Throughout the first of this season, I have been a little put-off by Memphis’ bench after losing Shane Batter (FA), Darrel Arthur (injury) and Greivis Vasquez (trade) and without properly replacing them.
I rated Battier as one of the best backup SFs in the league, Arthur as a top backup PF and Vasquez as a well above average (top ten) backup PG. In their stead, they brought in Jeremy Pargo (slightly below average backup PG), Quincy Pondexter (below average backup SF), Marresse Speights (below average backup PF) and gave more minutes to OJ Mayo (above average backup SG). Overall, a much weaker second unit.
So while I was a big admirer of the upgrade they’d be receiving in a healthy Rudy Gay, I was concerned that they had lost too much talent on the bench to make it a major upgrade. If they had of kept the bench, I would have considered Memphis a top two team in the West and a legitimate title contender. Without those bench players, I considered Memphis a very good team with an outside shot at a title (in part due to how weak the West is at the top of the conference outside of OKC).
However, I think I may have been too harsh in that assessment.
A few days ago, I was thinking about how many minutes the Lakers would be giving to Kobe, Pau and Bynum in the playoffs (110-115 minutes) and how many minutes they’d be forced to give to their supporting cast (4 through 12, easily the worst of any playoff team in the league).
So even while their core is still exceptionally strong, there is a large amount of court time (a bit over 50%) to be filled by players who will give the opposition a good chance of creating an advantage against them.
Which in turn led me to think about Memphis’ playoff rotation and how many minutes their starters were able to play and how much that would minimize the loss of their bench pieces.
Mike Conley, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol are all capable of playing 36-40 minutes a night in the playoffs. That is 150-160 minutes right off the bat. Then there is Tony Allen who can give them another highly productive 30+ minutes a night leaving 50-60 minutes for the bench players to split.
The Grizzlies can get a good 20 minutes out of OJ Mayo leaving 30-40 minutes for the rest of the bench pieces. Jeremy Pargo for 10-12 minutes a night. Quincy Pondexter or Sam Young for situational minutes on the wing when they need more size. Marreese Speights for 20 minutes a night as the chief backup big man with Hamed Haddadi getting situational minutes.
And really, that doesn’t sound too bad at all to me.
Their top five/six players can shoulder enough minutes to help hide that weakened bench.
Which in turn leaves me to believe I have been too hard on the Grizzlies and should rank them higher on my power rankings.
I am still debating where exactly to rank them but I am leaning towards a second or third place slot.