West is very, very deep and this division (namely New Orleans and Houston) is much better. Secondly (and more importantly), I just don’t believe that Memphis can score with the effectiveness needed to sustain that kind of pace in the win column. In addition, the Grizzlies had remarkable health last year, with every member of their “core” appearing in 76+ games, and that generally isn’t repeatable in the NBA.

All that said, I really like the majority of the Memphis roster. Marc Gasol is one of the best centers in the league (and a perennial defensive POY candidate) who basically emerged from nowhere into an elite center. His offensive stats (14.5 points, 8.0 rebounds per 36 minutes) aren’t terribly exciting, but he’s always in the right place defensively, and he can be devastating when his mid-range jumper is working.

Next to him, Zach Randolph is still the team’s “go-to guy” on offense, and Z-Bo averaged 17 points and nearly 12 rebounds per 36 minutes last season. At 32 years old, you have to think that Randolph will begin to slow down a bit in the near future, but he does have a crafty, low-to-the-ground game that should age well, and the Randolph/Gasol combination is unique and effective in an age where the rest of the league is going small.

Mike Conley is back at the point guard spot, and I have a soft spot for the lefty from Ohio State. He made the leap last season at age 25, averaging career highs in points (14.6 per game) and field goal attempts (11.8) with a career-high PER of 18.3. He’s not quite an elite player at the position, but I firmly believe he’s joined the 2nd-tier among the league’s point guards, and Memphis could really use another step forward in his shot creation in 2013-2014.

The bench is an interesting spot for Memphis, and the fact that they have no wing scoring punch is an issue. The Grizz brought in Mike Miller to finally provide a spot-up shooter, but Miller has major issues staying on the court at this point (age 33) and can’t be relied on for more than supporting duty. The other wing options (Quincy Pondexter, Tayshaun Prince, and rookie Jamaal Franklin) are versatile defensive players with some skills, but none of them is a shooter by any stretch, and that presents some issues.

Scoring punch will be needed from Jerryd Bayless, who functions as the backup point guard with combo guard offensive potential, and Bayless gave everyone a little preview of what he’s capable of with a 6-for-6 three-point shooting night in Atlanta during the preseason. In addition to Bayless, the Grizzlies finally brought over former University of Florida guard Nick Calathes, who I very much enjoy as a versatile 6-foot-6 ball-handler.

Perhaps my favorite underrated part of the Memphis roster is their frontcourt depth, and it is very strong. Ed Davis would start for many, many teams in the league, and the young left-handed forward from UNC (via the Raptors) averaged 14 points and 10 rebounds per 36 minutes last season. Memphis also has Kosta Koufos, who started 81 games for the Nuggets last year, and Jon Leuer as options off the bench, and no team can sport a deeper, stronger frontcourt than the Grizz.

Admittedly, this projection may be a bit low for Memphis, and if all goes right, they’ll win 50 games again. They are a unique team in today’s NBA, and while the casual fan won’t quite enjoy that, the diehards appreciate what they bring to the table.