Quincy Pondexter is turning heads. Coming off a team-leading performance in the Western Conference Finals, followed by a summer spent training (and fuming about his NBA 2K snub), the fourth-year swingman is not done developing his game. Now there’s a contingency of fans lobbying for his name in the starting lineup, arguing that Prince and Allen’s combined lack of firepower is holding the squad out of Finals contention. If Joerger’s pre-summer promise is to be believed, Tay will stay a starter and Quincy and Mike Miller will split minutes off the bench. I seriously doubt Tayshaun will start all 82 games even if healthy, and I agree with Chris Herrington that Joerger’s small forward rotation will be largely situational. Still, there’s an outside chance that Quincy is playing himself into the starting role, with Prince sidelined by a stomach bug so far this preseason.
Which brings me back to my first sentence. Quincy is literally turning heads — those used to seeing him camped on the right baseline for catch-and-shoot threes are getting whiplash watching him in the preseason. Q-Pon showed flashes of rim-seeking aggression last year, but more often than not, he only drove inside in search of a bailout pass, and his substandard dribbling in traffic led to turnovers when one did not present itself.
This year (admittedly, all of four preseason games) is different. Yes, he still knocks down open threes, but he’s attacking the rim with new confidence. It comes off up-fakes from outside — which you have to honor on defense — but also in transition.
Watch him blow by Caron Butler at :33 and Khris Middleton at 2:08. These are quick-decision moves, triggered by flat-footed defending. And it’s not like the Bucks are hurting for interior size, either. Skip to the 4:00 mark for another treat: Q-Pon blows by his own man, throws off another with a two-handed ball fake, and then simply overpowers the rim protector (John Hensen) for the jam. Now watch it again: he cradled the ball 15 feet away from the rim. He knew exactly what he was going to do.
It’s worth remembering that Quincy was not a three point specialist when he came into the league, or even when he first moved to Memphis. He went from 50 three-point attempts his rookie year to 152 last season, jumping from a 27.8% 3-point attempt rate to a 50.8%, and increasing his shooting percentage as well. He shines in the advanced stats columns too: a 52.8% true shooting percentage (up from 45.6%), a PER of 11.0 (up from 8.5), and a 25.1% free throw attempt rate (up from 18.9%). In plain english, Quincy developed into a top-tier 3-point specialist while IN the league. His win share skyrocketed from .9 to 3.2 as a result, and the rest of his game didn’t suffer either. I don’t doubt that Quincy could have added interior shot creation to his arsenal in a single summer.
So what does it mean for Joerger? Quincy’s game is quick and opportunistic, just the kind of thing Joerger wants. Prince is comparatively slow, both getting up the floor and in offensive sets (post-ups especially). It makes more sense to me to divide your offensive (Miller, Bayless, Pondexter) and defensive (Prince, Allen) specialists into different units, pairing Pondexter with Allen and Prince with Miller (4) and Bayless (2, 1). And if Quincy really has rounded out his game with — come to think of it — O.J. Mayo-esque driving ability, you can’t say he’s too “1-dimentional” to play a starting role. Prince as the sixth man has interesting applications, too; he could feasibly provide support against high-powered bench units like the Clippers and the Heat, helping sustain the Grizzlies while our own offensive units rest.
Coach Joerger will have to answer the question I posed in the title, but don’t expect it to be cut-and-dry. Expect shifting, creative rotations and situational starting lineups — and don’t rule out a blockbuster trade, either. It’s going to be an interesting season.