Roster Forecast: Center


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This post was meant for Friday, but I ended up getting a new computer that morning and most the day was spent transferring contents from one to the other. As this is posted, CBA talks are ongoing in New York and there seems to be at least some progress being made. Hopefully by the middle of next week we'll have a season-preserving resolution in place. For now, onto the team's roster status in the middle:

Marc Gasol
Regular Season: 31.9 mpg, 11.7 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 2.5 apg, .91 spg, 1.68 bpg, 1.8 tpg, 16.9 PER, 53fg%, 75ft%
Playoffs: 39.9 mpg, 15.0 ppg, 11.2 ppg, 2.2 apg, 1.1 spg, 2.2 bpg, 2.0 tpg, 18.9 PER, 51fg%, 70ft%
Age: 26
Contract Status: Restricted free agent with a qualifying offer of $4.5 million.

If the Grizzlies were a better team in the postseason — and I'm not sure they actually were — then the biggest reason for that was Marc Gasol. For starters, Gasol was better in the playoffs. After coming into camp seemingly a little heavier and then opening his third season playing through an ankle sprain, Gasol generally underperformed compared to his breakout sophomore campaign, his rebounding falling off a little (rebound rate down from 15.1 to 13.2) and his shooting falling off a lot (58% to under 52%).

Gasol started to round back into shape late in the regular season. He shot 57% and 55% in March and April, and averaged 9 boards and 2 blocks in the final month. In the playoffs, he was terrific, notching double-doubles in seven of 13 games, along with a 24/9 in the Game 1 win in San Antonio. He arguably outplayed Tim Duncan head-to-head in the first-round series.

But it wasn't just how well he played, it was how much. Gasol went from averaging 31.9 minutes a game in the regular season to to 39.9 in the post-season. Gasol couldn't handle that in the regular season, and even over 13 playoff games he seemed to wear down a little. But Gasol is so big and impacts the game in so many ways — scoring, rebounding, defense, facilitation — that being able to have him on the floor that much had a huge impact.

Gasol is a better defender than you might think from glancing at him. He's not the quickest post player in the league, but he's big, strong, tough, smart, and knows the angles and tricks. He handles post players one-on-one pretty well and is a plus help defender. He also works very well with Zach Randolph and, in tandem, provides the Grizzlies with their identity.

Zach Randolph is the Grizzlies most productive player and best at taking over a game offensively. Rudy Gay is the team's most talented athlete and perhaps best last-possession shot creator. But there's a case to be made that Gasol is actually the team's best all-around basketball player. If the Grizzlies are serious about following up on last season's breakthrough, he must be retained.

Hamed Haddadi
  • Hamed Haddadi

Hamed Haddadi
Regular Season: 5.4 mpg, 2.4 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 0.2 apg, .42 bpg, .4 tpg, 19.8 PER, 52fg%, 65ft%
Age: 26
Contract Status: Restricted free agent with qualifying offer of $2 million.

Haddadi spent most of his first three NBA seasons watching from the Grizzlies bench, much of the time watching Hasheem Thabeet flounder around ahead of him as the team's backup center. Hadaddi never looks good on the floor. He's slow and mechanical with the ball and just slow without it. He has no shooting range — last year Haddadi didn't make a shot past nine feet and shot only 38% past three feet — and little scoring ability beyond finishes at the rim.

But: He's huge. He's very good on the boards. He blocks and alters shots. And he's a sneaky-good passer with a high hoops IQ and good court awareness. Haddadi's better off as a third-string center or fifth big than a true backup center, but he can play a little. Factor in that his good play always seems to delight and energize fans and teammates alike and Haddadi would be worth bringing back for the right price and right role.

Rotation Outlook:

Theoretically, this is the Grizzlies' most unsettled position, with only two incumbent centers from last year's roster, neither of whom are under contract for next season.

However: Marc Gasol is a restricted free agent and, as I've said on many occasions, whatever happens with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, there's no way it will prevent the Grizzlies from keeping Gasol. Some form of “Bird Rights” — which allow teams to exceed the salary cap to retain their own free agents — will still be in effect. So the Grizzlies will have the ability to resign Gasol and the right to match any other team's offer. The only thing that would prevent Gasol's return is the team refusing to take on the additional payroll to do it. Some have suggested that, given the large recent extensions for Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, and Zach Randolph, the Grizzlies won't be able to afford to bring Gasol back. Closer to the truth is that they can't afford not to. The Grizzlies can't capitalize on last season's success — on or off the court — without resigning Marc Gasol. He'll be back.

With Gasol set as the starting center at around 30-32 minutes a night, the remaining question is what the team does behind him. Since Darrell Arthur is too good to play only the 10-13 minutes a game available at power forward behind Zach Randolph and since small-ball is so prevalent in the NBA right now, Arthur will soak up some of those minutes. But the Grizzlies still need more true size, both to match-up with bigger frontlines when Gasol's not in the game and as insurance against any Gasol injury.

At one time, I thought it unlikely Haddadi would be back, but the Grizzlies extended the $2 million qualifying offer to him and, unless and until they pull it back, as with Hakim Warrick, the ball's in Haddadi's court. Haddadi has reportedly had some interest from a Chinese team, but he told me late in the season that he hoped to be in the NBA again this season. I can't see him getting a multi-year offer or even a single-season contract much better than the qualifying offer. So, if he's serious about wanting to stay in the NBA, I think there's a good chance Haddadi is back in Memphis on a one-year deal.

Even if Gasol and Haddadi are both retained — along with Randolph and Arthur — the Grizzlies will need to add at least one more big to the roster and I think that's going to be someone bigger than Leon Powe, someone who can reasonably play minutes at both power forward and center. Look for an affordable free agent in that 6'10”-7'0” range to be on the team's to-do list whenever free agency begins.

The Beyond the Arc Top 40 — Centers

The center rankings are similar to the power forward rankings in that there's a clear-cut #1 and then a highly debatable second tier that might go all the way to #10. I've got Gasol just above the middle of this group but acknowledge that he's as likely to slip as rise. The two players in this group with the highest ceilings are Bogut and Bynum, who I rated just behind Gasol. They would be #2 and #3 if full health were guaranteed, but both players have had lots of injury-related issues. But even acknowledging that Gasol could be passed by players I ranked lower, there's also a legitimate chance he could be the second best center in the NBA next season. (And, yes, it broke my heart to put Tim Duncan that low, but after watching Gasol outplay him head-to-head in the playoffs this spring, it's clear that Duncan's middling regular-season production is no longer just a case of rope-a-dope.)

1. Dwight Howard
2. Al Horford
3. Nene Hilario
4. Marc Gasol
5. Andrew Bogut
6. Andrew Bynum
7. Tyson Chandler
8. Tim Duncan
9. Joakim Noah
10. Brook Lopez
11. Al Jefferson
12. Anderson Varejao
13. Andrea Bargnani
14. Emeka Okafor
15. Marcin Gortat
16. Chris Kaman
17. Roy Hibbert
18. Greg Monroe
19. DeMarcus Cousins
20. Marcus Camby
21. Samuel Dalembert
22. JaVale McGee
23. DeAndre Jordan
24. Kendrick Perkins
25. Mehmet Okur
26. Chuck Hayes
27. Channing Frye
28. Omer Asik
29. Andris Biedrins
30. Chris Anderson
31. Greg Oden
32. Spencer Hawes
33. Brendan Haywood
34. Zaza Pachulia
35. Tiago Splitter
36. Jermaine O'Neal
37. Jeff Foster
38. Ronny Turiaf
39. Kwame Brown
40. Darko Milicic

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