Introducing the Golden State Warriors of 2007-2008. If first-time head coach Marc Iavaroni's brief stint leading this team in Summer League is any indication, the Grizzlies are going to be looking to make the Phoenix Suns look like the Indiana Pacers with their speed of play. With their combination of quickness and athleticism they could be poised to be one of the very few team who can preach a commitment to running and then actually execute it come game time.
It all starts with this team's enviable coupling of young point guards; Kyle Lowry and Mike Conley. Unlike the Suns, the Grizzlies have both a starter and a backup that can run this type of up-tempo system effectively as both are passing point guards who can speed past 90% of players in the league and still make the right pass at the other end of the break. While both are very short on NBA experience, there is a tendency for young point guards to learn quicker when they are given the reigns to a team early, and that tends to be even more true when they are allowed the freedom to explore their own game without the risk of an early yank from coach. With so little expected of the Grizzlies this season, it stands to reason both of these guards will have every opportunity to find their way on the job rather than from the bench watching an aging Damon Stoudamire run the show.
Another boon for this team was the rapid development of Rudy Gay last season when the team opted to open up the offense and let him explore. He may have only averaged 10.8 points per game on the year, but as of February 1st he averaged 14.5 points per game and only failed to reach double-figures four times in 30 games. He demonstrated an ability to score in multiple ways and while he still has a ways to go with his consistency his ability to stuff stats could earn him a spot with several of the young, versatile small forwards that are taking over the league.
The key, though, to why this team might have more going for it than the Portland's or Seattle's of the world is Pau Gasol. This team has a legit All-Star down in the post and while he may not be the kind of player who single-handedly elevates any one franchise out of the doldrums, he significantly boosts their chances to take some people by surprise this season. An offense that is more wide-open benefits the Euro-trained Gasol as much as it benefits Gay and Hakim Warrick. While he may not always be the first player down the court throwing down lob-passes, he will be a great facilitator as well as a serious low-post threat when this team is forced to play in the half-court. He affords this team options that most up-and-coming squads are years away from developing.
So then what is a realistic expectation for this team this year? It's very hard to say. In many ways they are as much this year's Toronto Raptors as they are this year's Warriors. While their style will probably more closely resemble that of Nellie-Ball, the point guard depth, the mix of youth and veterans, the All-Star big man and the Euro-flavored roster (that also includes newcomers Juan Carlos Navarro and Darko Milicic as well) bring to mind last year's surprise Atlantic Division champions. Going in to the season no one had much of an idea as to what to expect from that club, but their hard-nosed coach wasn't interested in letting his young and inexperienced team (in NBA terms) off the hook. Iavaroni has a reputation for being equally demanding of his troops and only playing out the season will tell if he can coax the same kind of results from his roster.
So, put another way, there is no reason to expect anything of this team based on last year or the moves made going into this year. They have not added any All-Stars nor did they nab the 'next best thing' in the draft. Instead they built carefully but specifically out of the limelight and that is where they would like to remain, poised to sneak up on any team that opts to look past them on the schedule. It might not amount to more wins, but it will certainly amount to a more exciting future that was hinted at twelve months ago.