The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Everyone is familiar with that old cliché. It’s one the Grizzlies understand well after the 2012-13 season. Over the past year, there has been a complete changing of the guard in the Bluff City. An ownership swap was the first domino to fall when Michael Heisley officially completed the sale of the team to tech mogul Robert Pera right before the regular season began.
From there, the rest of the hierarchy was dismantled systematically. John Hollinger was hired away from ESPN to become vice president of basketball operations. The first roster change under the new ownership came when Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and a future first-round pick were traded to Cleveland for Jon Leuer. Hardly a week later, Rudy Gay, the face of the franchise, was shipped north of the border midway through the season.
Despite a multitude of momentous changes, the Grizzlies continued to obliterate opponents with nasty defense and grind-it-out offense just like in years past. With that said, the Grizzlies didn’t simply stay on track. They ascended into the NBA’s elite. The team finished with its best record in franchise history and played better than ever, post-Rudy. In the playoffs, the Grizz made an impressive run to the Western Conference finals before being picked apart by the San Antonio Spurs.
All this is to say the Grizzlies know how to handle change and arguably thrive during it. That’s a good thing, because the Grizzlies have multiple changes to adapt to for the 2013-14 season.Pera and company, having never connected with coach Lionel Hollins, clearly became too disenchanted with his philosophical differences by last season’s end to retain his services. However, they didn’t have to look far to find a coach that jived with their organizational philosophy. As a matter of fact, they only had to look to the seat adjacent to Hollins.
Enter David Joerger. He led the defense as the lead assistant for several years, and now will get the chance to shine as a first-time head coach. He will take over a savvy, veteran group of players that know what it takes to be successful. The Grizzlies have one of the strongest starting five in the league. Add Mike Miller (free agent signing), Jamaal Franklin (draft pick), and Nick Calathes (acquired via trade) into the mix, and Memphis might have its most potent roster ever.
After grittin’ and grindin’ all the way to the conference finals last season, coupled with the offseason additions, the Grizzlies enter the 2013-14 season with the highest expectations they have ever had.
So what are the key themes to keep an eye on? Here are five things to watch.
1. The transition into the David Joerger era. After going through a bevy of coaches before Hollins took over, it was nice for Memphis to have some continuity for a while. With that said, it was time to move on from Hollins despite his record of success with the team.
His replacement, Joerger, has been on the staff since 2007, so it isn’t a complete restart. It will be interesting to see how philosophically different Joerger’s coaching style is to Hollins’. The answer is obviously enough for the new ownership group to give the job to Joerger rather than reaching outside the organization.
The defense isn’t likely to change, since Joerger has been the defensive coordinator since 2011. That’s a huge plus for this team. But one thing that is likely to change is the pace on offense. Joerger’s plan is to speed up the tempo a little bit in hopes of creating easier opportunities that lead to more points to take some of the pressure off the defense.
There are a lot of unknowns surrounding Joerger entering his first season as an NBA coach. All of these unknowns can’t be answered without playing some games. One thing that is known is Joerger has never failed as a head coach at any level, and his record is rather impressive: IBA champion (2001), three-time CBA champion (2002, 2004, 2005), NBA D-League champion (2007), two-time CBA Coach of the Year (2002, 2004). It’s hard not to expect more of the same from him at the highest level.
2. What about those persistent offensive spacing issues? Last season, the Grizzlies ranked last in 3-pointers attempted per game, taking just 13.5. Not only did the Grizzlies take the fewest threes, but they also made the fewest at 4.7 per game.
When a team isn’t at least a threat from deep, it makes it a lot easier for teams to pack the paint. The Grizzlies struggled mightily against the Spurs in the conference finals largely due to their lack of perimeter scoring. When Tony Allen was on the floor, the Spurs left him alone at the 3-point line because they knew he was no threat to them all the way out there. That essentially made it four-on-five every time the Grizzlies were on offense. Throw Tayshaun Prince into the game at the same time as Allen, and things become really ugly in terms of spacing.
The Grizzlies have tried to solve these spacing issues this offseason. They signed Miller to come in and do one job – bury threes. Sure, good 3-point shooting doesn’t necessarily make a team great offensively, but it can’t hurt. With the 3-pointer being the great equalizer in the modern game, making a couple more threes a game could do wonders for the Grizzlies. It could alleviate some of the pressure on the defense to come up with stop after stop, and most importantly, it would go a long way toward fixing those spacing issues, thus creating space for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to go to work down low.