- HOOPSWORLD | Basketball News & NBA Rumors - http://www.hoopsworld.com -
NBA PM: Memphis Grizzlies Ready To Contend?
Posted By Bill Ingram On July 24, 2013 @ 5:00 pm In Main Page,NBA | No Comments
HOOPSWORLD catches up with Memphis Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley at the Team USA mini camp in Las Vegas.Watch More Video Here
Memphis Grizzlies Ready To Contend?
The pecking order in the Western Conference has been as tough to predict in recent years as in any time in NBA history. The competition for the top four seeds has been as brutally tough as the race for the final playoff seeds, and some very good teams have gone down in pursuit of a berth in the NBA Finals. In the 2013-14 season, the competition will be even stiffer with teams like the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Clippers making radical offseason improvements, but the Memphis Grizzlies believe they are ready to ascend to new heights and take that top spot when all is said and done.
“I think we learned what it takes to be a championship team,” Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley said of the 2012-13 campaign, in which the Grizzlies recorded a franchise-best 56-26 record. “When we played against San Antonio (in the playoffs), we saw how they executed down the stretch, how they came out in the first quarters, I mean, the way that they executed was unbelievable. I think we learned a lot and took a lot away from that to where if we get into that position again, hopefully we can change the outcome.”
Of course, next season the Grizzlies will be without the head coach who led them to new heights, as the organization opted not to bring back Lionel Hollins. They replaced him with his lead assistant, Dave Joerger.
“Well, first of all, we thank Lionel for everything he did,” Conley said. “He did a wonderful job with us. We’re also excited for Dave. Coach Joerger is a great person, great coach. He’s learned a lot under Lionel, so hopefully he’ll just kind of continue what Coach Hollins had put in place.”
It won’t just be a continuation of what Hollins had the team doing, though. Joerger has already given his players a sense of some changes that will be put in place immediately.
“I know we want to try to pick our pace up a little bit,” Conley explained. “We want to try get a little bit more outside shooting, to where we can stretch the floor and get into a little bit more of a pick-and-roll offense, but still try to stick to that core of going inside-out, keeping our big guys involved and sticking to our defensive principles.”
For the most part, the Grizzlies team that finished the season by losing in the Western Conference Finals will be back next season. Continuity is a proven factor when it comes to championship teams, and Conley believes that familiarity will be key for his squad next season.
“Now that we have everybody back, I really think just as a unit just understanding with the new coaching change that we’re still the same team,” Conley said. “Nobody has to worry, nobody has to try to change too much. We don’t want to change too much. We have the foundation, we can change a few things, but we just don’t want to go overboard with it.”
A huge part of the Grizzlies’ rise in the West has been the growth of Conley, both on and off the court. He appreciates the challenge presented by facing off with some of the best talents in the NBA at point guard, and competing against them at Team USA’s minicamp in Las Vegas this week is a big part of his offseason improvement plan.
“Just pushing the ball, being a better leader,” Conley said of where he can improve. “I feel like I’m one of the older guys out here, so bringing that veteran leadership and making guys better, and competing against some of the best guys in this league. We got a lot of great point guards, a lot of great forwards and centers in this camp so I’m just looking forward to playing alongside them and competing against them this week.”
The Grizzlies were four wins away from the NBA Finals at the end of last season, and there’s every reason to expect that they can be in that same position again next year. The West has gotten tougher, but with continuity and confidence, as well as the best front line in the NBA, the Grizzlies might just be ready to take that next step to the championship round.
Atlanta Hawks Add European Force
Even as Atlanta Hawks fans have been waiting for the news that free agent forward Ivan Johnson has re-signed, the Hawks appear to have gone in an entirely different direction, and from a lot further away than left field. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Hawks have reached an agreement with Macedonian big man Pero Antić on a two-year deal, with the second year being a team option.
Antić, who is 30 years old, has spent the last 14 years playing professional basketball all over Europe, and is coming off of two consecutive Euroleague championships with Olympiacos. Despite standing 6’10 and weighing in at 260 pounds, Antić is more of a power forward than a center. He is much more effective when shooting from mid-range and beyond than he is with his back to the basket, which is common for big men making their way over from Europe. Last season he got the vast majority of his points from beyond the three-point arc, where he attempted 92 percent of his shots, making 32 percent of those attempts. He was much more efficient from 17 feet out to three, connecting on 57 percent of his attempts, but he attempted those shots just 6.7 percent of the time. His dunking ability could make him an excellent option in transition, but the European game doesn’t lend itself to that particularly well. Antić was involved in transition situations just 4.8 percent of the time last season.
On the defensive end, Antić specializes in defending the pick-and-roll, which should serve him well as he adjusts to the NBA. He ranked in the 92nd percentile among all European players in defending the pick-and-roll last season, and he also held opponents to just 35 percent from the field on spot-up attempts. His comfort beyond the arc on the offensive end translates well to the defensive end, where he held opponents to 28.4 percent shooting, good enough to rank him in the 76th percentile. He wasn’t nearly as effective in defending the mid-range game, where opponents hit 41.2 percent of their shots against him, putting him in the 35th percentile across the league.
While Antić is a capable scorer, he is not a volume scorer, though his above average passing game will help him stay on the court even when he’s not putting points on the board. Beyond that, it is his defense that is most likely of keen interest to the Hawks. Antić is widely regarded as one of the best defensive big men in Europe. Consider him a low-risk, high-reward pick-up for a team looking to round out its frontcourt depth chart.
The Team USA Effect
As much as Team USA is about giving NBA athletes a chance to compete for their country and earn a gold medal, there is another equally important aspect of taking part in the events surrounding the men’s basketball program. Giving young players a chance to be around quality professionals, both in the coaching ranks and beside them on the basketball court, can have a maturing effect.
That’s exactly what the Sacramento Kings are hoping will happen as DeMarcus Cousins takes part in this week’s festivities.
“Look, everybody’s expecting him because of his physical body to be a 29-year-old. He’s not. You see him mature right before your eyes,” John Calipari, who coached Cousins for one season at Kentucky, told USA Today’s Jeff Zillgitt. “He’s going to be fine.”
It’s a little bit of a surprise that Cousins is back with Team USA after he butted heads with USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo last summer. Frankly, it’s a tribute to Colangelo’s willingness to set aside the past and hope for the best regarding a young man who has tremendous potential as a player.
“I’ve been around the game a long time,” Colangelo said. “Things happen. You set them aside, you bury these things and you move on. It was overplayed last summer for sure, but that’s last year. I never I had a doubt I’d bring him back if he deserved to come back. … He’s doing fine. He came in with a very positive attitude. He looks in very good shape and he’s working very hard here. … He did his part today.”
Now three seasons into his NBA career, Cousins has had his share of run-ins, with media, coaches, management and other players. Still, the Kings have stood behind their young big man, and the new ownership group is hopeful that he can learn to govern his emotions and channel his energy into great accomplishments on the basketball court.
“This is all good,” Calipari said. “What’s going on for him here (in Las Vegas) is the best thing for his career – being coached by these guys (U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski and assistants Tom Thibodeau and Monty Williams) and taking pride in something other than himself. It’s about this organization. If you want to make it, you make everybody better or you’re not making the team.”
Cousins still has a long way to go, and while new ownership and his new coaching staff are all saying the right things about him having a clean slate, those are the same things that former GM Geoff Petrie and former head coach Keith Smart said not so long ago. Everyone’s hoping and waiting for the time when Cousins will shake off his childish tendencies and embrace his opportunities as a remarkably gifted athlete. Being a part of USA Basketball should certainly help him along that journey.
Twitter Follows: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @AlexKennedyNBA, @TheRocketGuy, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @SusanBible @TommyBeer, @JabariDavisNBA , @NateDuncanNBA , @MokeHamilton and @YannisHW.
Article printed from HOOPSWORLD | Basketball News & NBA Rumors: http://www.hoopsworld.com
URL to article: http://www.hoopsworld.com/nba-pm-memphis-grizzlies-ready-to-contend
Copyright © 2013 HOOPSWORLD | Basketball News & NBA Rumors
Part of the USA TODAY Sports Media Group.