Sports » Sports Feature

The Expectations Game

Two Grizzlies are putting up All-Star averages, but only one will keep it up.



As of this writing, the Grizzlies' season is only three games old. Three games isn't much of a sample, but that hasn't stopped fans from getting excited about the big-time production of Pau Gasol and Eddie Jones. Are these fast starts legit? Here's an early read:

Pau's start -- count on it: There's no arguing that Gasol's fast start has been All-Star-caliber basketball and no reason to believe that he can't keep it up. But, because Gasol's playing time has shot up from a meager 32 minutes per game over the past two seasons to over 40 minutes per game last week, his dramatically improved per-game averages might be a little misleading.

Despite all wish-fulfilling praise about Gasol's more physical play, he hasn't rebounded the ball any better than the player fans complained about a year ago. Gasol's rebounding is actually down on a per-minute basis and still below average for an elite frontcourt player, though that's been mitigated in part by an increase in blocks.

Offensively, Gasol's improvement is a little inflated by the increase in minutes but still very real: Gasol's .585 shooting percentage through three games is extraordinary (and also sure to tail off), but perhaps more impressive is that he's gotten more field-goal attempts and more assists per minute while committing fewer turnovers, the cumulative effect of which has made Gasol a deadly all-around offensive force.

What might be most interesting about Gasol's stellar start is that he's done it by playing more of a finesse game, not less. Despite the lumberjack beard, Gasol's game has actually been less burly: He's taking more shots from the perimeter (and hitting a much higher percentage of them), getting out on the break again (as witnessed by his athletic up-and-under finish past Lebron James Saturday night), and attacking the basket from further out, where his quickness overwhelms most centers and power forwards around the league. Look for Gasol's all-around production to hold up, earning him a spot among the game's elite and the Grizzlies their first-ever participant in the All-Star game in February.

Eddie Jones' start -- be skeptical: If Gasol's big start is a portent, fans should probably be a little more skeptical of Jones. The 34-year-old guard's 19.7 scoring average through three games is higher than any season of his career, save one career year six seasons ago. Jones' production is based largely on torrid three-point shooting in the team's two wins. Inside the arc, he's shot a disappointing 38 percent. Jones' average of 7.3 three-point attempts per game and 50 percent shooting from three-point range would shatter all his career precedents, so there's no reason to expect him to keep it up.

This doesn't mean that Jones won't be a prolific three-point shooter this season or a crucial part of the team. Once Jones' outside shooting settles into a more normal groove and Mike Miller settles into his new bench role, look for the minutes and point production of those two players to even out. Jones should be good for 12-15 points a night, which, if the rest of the roster holds up, will be more than enough.

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