30 preseason predictions: Memphis Grizzlies

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Guest columnist Phil Naessens from the Phil Naessens Show shares his thoughts regarding the 2013-2014 Memphis Grizzlies, including the challenges ahead of new head coach Dave Joerger and how far he thinks the team will go.

The Memphis Grizzlies have a new head coach, a faster pace and basically the same core intact. Can they reach another Western Conference Finals and maybe the NBA Finals?

Last season the Memphis Grizzlies reached the Western Conference Final only to lose to the San Antonio Spurs. It became obvious that without a legitimate three point threat the Grizzlies were just a really good team so this past off-season they went out and signed career 40% three-point marksman Mike Miller in hopes that he'd be able to help put them over the top.

Memphis Grizzlies

Prediction: Zack Randolph and Tayshaun Prince will be traded. The Grizzlies will finish as the #2 seed in the West and represent the Western Conference in their first NBA Finals.

Last season, critics chastised the Grizzlies for their slow pace and inability to consistently knock down the trey. Exit Lionel Hollins and enter new head coach Dave Joerger who, in the preseason at least, had his team getting into their offense much more quickly than last season. The transition to the new system is appearing pretty smooth so far, with Mike Conley orchestrating this new faster tempo. Time will tell, however, if it'll actually make a difference in the win column.

The Grizzlies return their core that helped them eliminate the Clippers in the first round of last year's playoffs. 2013 Defensive Player of the Year Marc Gasol is back and healthy; Zach Randolph will bring his usual high energy, tenacious defense, and excellent rebounding ability; and Mike Conley will continue to be one of the elite floor generals in the NBA, through his consistent and unselfish play.

The Grizzlies' half-court defense is as tough as always. Good luck scoring in the paint with rim protectors like Gasol, Randolph and newcomer Kosta Koufos.

One area that Memphis will look to address is their three-point shooting, which will be crucial in opening up the paint for those three players.

Jerryd Bayless and newly acquired Mike Miller have both shot over 40% from behind the arc this preseason, and if the Grizzlies are to make my prediction come true then both men must be healthy come April. Miller has been riddled with injuries the past couple of seasons but one thing is clear: this guy can hit the trey with one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel and kill the opposition. I would also like to see more three-point scoring from SF Quincy Pondexter. He shot horribly from three-point range in the preseason, but if he can equal last season's 39% think he'll be okay.

Jerryd Bayless and Nick Calathes have been battling it out this preseason to be Conley's backup PG. I like both of these fellas, and neither one will wind up hurting the Grizzlies in spot minutes.

The Grizzlies can also count on quality minutes from guys like Koufos and Ed Davis. Koufos was the starting center for Denver last season and will ably spell either Gasol or Randolph. Davis has all the talent in the world, but sometimes doesn't play up to his potential. With mentors like Gasol, Randolph and Koufos.

Davis and Kuofos could eventually make Randolph, who's already shown some decline in his game, expendable. The problem might be finding a team to be a trade partner, since Randolph has two years and a lot of dough left in his contract (including a player option on the second year).

With the championship window perhaps closing on this Memphis team, Dave Joerger will be immediately placed on the hot seat. Thus far he's done what he said he'd do which is work on picking up the pace and scoring transition baskets. If this continues, Grizzlies fans will forget all about Lionel Hollins. If not he may not last the season.

This is how I see it for the Grizzlies this season -- as always I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below.

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