Roster Forecast: Small Forward



With an important CBA negotiation meeting on-tap today that could point the way toward a potential deal, I continue my position-by-position look at the Grizzlies' current roster with a look at the small forward position.

Rudy Gay
  • Rudy Gay

Rudy Gay
Regular Season: 39.9 mpg, 19.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.69 spg, 1.07 bpg, 2.5 tpg, 17.9 PER, 47fg%, 81ft%, 40 3p% (2.7 att)
Age: 25
Contract Status: $15 million on second-year of five-year contract.

When Rudy Gay went down with a shoulder injury on February 15th, he was enjoying the best season of his five-year career. Was it The Leap? No. But Gay's improved play was composed of small but meaningful across-the-board improvements. He notched career-best shooting percentages from the floor (mostly by finishing better at the rim), the free-throw line, and the three-point line. His blocks and steals were up, which was only the start of his significant in-season defensive improvement. His assist rate was up sharply. And at the precise moment that Evan Turner ripped Gay's left shoulder from its socket, Gay was displaying the kind of balanced, focused game that will maximize his impact on this team — scoring down slightly, in partial deference to the team's post game, but rebounds and assists and defensive focus at a career apex.

In Gay's final 15 games before his injury:

17.5 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.0 bpg, 1.5 spg
Team record: 11-4

It was this middle stretch of the season — after Tony Allen entered the rotation and before Gay was injured — when the Grizzlies played their best basketball, something that either went unnoticed or forgotten when the team held onto a playoff spot and made a post-season run without Gay. Extend back to early December, when Allen got in the rotation for good, and the Grizzlies were on a 23-12 run when Gay went down, including 10-5 against eventual playoff teams. That .657 winning percentage would have been the 8th best in the league over the full season.

So the notion that the Grizzlies were better without Gay was nonsense, something that should have been made clear in the back half of the series against the Thunder, when the Grizzlies were shooting under 40% every game and couldn't get any consistent perimeter offense, when the Thunder defense was begging Sam Young and Tony Allen to shoot the ball. And the idea that it will be difficult to integrated Gay back into an offense with Zach Randolph as the top option is also odd — Randolph was the leading scorer and an all-star-level performer alongside Gay for a year and a half before Gay's injury.

If there's a question about Gay, it's strictly physical. He'll be coming off a long layoff and rehab from the first serious injury of his career, and no one can say for sure how well he'll bounce back from that. But the early returns, from his recent play in Las Vegas, are very encouraging (Gay highlights start at the 1:23 mark):

Shane Battier
  • Shane Battier

Shane Battier
Regular Season: 29 mpg, 7.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.3 apg, .84 spg, .99 bpg, 1.0 tpg, 12.4 PER, 45fg%, 69ft%, 38 3p% (3.3 att)
Playoffs: 26.1 mpg, 5.5 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 1.2 apg, .54 spg, .46 bpg, .5 tpg, 9.9 PER, 44fg%, 67ft%, 28 3p% (2.2 att)
Age: 33
Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent.

Battier's personally ill-timed return — with a baby on the way back in Houston — was a great story locally but he really struggled to find his way with the team during the regular season. Battier's offensive game has become heavily reliant on three-point shooting and he came to a team that de-emphasized that, so he was a little lost. But he had his moments offensively (a late tip-in in the regular season against Dallas, a fairy tale three-pointer in Game 1 against the Spurs), was a plus defensively, and was a joy to have around.

Pushing 34, Battier is entering the final stretch of his career. He's probably better equipped to be a 20-minute-a-night rotation player than a 30+ minute starter at this point, although you could see him being a starter on a veteran team with a big-time scoring two-guard. (Hello, Lakers.)

Sam Young
  • Sam Young
Sam Young
Regular Season: 20.2 mpg, 7.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 0.9 apg, .87 spg, .8 tpg, 12.6 PER, 47fg%, 77ft%, 34 3p% (.6 att)
Playoffs: 19.7 mpg, 7.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg, .2 apg, .46 spg, .6 tpg, 10.3 PER, 45fg%, 60ft%, 25 3p% (.9 att)
Age: 26
Contract Status: $950k in final year of rookie deal.

Young solidified himself as a legitimate rotation player in his second season, but probably had no business starting 46 games on a good team with more proven options on the wing. Young is a powerful finisher and physical defender, but his ball-handling and shooting range are subpar for an NBA swingman. Young surprised with a strong performance in Game 2 against the Spurs, but as the post-season wore on, his offensive limitations were increasingly exposed, with the team finally forced to put Mayo back in the starting lineup.

Rotation Outlook:

Assuming good health, Rudy Gay will be the starter here, playing 35 or more minutes a game. And for that reason — and with the need to devote financial resources to retaining Marc Gasol — Battier is probably a luxury item the Grizzlies can't afford. It would be great to have Battier back, and for the right price, the Grizzlies would probably do it. But Battier will be able to get more money and a bigger role elsewhere if he wants it.

Even if Battier doesn't come back, there are plenty of options behind Rudy Gay — Young, Tony Allen, Xavier Henry — even if none of them fit Hollins' acknowledged desire for a true small forward with three-point range, like Battier does.

Young is a useful player — versatile, affordable, viable. But his role will be dependent on questions about all the other players in the wing mix: Will Gay be healthy? Will Battier be back? Will Mayo be kept? Will Allen maintain last year's effectiveness? Will Henry get back on track? Will Selby be a surprise? If the team gets affirmative answers on half or more of those questions, Young could — should — be squeezed. Young is likely to find himself in the odd place of being an expendable player who is nevertheless more valuable on the roster than as trade piece.

The Beyond the Arc Top 40 — Small Forward:

The top three players on this list are clear-cut. And, for now, Paul Pierce is set at #4. I'm putting Gay at the top of a third-tier that comprises four players — Gay, Iguodala, Granger, and Wallace. Gay is the youngest of that group and, I would argue, the most well-rounded. He's more skilled offensively than Iguodala and Wallace, better defensively than Granger, and has more upside going forward than any of them. If Gay isn't fully healthy or doesn’t pick up where he left off, he could slide down that list a bit, but he also has a chance this season of dislodging the gently declining Pierce from the #4 slot. Battier's tough to place in that 17-25 range. His reliability, defensive versatility, and ability to fit in and help in pretty much any situation is why I put him toward the top of that group, but he's much more likely to slide from that spot than rise this season.

1. Lebron James
2. Kevin Durant
3. Carmelo Anthony
4. Paul Pierce
5. Rudy Gay
6. Andre Iguodala
7. Danny Granger
8. Gerald Wallace
9. Luol Deng
10. Danillo Galinari
11. Thaddeus Young
12. Tayshaun Prince
13. Andrei Kirilenko
14. Shawn Marion
15. Nicholas Batum
16. Wilson Chandler
17. Caron Butler
18. Hedo Turkoglu
19. Shane Battier
20. Grant Hill
21. Michael Beasley
22. Trevor Ariza
23. Dorrell Wright
24. Marvin Williams
25. Richard Jefferson
26. Ron Artest
27. Corey Maggette
28. Jeff Green
29. Paul George
30. Omri Casspi
31. Jonas Jerebko
32. Wesley Johnson
33. Linas Kleiza
34. Martell Webster
35. Jared Dudley
36. Austin Daye
37. Chase Buddinger
38. Travis Outlaw
39. Corey Brewer
40. Peja Stojakovic


Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.

Add a comment