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No. 7 VANCOUVER GRIZZLIES
Tim Kurkjian
November 10, 1997
Normally it's one of the most hazardous moves an NBA club can make: telling a rookie point guard, You're in charge. It has happened only a handful of times in the last 25 years, and rarely has it worked out well. But for the Grizzlies, who are going to give the ball to a rookie named Antonio Daniels, it's actually a low-risk decision. On opening night Daniels already had some advantages over last year's point guard, Greg Anthony, who shot 39.3% from the floor, looked to score before he looked to pass and was too small to cover big guards. Daniels is 6'4" and 205 pounds, has an 82-inch wingspan and thinks pass first, shoot second. "The shoot-first point guard is big now," says Daniels. "That's not me. I'm not here to score 20 to 30 a game, I'm here to get 15 to 20 assists a game."
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November 10, 1997

No. 7 Vancouver Grizzlies

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BY THE NUMBERS

1996-97 TEAM STATISTICS
Record: 14-68 (seventh in Midwest)

SEASON AVERAGES

Points per game (rank)

FG pct. (rank)

Rebounds per game (rank)

Turnovers per game (rank)

Grizzlies

89.2 (28)

.437 (26)

38.8 (27)

15.9 (16)

Opponents

99.4 (21)

.472 (26)

44.3 (27)

15.3 (22)

Normally it's one of the most hazardous moves an NBA club can make: telling a rookie point guard, You're in charge. It has happened only a handful of times in the last 25 years, and rarely has it worked out well. But for the Grizzlies, who are going to give the ball to a rookie named Antonio Daniels, it's actually a low-risk decision. On opening night Daniels already had some advantages over last year's point guard, Greg Anthony, who shot 39.3% from the floor, looked to score before he looked to pass and was too small to cover big guards. Daniels is 6'4" and 205 pounds, has an 82-inch wingspan and thinks pass first, shoot second. "The shoot-first point guard is big now," says Daniels. "That's not me. I'm not here to score 20 to 30 a game, I'm here to get 15 to 20 assists a game."

Last season Vancouver was second to last in the NBA in scoring (89.2 points a game) and attempted the fewest free throws, 305 below the league average. These pitiful numbers were largely a result of having no one who could get into the lane and create scoring opportunities. That's what Daniels does best. "My job is to push the ball up the floor, play D and get open shots for other guys," says Daniels. "I'll sacrifice my points for the team."

Unfortunately the Grizzlies don't have an abundance of weapons for Daniels to load. They do have Shareef Abdur-Rahim, a 6'10" small forward who is coming off a terrific rookie season (18.7 points per game). Someday it may be agreed upon that he, not Allen Iverson, should have been the No. 1 pick in the 1996 draft, because Abdur-Rahim has a chance to develop into another Scottie Pippen. Seven-foot center Bryant Reeves can score (16.2 points a game last season), but he's not a prime option offensively.

Daniels will be hampered by Vancouver's lack of a perimeter game. Shooting guard Anthony Peeler converted 39.8% from the floor last year, making the Grizzlies the first team since the 1964-65 San Francisco Warriors to have its two primary guards shoot less than 40%. So Daniels might have to score and shoot more than he anticipates, which he will do if new coach Brian Hill asks. Daniels averaged 24.0 points and shot 55.0% his senior year at Bowling Green.

Point guard and center are the most difficult positions in the NBA to learn on the job, and a mentor is invaluable. Daniels doesn't have a mentor—his backup, Lee Mayberry, has played the most games among active players without appearing in a playoff game (408)—so there could be plenty of long nights in Vancouver.

But Daniels has a knack for surprising people. Until his senior year he was unknown, but his fabulous play in the NIT got him noticed, and then he sparkled in predraft camps. "I think I moved up [the draft list to No. 4] because people realized I was a pure point guard," Daniels says. "I'm a sleeper. I've been a sleeper my whole life. I didn't get recruited by big colleges. I know what I'm up against in the NBA. Other point guards are built lower to the ground, they're all a lot faster. But I think I can jump over them."

It will help Daniels that the expectations remain low for the Grizzlies, who last year finished 50 games out in the Midwest Division. They won a total of 29 games in their first two years in the NBA, and if they fail to win 17 this year, they'll break the league record, set by the Mavericks of 1991-92, '92-93 and '93-94, for fewest wins in a three-year period. Perhaps the best-case scenario is that Vancouver will win 25 this year and finish ahead of Denver and Dallas. Things are looking up a bit for the Grizzlies, but Vancouver fans will have to continue to show patience. Especially with Daniels.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

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