I am aware that this is an extremely unlikely NBA Finals scenario and in the event that the Boston Celtics and Memphis Grizzlies were the last two teams standing in June David Stern might possibly shoot himself in the face. Having said all that, I am going to analyze this matchup anyway as it is still quite compelling. The Memphis Grizzlies under coach Lionel Hollins have turned into the team nobody wants to face out West, finishing 4th in the Western Conference last season with a 41-25 record. Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol form an imposing duo down low and they work very well with one another. Rudy Gay is a dangerous scorer who if he ever reached his potential could take Memphis to even greater heights and former Celtic Tony Allen is in my opinion the best defensive player in the NBA today.
Rajon Rondo vs. Mike Conley/Tony Wroten Jr./Josh Selby
Mike Conley has improved steadily in his five years as a point guard with the Grizzlies. While he isn’t quite the impact player some expected him to be as a fourth overall pick in the 2007 NBA Draft out of Ohio State, Conley is a ball-hawk finishing second in steals to Chris Paul last season averaging 2.2 a contest. He scored 12.7 points and dished out 6.5 assists a game as well and is a decent shooter, hitting 37.7% of his shots from downtown.
Conley and Rajon Rondo have similar builds and are two of the quickest players in the league so this matchup should be a treat to watch. It is safe to say you will see a lot of gambles for steals when these guys square off as both players are known pests for opposing ball handlers.
Boston has a backup by committee approach with Jason Terry, Avery Bradley and newly signed Leandro Barbosa capable of spelling Rondo when he needs a rest.
For the Grizzlies, Tony Wroten Jr. is projected to be the main backup at the point. While Conley is far from a superstar, the backup point guard spot was a huge hole for Memphis last season as the offense had difficulty when he was out of the game. Wroten Jr. is the ultimate boom or bust prospect, he will tower over opponents being a 6’6” point guard weighing over 200 pounds and has potential to be a menacing defender. If it wasn’t for attitude concerns and the fact that Wroten can’t shoot to save his life, he could have very easily been a lottery pick. I am very interested in watching his rookie year unfold as he could turn out being the steal of the 2012 NBA Draft.
Josh Selby though he played very well in summer league is not expected to contribute much in Memphis this year. He was unconscious in Vegas shooting over 73 percent from three and lit up the opposition in the eight games he played.
Jerryd Bayless may also run the point off the bench for the Grizzlies but we will discuss him in our next matchup.
Overall, Boston has the advantage in point guard play here.
Courtney Lee/Avery Bradley/Jason Terry/Leandro Barbosa vs. Tony Allen/Wayne Ellington/Jerryd Bayless
Though there are more star names at other positions, this is the matchup I am most looking forward to. Two of the best perimeter defenders the league has to offer in Tony Allen and Avery Bradley are the highlight here and they will surely frustrate whoever they are assigned to guard. There is also Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, Leandro Barbosa and Jerryd Bayless who provide strong depth for their respective squads.
For Memphis, Tony Allen did not play in last year’s game a 98-80 loss to his former team. He won’t lack motivation for this game and his frenetic energy on defense has helped change the culture in Memphis. However, Allen for his defensive prowess also has a laughable inability to finish at the basket. For comedic value I would like to see something similar to this clip happen at least once when these two teams play.
Jerryd Bayless will essentially fill the void O.J. Mayo’s departure left when he signed with the Dallas Mavericks this summer. Jerryd is an undersized, shoot-first guard that can duplicate O.J.’s production last year at a cheaper price. Bayless doesn’t have Mayo’s potential but it shouldn’t shock anyone if he scores 20 plus points on a given night.
Wayne Ellington is a fringe rotation player at this point in his career, any contribution he can give Memphis is a bonus and I am not expecting much from him this coming season.
Boston gets a slight edge here because of their superior outside shooting.
Paul Pierce/Jeff Green/Kris Joseph vs. Rudy Gay/Quincy Pondexter
Rudy Gay was the lone bright spot in the Grizzlies loss to Boston last year, scoring 21 points on 8-16 shooting. He is a smooth scoring wing that can be a devastating finisher in transition. I personally feel as though he is capable of more given his talent but he seems content being a good player in this league.
The man who he will be matching up against, Paul Pierce also scored 21 points in their game last season. The Truth’s shot wasn’t falling as he only went 5 of 12 from the field but hit all ten of his free throw attempts in the win. He also grabbed six rebounds and dished out six assists displaying an all-around game which we have been spoiled with throughout his illustrious career.
For the Grizzlies, Quincy Pondexter will get the first crack at minutes when Rudy Gay sits. Pondexter fits the profile of many Memphis players, he is a solid defender who can’t shoot all that well.
Though Kris Joseph is not expected to play much this coming season, the Celtics are the clear winners here in the starting lineup and the bench with Jeff Green being a superior player to Pondexter.
Brandon Bass/Jared Sullinger/Chris Wilcox vs. Zach Randolph/Darrell Arthur/Marreese Speights
If the Memphis Grizzlies expect to win a potential series against the Celtics, they must dominate this matchup. In 2011, the Grizz had a very nice playoff run and took the Oklahoma City Thunder to seven games in the Western Conference Semis. The offense ran through Zach Randolph and he averaged 22.2 points and 10.8 rebounds during the 2011 playoffs. Z-Bo experienced knee problems last season and was not nearly as effective in 2011-2012. Though he is getting older turning 31 in July, his floor-bound game should not suffer too much provided he can stay healthy.
Overall, the power forward spot is Memphis’ strongest position. Marreese Speights filled in admirably in Z-Bo’s absence, scoring 8.8 points and grabbing 6.2 rebounds in 22.4 minutes a night. Speights is a smooth shooting big that doesn’t play much defense. He can also play center in stretches and was a nice mid-season acquisition from Philadelphia last season.
Darrell Arthur was very solid in 2010-2011 before missing all of last year with a torn Achilles tendon. He is a great pick and roll defender and really helped solidify the Grizzlies bench two seasons ago with his steady mid-range shooting. Unfortunately for Arthur, he recently broke his left leg preparing for training camp and very likely won’t be healthy for the beginning of the season. Can this guy catch a break?
Jared Sullinger and Chris Wilcox provide decent depth for the Celtics and Brandon Bass was a revelation of sorts in Boston last season but this matchup is clearly in Memphis’ favor. Z-Bo should score 20 with ease in these games and I expect Speights and Arthur to provide solid bench relief as well.
Kevin Garnett/Darko Milicic/Jason Collins/Fab Mel vs. Marc Gasol/Hamed Haddadi
This is a pivotal matchup that can go a long way in determining the winner of this hypothetical series. Marc Gasol is fresh off his first All-Star appearance and a solid campaign in the Olympics. Only 27 years old, he still has plenty of time to improve as a player and already has an impressive skill set. He is rapidly turning into an elite defender, has a nice repertoire of post moves and is an excellent passer out of the post. Gasol also has the bulk that could give KG problems down low and has potential to swing this series in Memphis’ favor.
KG also presents matchup problems as his midrange game can help take Marc Gasol away from the basket. We all know Garnett is a world-class defender and if father time does not rear its ugly head, he should still be an effective player this year.
For the Grizzlies, Hamed Haddadi is a serviceable backup despite being fairly immobile and out of shape. He is a very good rebounder and can score in the post but shouldn’t have much bearing on this matchup.
Darko Milicic, Jason Collins and Fab Melo are all in contention for minutes as the backup center in Boston. Milicic is probably the best option of the aforementioned names for his shot blocking skills. Collins has some use in this series if he’s guarding Gasol and Melo is not ready to contribute yet.
This is a very close matchup but I give a narrow edge to the Grizzlies because I believe we have not yet seen the best of Marc Gasol.
Doc Rivers vs. Lionel Hollins
Doc Rivers is among the best coaches in the league and has more accolades but Lionel Hollins is not too shabby himself. He has done a great job in his third stint as the Grizzlies coach leading Memphis to their highest win percentage ever this past season despite dealing with injuries to key players Zach Randolph and Darrell Arthur. Hollins has helped players buy into a defensive mentality and his guys really take pride in their ability to stop opponents. With Randolph’s injury, Hollins had to adapt his offense from double post sets to more getting out in transition and they were surprisingly able to get the fourth seed in the always tough Western Conference.
With that being said, the edge goes to the Celtics on the sidelines.
I honestly believe this series could go either way. The Grizzlies present some unique problems, particularly their ability to force turnovers as they led the league last season and Boston was in the middle of the pack, turning the ball over 14.8 times a game in 2011-12.
While Boston has the edge at the 1-3 positions, they are not huge advantages over Memphis and I think this is a series that Zach Randolph should be able to dominate down low. Z-Bo and Rudy Gay need to form better chemistry as it was at times unclear who the offense ran through last season but with a full off-season and good health this should not be a huge concern.
My prediction may be unpopular but I feel Memphis has too much down low and this will be the difference.
Prediction: Memphis Grizzlies in 7