October 21, 2009
SI.com's NBA Enemy Lines
Memphis Grizzlies
An opposing team's scout sizes up the Grizzlies

Allen Iverson will not be a good influence on their young players. I don't think I'm out on a limb saying that. It's bad for three reasons: his off-court demeanor, his work habits and the fact that he needs to have the ball in his hands. He's not a responsible player offensively or defensively. He doesn't worry about taking bad shots or turning the ball over, and he doesn't worry about getting beat on pick-and-rolls. He has to play when he's healthy -- he can't be on the bench -- and when he plays he destroys your credibility with the young guys, because here you are telling the young guys what they need to do while he's out there doing all of the things he's doing and there's nothing you can do about it. As a player, he has clearly lost a step. Even though he's still quicker than most guys, he can't finish as well and he doesn't make three-pointers like he used to. Unless he's aggressive and gets to the free-throw line, he can't score at the same rate. And at the other end, he gives up at least as much as he scores. He's not an All-Star-level talent anymore.

Zach Randolph hasn't been consistent since he was in Portland and Rasheed Wallace was there, staying on his butt. The Grizzlies need him in their offense. They need a back-to-the-basket guy. But he's another guy who, when he's screwing up, what do you tell your young guys? If Randolph doesn't get the ball, he's hard to deal with, and that's why he had such a hard time with Nate McMillan before Portland traded him. You do have to respect the fact that he can shoot it pretty much out to the three-point line. At the same time, you have to remember that he's a better dribble-scorer than Elton Brand. On the block, he's a beast with moves. He can face you up and he can put the ball on floor for two or three dribbles and score. Randolph doesn't exert himself defensively because he wants to stay in the game [by avoiding foul trouble], but he can block shots on the ball and he's active and can get deflections when they pass the ball in. He has quick feet and hands, but it's a matter of how engaged he wants to be that night and whether he wants to stay on the court a long time.

I've seen Marc Gasol have some really good games. He does his work early and gets great position. He can score with either hand and he has good ball skills. Compared with his brother [Pau Gasol], he's more content to deal out punishment and accept punishment while playing in the post. He's content to be a back-to-the-basket player, whereas Pau would rather be facing the basket. Marc runs hard to the rim and it's hard to push him off the block. He doesn't have much lift, but he will try to dunk. He's a good passer and he keeps balls alive at the rim. He's also a good positional rebounder, though he's not athletic enough to get out of his area. He'll give up hard fouls if he gets beat, and he can get to the free-throw line.

Their decision to draft Hasheem Thabeet with the No. 2 pick will eventually haunt them. I wonder if he could be his generation's LaRue Martin. His biggest problems are on offense, but I don't think he has the anticipation that he needs defensively either. He doesn't have a great feel for the game. He blocked shots by being in spots and being tall the last couple of years at UConn, but I don't see him being able to do the same things in the NBA. He gets compared a lot with Dikembe Mutombo, but Dikembe had timing and he had a feel for where the shots were going to be and he would go block those shots. Thabeet looks more like Manute Bol -- you bring the shot to him and he'll block it, but he won't go somewhere to block it. The only way a guy like him is going learn is by playing a lot, and I don't know if he should get that opportunity. It's going to be hard to sit Gasol, unless the owner makes them do it. But I don't see why they'd want to set back Gasol, a local guy who went to high school in Memphis.

All I can tell you right now about Thabeet's offense is that he can tip the ball in when somebody misses it. I'm not trying to be hard on him, but he's not a good free-throw shooter, and I don't know what his consistent go-to move is. The first one they'll want to teach him will be a drop step then jump hook, and I haven't seen him do those things well enough to make me scared that he's going to be able to score against any decent frontcourt defender.

I was surprised by O.J. Mayo last year. I didn't think initially that he was a really selfish player, but there were times as the year went on that I felt like he needed to get his points. He has an Iverson mentality -- I'll give you passes, but if you don't score once or twice when I pass the ball to you, I'm going to keep it because I know I can score. He's a very good athlete. He's a volume shooter and a natural scorer who gets out in transition and will finish plays. He's like Rudy Gay in that he likes to leak out a lot on the break. He creates off the dribble, and he's good in the pick-and-roll because he has a long first step and explosion. He can make the floater in the lane, he has three-point range, he can pull up early in transition. He could be a great denial defender, but he likes to play the passing lanes for steals. There's talk of him being a point guard, but he's not. He's one of the guys I think may be influenced by Iverson. I can see him looking up to Iverson.

I don't think Mayo and Gay are that far apart in terms of talent. If you had a championship team, you'd probably rather have Gay because he has more inclination to be a good teammate, to just play and be your third-best guy. The only thing I don't really like about him is the inconsistency in his effort. He's a great athlete with the ability to be a good defender when he wants to be. He needed more time in college, and now he really needs to be the third-best guy on a good team where somebody's going to stay on him and help him learn. In his favor is that he's always looking to attack, and he can finish above the rim. He's good one-on-one on the elbow or off the block, he can shoot the fadeaway, and he'll follow his own shots. Defensively, he goes over the top and avoids screens a lot and he will buy a lot of shot fakes, but he can block shots on or off the ball. He can be an All-Star if he gets on a good, established team. Send Gay to the Rockets for Tracy McGrady and -- even though he's not as good as Tracy -- they'd win just as many games. What he needs is to get out of this mode of being the highest scorer on a bad team, and go to a good team so he can figure it all out.

I wasn't sold on Mike Conley his rookie year [in 2007-08], but he really worked at improving his three-point shot, and he's so fast with the ball. He looks like he tries to be a leader when he's on the court. He was one of those guys who saw his own weakness, he heard people say he couldn't shoot, and then he busted his butt and figured out how to improve. A guy like him with his speed and quickness, if he can make people have to go over the top on screens, he creates driving lanes so that he can split the pick-and-roll and take advantage of what he does best -- which is getting to the basket. He could improve his assists [4.3 in 30.6 minutes] because he has guys around him who can score, but it seems like Gay and Mayo want to put it on the floor and create a shot for themselves even if they're open. I bet Conley could have seven or eight assists a night if they would shoot when they're open instead of trying to be creators.

They have a bunch of young guys on their bench too. Darrell Arthur is wiry strong and he runs the floor great, but he doesn't always finish even though he has good moves in the post. He should get more minutes now that Hakim Warrick is gone. Marcus Williams has shown he can score off the middle pick-and-roll, but there's only so many of those you can run. He's not a consistent shooter, he's not extremely fast and he's not a committed defender. DeMarre Carroll is an active, underrated player, and [fellow rookie] Sam Young has some talent.

This is a very, very young team with some good players, but I really do think Iverson is going to hurt them. They would win more games this year if they hadn't signed him.


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