NBA 2014-15 Power Rankings Preview: #16 Memphis Grizzlies

Will one of the NBA's toughest teams be a threat during the 2014-2015 season?

This NBA offseason has been very eventful and the preseason is now just around the corner. To help bridge that gap for hoops junkies, we here at numberFire will be rolling out our projections for next season in the form of team previews, starting at 30 and going all the way to number one. We continue today with the 16th-ranked Memphis Grizzlies!

Known for being the NBA’s toughest team and entrenched in the league’s best division, the Grizzlies have been a thorn at the side of the Western Conference powers since the Marc Gasol/Zach Randolph era began. Every year they challenge a ‘title favorite’ in a gruesomely delightful first-round series. This season will be no different, as the Grizz have retained their corps and intend to be the team no one wants to play once again.

numberFire Metrics

Projected Record: 41-41
Western Conference Rank: 9th
NBA Rank: 16th
nERD: 51.9
Playoff Chances: 52.72%
Championship Chances: 0.90%

Our algorithms predict a substantial nine-win drop from last season’s 50-win total. We predict last season’s 49-win Dallas Mavericks and 48-win Phoenix Suns to jump the Grizzlies in the Western Conference standings as well. However, the seven through nine spots in the standings are so tight that we have them making the playoffs more than half the time.

Player Movement

Notable Additions
Jordan Adams (via draft)
Jarnell Stokes (via draft)
Vince Carter (via free agency)

Notable Losses
Toney Douglas (via free agency)
James Johnson (via free agency)
Mike Miller (via free agency)
Jamaal Franklin (waived)

I’ll address Adams and Stokes later, but let’s talk about the Vince for Miller switcheroo. Our own Galin Dragiev recently chronicled Carter’s unique career. Last season, Carter averaged 12 points, 3 assists and 4 rebounds, far exceeding Miller’s 7 points, 2 assists and 3 board averages. But Mike Miller’s deadly shooting from deep (46%) made him a more valuable commodity. nERD measures the value a player adds to his team for a whole season. Miller posted a 0.9 nERD to Vince’s 0.2 nERD. Even with Miller’s stealth shooting, the 2013-14 Grizzlies ranked last in three-pointers made and attempted, and 21st in three-point percentage. They’ll look to Carter to sustain his shooting percentages from last season while contributing more minutes than did Miller.

Three Burning Questions

Will they be the best defensive team in the league?
Last season, the Grizzlies allowed 104.6 points for every 100 defensive possessions – good enough for eighth in the league. They did this while only getting 59 games from then reigning defensive player of the year Marc Gasol and just 55 games from Tony Allen. The Grizz posted minuscule defensive ratings of 102 with Gasol in the lineup and 101 with the grindfather on the floor. They also ranked second in total defense in 2012-2013 behind only the Pacers, who already lost two of their three best defensive players in Paul George and Lance Stephenson. If Memphis gets 75-plus games from their center and there is no slip at guard, it should take over as the stingiest D in the league.

Can Jordan Adams and Jarnell Stokes spark a lackluster bench unit?
Memphis stole Jordan Adams with the 22nd pick of the 2014 draft. Adams led UCLA in his sophomore year in points per game and sat atop the PAC 12 Conference with 2.83 steals per game without ever seeming to leave the ground. He brings the most polished inside-outside game to the NBA of – get this – this entire draft class. Expect him to take time easing into the system but play big minutes down the stretch and into the playoffs.

Also, talk about a great fit! Is Jarnell Stokes the most Memphis-y player in the 2014 draft? He was born and raised in Memphis, starred at Tennessee, then, by fortune of a draft day trade, ended up on the Grizzlies. Plus he’s 6’8'', 250 pounds and crashes boards like a mad man. He led the SEC in offensive rebounding each of the past two seasons and is the runaway candidate to be the next member of the Kenneth Faried/Tony Allen All-Stars – named for players who greatly exceed their talent level with sheer hustle and effort.

Will the Grizz miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010?
I wouldn’t bet on it. Our advanced stats project a ninth-place finish for Memphis, but they’ll likely be locked in a two in, one out scenario with the Suns and Mavs. The Grizzlies have won over 56% of their regular season games each season since 2010 and again retained their corps from last season. They play a uniquely physical inside out game that wears opposing bigs out. At last year’s All-Star break, Demarcus Cousins said in an interview that he never felt sorer than the day after playing in Memphis. ‘Break that up,” he said about Gasol and Zach Randolph. They’ll likely be healthier this year and the chip on their shoulder grows ever larger with each Western Conference Playoffs exit. The Grizzlies should make the playoffs, and once their in, I wouldn’t want my team to play them.

Fantasy Hoops Stock Watch

SF Zach Randolph (Yahoo O-Rank: 74)
Randolph said in an interview with Vogue this offseason that he was going to focus more on distribution. He thinks he’s made himself into a less devastating offensive player by consistently getting position on the low block, using an array of superior post moves, and shooting at a 47% clip. Hold on. He couldn’t have…he didn’t say that! Of course not! Why would Vogue interview Zach Randolph?

If you draft Zach Randolph 74th, you're making a smart pick - he's the model of consistency, he’s averaged 15-plus points and 8-plus rebounds in 10 of his last 11 seasons in the league. He bumped his assists last year to 2.5 (a career high), and he’s played in 83% of his team’s regular season games over the last twelve years. He might not win you a fantasy championship, but he’s the type of inexpensive consistent force that allows you to gamble everywhere else.

PG Mike Conley (Yahoo O-Rank: 34)
Conley is going 13th amongst point guards this season. Like Z-Bo in the post, Conley is a consistent but not so sexy pick for the position. He went for 17 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds and just under 2 steals while averaging 33 minutes per game last season. It was by far his best scoring year, but he’s hurt by coach Dave Joerger’s plodding pace, which clocked in at the slowest in the league last season. With only 18 games missed in his last six seasons, he’s a high-floor, low-ceiling guy who’ll likely see his percentages rise, but he'll finish fewer possessions with a full season of the offense running through Marc Gasol.

However consistent Conley may be, his value drops because the league is flush with point guards right now. Guys like Michael Carter Williams and Reggie Jackson, who lack the discipline, finishing ability and poise that Conley has displayed, are going four rounds later than Conley, and their teams play at significantly faster paces. If I'm drafting, I'm springing for one of the top three guards, then taking a couple long shots in the late rounds.