6 Players Who Must Step Up in Memphis Grizzlies' Remaining Games

Tom Firme@TFirmeAnalyst IIFebruary 24, 2014

6 Players Who Must Step Up in Memphis Grizzlies' Remaining Games

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    Tony Allen and Marc Gasol returned from injuries to assume their respective duties for the Memphis Grizzlies. Allen has taken much less time than Gasol to reassert his primacy in those tasks.

    Granted, Allen's work isn't as broad as what Gasol does for the Grizzlies.

    Still, as the Grizzlies fight down the stretch for a playoff berth, they'll need both team leaders to step up in order to land a fourth consecutive postseason appearance. Allen's perimeter defense shuts down opposing shooters. When Gasol combines his passing, rangy shooting and defense, he's not only an imposing force but also eases the load of others.

    Memphis needs a few others to raise their levels of play. Mike Miller should steady his three-point shooting. Tayshaun Prince must put forth decent performances more consistently to merit his starting spot.

    Follow along for breakdowns on the contributions that several Grizz players must make as the remaining slate plays out.


    Statistics are current through Feb. 23 games. Unless otherwise noted, advance metrics come from basketball-reference.com.

Marc Gasol

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    Marc Gasol isn't expected to be at full health the rest of the season. As The Commercial Appeal's Ron Tillery tweeted, head coach Dave Joerger believes Gasol will need "the whole summer off to get back to 100 percent."

    Still, if the Grizz are to be a competitive playoff team, they'll need him to play at a higher level. He's producing 97 points per 100 possessions while shooting 44 percent from the field and 75 percent from the line. His usage rate is 20.3 percent, 2.8 percent below his pre-injury rate.

    The Spaniard isn't passing as actively as he did before, averaging three assists per game, one fewer than last year.

    To his credit he's locking down like a reigning Defensive Player of the Year winner should. He's allowed 98 points per 100 possessions.

    One must acknowledge that Gasol's knee is affecting him. The Memphis Flyer's Kevin Lipe noted, "He has stretches of play where he looks fine, making spin moves, playing great defense, and then he has other stretches where he looks tentative, scared to push off his braced leg."

    The Grizz's offense has felt the effect of his struggles. According to NBA.com, Memphis has scored 1.1 fewer points per 100 possessions since Gasol stepped back to the court.

    Even though the 7-footer won't be at full strength until the offseason, he'll need to cope and find a comfort level that allows him to convert closer to half his shots. Having him play more effectively would be key to creating a balance between the team's offense and defense.

Tony Allen

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    The Grizzlies survived without Tony Allen's hyperactive defense but couldn't be expected to do so for the rest of the season. Courtney Lee is showing a reasonable defensive performance since landing with the team, but it's not up to the level of Allen's.

    In 2013-14, he's allowing 106 points per 100 possessions and hasn't allowed fewer than 104 in any season.

    Allen, who allowed 102 points per 100 possessions and had a four percent steals rate before suffering a wrist injury, is needed in at least a supplementary role to stop opposing scorers.

    Since Allen was a terrific defender as a reserve for the Boston Celtics, allowing 102 points per 100 possessions, you wouldn't expect him to lose his way coming off the bench. And that has been the case since he returned, as he allowed 90 points per 100 possessions in two games. Against the Los Angeles Clippers, he had six rebounds, a block and two steals.

    As long as Allen maintains his energy coming off the bench, he'll keep the "grit 'n' grind" defense going by containing opposing wing scorers.

Mike Miller

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    After the Grizzlies acquired Courtney Lee, Mike Miller assumed the role that befitted him when they signed the veteran sharpshooter last summer. Miller is averaging 18.8 minutes per game in this calendar year, 4.1 less than the outsized load he carried beforehand.

    One would expect that Miller would do well with fewer minutes, considering that he averaged between 15 and 20 minutes for the Miami Heat the previous two seasons. 

    But he's mostly struggled in a lower spot on the depth chart. The 34-year-old shot 31.9 percent from three-point range from Jan. 2 to Feb. 12.

    Miller received a bounce both in minutes and production in the past three games, in which he logged between 20 and 24 minutes. He shot 10-of-17 from long range during that stretch, including 5-of-7 against the New York Knicks on Wednesday.

    Miller makes his primary impact behind the three-point line. He has taken 54.5 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and is 10th in the league in three-point field-goal percentage at 42.6 percent.

    Without that accuracy, Dave Joerger can't make much use of Millers' minutes. Miller struggles on defense, allowing 109 points per 100 possessions. And he isn't much of a facilitator, with an 11.3 percent assist rate.

Tayshaun Prince

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    Tayshaun Prince doesn't fill stat sheets, but he plays enough minutes for the Grizzlies to desire more from him.

    Prince is experiencing the worst year of his career. He has career lows in most statistical categories, including a 39.5 percent field-goal clip and 94 points produced per 100 possessions.

    Grantland's Zach Lowe lamented via Twitter, "Watching Tayshaun Prince is just getting sad at this point."

    Defensively, he has improved. He's allowed 105 points per 100 possessions in the calendar year.

    All the Grizz need from the 13-year pro is a replacement-level output. If he can shoot close to the 42.9 shooting percentage he recorded in the second half of 2012-13 while continuing his biting defense, he would justify his place in the lineup.

    One can accept that a highly paid veteran may not cede his starting role, but getting reasonable competition from him isn't demanding too much.

Kosta Koufos

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    Marc Gasol may have been back in action for 20 games, but Kosta Koufos should always be prepared. Gasol's health has been anything but sound since he returned. He aggravated his knee injury on Feb. 12 and was hurt on Friday, as the Memphis Flyer's Kevin Lipe tweeted.

    Hence, Koufos must be ready to produce in any game. His rebounding and defense are on par with expectations. He leads the Grizz with 11.2 rebounds per 36 minutes and allows 101 points per 100 possessions.

    But his shooting is uncharacteristic for someone bound to the inside. He's shooting 48.4 percent from the field, 9.7 percent below last year's clip. He found his stroke in January, hitting 56.3 percent for the month only to fall to 50 percent this month.

    Part of the problem is the lack of space inside while playing with Ed Davis, with whom he shares the floor for 6.4 minutes per game. According to NBA.com, Koufos shoots 45.2 percent from the field with Davis on the court.

    Nevertheless, Koufos must find a way to shoot effectively with little space in order to balance his production and help ensure that the Grizzlies don't lose much offensive efficiency without Gasol on the floor.

Courtney Lee

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    Courtney Lee hit Beale Street in a fury. He shot 56.4 percent from the field from his Jan. 7 debut to the end of the month. Since then, he fell to an inevitable slump, shooting 40.9 percent from the field.

    After making 5-of-12 from long range in his first four games, he's struggled for more than five weeks, connecting on 27.4 percent since Jan. 15.

    Lee may experience a dry spell, but the Grizzlies don't want this to last long. His perimeter shooting ensures that Memphis' offense doesn't boil down to Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley.

    Lee may not sustain the rate at which he shot in his first few weeks with the team, but converting at least 46 percent, his benchmark for the past two seasons, is mandatory.

    At such a rate, he'll remain a credible threat and will help open up the Grizzlies offense.

    Lee has aided a few wins with his marksmanship. He sealed a win against the Orlando Magic on Feb. 12 with four free throws in the final minute. He led the team with 24 points in a Jan. 14 win against the Oklahoma City Thunder, including two game-ending free throws.

    That shooting will help lift a team that has largely relied on defense the past few years.