2011-12 NBA Preview: Memphis Grizzlies

By Tony Piraro

The 46-win Memphis Grizzlies were the talk of the league last year when they ousted the No. 1 seed Western Conference San Antonio Spurs in the 1st-round of the NBA playoffs. Memphis had a rise to contention similar to the Oklahoma City Thunder a year prior. The Grizz did it with a bunch of big names, playing extremely big roles.

Zach Randolph was uncharacteristically the leader of this bunch last year as he dominated in the paint. Z-Bo was one of the only players in the league to average a double-double last year. He went off to the tune of 20 points per game, alongside 12 boards nighty. He was truly the backbone of the offensive gameplan.

The brother of 2-time NBA Champion Pau Gasol, is little brother Marc Gasol who played anything but little in 2010. The younger, more powerful Gasol averaged 12 points a game and seven boards each contest. He will average a double-double this season as he develops understanding of the pro game, alongside the age of Randolph.

Finally Mike Conley lived up to expectations last season, having the best season in his 4-year career. The former Ohio State point guard averaged 17 points per game, seven assists and three rebounds. He is certainly living up to be the player they thought he would when the Grizz drafted him in the 1st-round four years ago. His back-up is no slouch either, the former Terrapin Greivis Vasquez is a star in the making. Once he gets his opportunity to be a full-time starter in the league, he will excel. Right now, the 6-foot, 6-inch point guard will wait in the wings.

On the flip side of Conley’s emergence, O.J Mayo had his worst professional season in 2010. The guard lost his job to Tony Allen and gave up on his team in the meantime. After averaging nearly 18 points per game in his first two seasons, Mayo dropped to 11 ppg. If he wants to remain in Memphis, he better get used to being a role player with all the Grizzlies talent.

Rudy Gay may have been the silent leader of the team, averaging 20 ppg, alongside 5 rpg and 6 apg in one of the best statistical campaigns of Gay’s career. The 5-year veteran will continue to grow and develop with all the talent around him, thus taking a great deal of pressure off the all-star forward.

Tony Allen emerged last season as a viable threat for the Grizzlies. His play was instrumental during the Memphis run, and he also knocked Mayo out the starting rotation at one point. Allen is a defensive-minded player with a high level of intensity. Don’t be fooled, he can still run the show every once in a while on offense as well.

This is definitely a team to watch out for in the foreseeable future, but for this season I see a Western Conference Finals exit against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Memphis will give a ton of teams problems this season, especially Oklahoma City. If O.J. Mayo returns to form and Rudy Gay keeps ascending into stardom, I don’t see anyone but the Thunder stopping Memphis in the west.

Follow Tony Piraro on Twitter @TonyPiraro

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