Playoff Result: Lost in Conference Finals
Key Additions: Dave Joerger (head coach), Mike Miller (free agency), Jamaal Franklin (draft), Kosta Koufus (trade)
Key Losses: Lionel Hollins (former head coach)
Projected 2013-14 Record: 50-32 (6th in West)*
What to Expect: The Grizzlies had the second-most dominant defense in the entire league last year, made it to the Western Conference Finals, now get to play a full season with their post-Gay era squad which far outplayed their previous installment – and they also got a lot better this offseason.
Of all the “certainties” that can be proclaimed weeks before the 2014 season begins – calling Memphis one of the West’s and league’s best teams is a sound judgement.
The Grizzlies’ biggest issue last season was their offensive spacing. As suffocating as their defense was, oftentimes their offense got them in trouble – with misses leading to transition buckets for the opposition. The problem wasn’t simplicity, more so that the roster lacked shooters to make the offense function fluently. Zach Randolph was doubled and tripled in the post in last year’s Western Conference Finals to no end, all but shutting him down because of perimeter players being unable to make San Antonio pay from outside the arc. These troubles are partially alleviated with the signing of Mike Miller.
In addition, you can expect to see more creativity out of the Grizzlies with new coach Dave Joerger in command. This hiring has seen applause across the league, with former head coach Lionel Hollins being a very traditional thinker, an odd fit for a Grizzlies franchise looking towards the future (see: Hollinger, John.)
Memphis also got quite the prospect in Franklin, who is looked upon as a possible Kawhi Leonard in the making with the right team around him. The Grizzlies locker room should see to Franklin’s development as a person and the front office as a player, so trying to pinpoint what he can bring to this team is difficult as the possibilities range across the state of Tennessee.
Ultimately what to expect is a contending team with a frighteningly good defense with a coach whose ideals match those of a forward-thinking Memphis organization. The Grizzlies could be in The Finals this June and it shouldn’t surprise you if it happens.
Matchup with the Hawks: The Hawks stood up surprisingly well to last year’s Grizzlies for a middle-class East team. This was mostly in part due to the two diverse bigs in Atlanta’s frontcourt in Josh Smith and Al Horford, both who could aggressively attack the boards while defend Memphis’s duo of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol well.
What bodes extremely well for the Hawks this year in their series against the Grizz are the new schemes they’ll be implementing under Mike Budenholzer. In case you forgot, Budenholzer was on that San Antonio bench when they dismantled Memphis’s defense like an engineering wiz would a grandfather clock. A twist here, a plunk there and the whole thing falls apart.
What you’ll see from Atlanta is a disregard for Memphis’s poor shooters – Tony Allen and Tayshaun Prince – a lot of offensive action towards the Grizzlies’ biggest hole in their defense, Zach Randolph, and Teague trying to penetrate as much as possible to get looks for Kyle Korver and John Jenkins.
In match-ups like these, perhaps we can even see Budenholzer have Millsap play as a stretch four in order to spread the defense out over the floor even more. With no major perimeter scoring threat outside of point guard Mike Conley, expect a change in the starting lineup against Memphis involving swapping out DeMarre Carroll, a defensive wing, for a shooter to take his place.
The Hawks’ major goal coming into a game with Memphis should be to push the pace – a lot. Memphis loves the slow game, getting set on defense and running the shot clock down until a great look is found on offense. Atlanta will be a running team next season and for the foreseeable future under Mike Budenholzer and this mentality will be on display against a team that isn’t have the defensive threat they are when they are getting beaten downcourt.
I predict the Hawks to at the very least take one game from Memphis this season, if only for history repeating itself.
*predicted record based on Bo’s ESPN Forecast projections for every team