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Why the Memphis Grizzlies could be the 1st seed in the West in 2013-2014

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Marc Gasol | Memphis Grizzlies

Marc Gasol | Memphis Grizzlies (Photo credit: Basketball Schedule)

The Memphis Grizzlies won 56 games year, with a point differential of a 54 win team – including a 23-8 run after the Rudy Gay trade, an over 60 win pace over a full season.

While that post all-star break is over a small sample size, advanced stats at the time supported that taking away Rudy Gay’s awful efficiency and simply redistributing his shots to both Tayshaun Prince/Ed Davis and the rest of the team, could improve them. And they indeed played better.

Last year the Grizzlies ranked second in DRTG (100.3) but only 17th in ORTG (104.9). For the Grizzlies to challenge 60 Ws and the top seed in the West, an offensive improvement to potentially top 10 in the league, would be needed.

Here’s one way to look at it. Using FGA + 0.44*FTA + TOV, the Grizzlies used roughly 8591 total “possessions” last year. Here’s those possessions distributed by player according to whether they were more efficient or less efficient than the Grizzlies’ 104.9 ORTG using Dean Oliver’s individual ORTG, including in parenthesis how big a percentage they took of the team’s possessions:

More efficient:

Zach Randolph (106 ORTG): 1306 poss (15.2%)

Mike Conley, Jr. (111 ORTG): 1253 poss  (14.6%)

Marc Gasol (115 ORTG): 1165 poss  (13.5%)

Quincy Pondexter (114 ORTG): 374 poss (4.4%)

Wayne Ellington (107 ORTG): 230 poss (2.7%)

Ed Davis (113 ORTG) 190 poss  (2.2%)

Jon Leuer (124 ORTG)  30 poss  (0.3%)

Keyon Dooling (117 ORTG): 29 poss (0.3%)

Chris Johnson (111 ORTG) 29 poss (0.3%)

Less efficient:

Rudy Gay (97 ORTG): 861 poss (10.0%)

Tony Allen (102 ORTG): 814 poss (9.5%)

Jerryd Bayless (104 ORTG): 795 poss (9.3%)

Darrell Arthur (99 ORTG): 422 poss (4.9%)

Tayshaun Prince (100 ORTG): 387 poss (4.5%)

Mareese Speights (101 ORTG): 311 poss (3.6%)

Austin Daye (104 ORTG): 134 poss (1.6%)

Tony Wroten (91 ORTG): 128 poss (1.5%)

Hamed Haddidi (85 ORTG): 26 poss (0.3%)

Josh Selby (70 ORTG): 34 poss (0.4%)

Dexter Pittman (48 ORTG): 8 poss (0.1%)

A fairly even split between efficient and inefficient players, makes it unsurprising that the Grizzlies finished an average 17th in ORTG last season.

The above numbers paint an encouraging picture for the Grizzlies offense however. Rudy Gay’s possessions were used so inefficiently that redistributing them to the rest of the team should help, especially if Pondexter and Mike Miller (271 poss, 117 ORTG last season in Miami) are taking more of his minutes than the inefficient Prince. But the big difference may be in the frontcourt. Instead of Arthur and Speights, the Grizzlies have both more Ed Davis who is an efficient player – and they snagged Kosta Koufos from Denver, who put up a stellar 122 ORTG on 607 possessions in Denver last season, making him one of the most efficient players in the league. Under normal circumstances I would point out Zach Randolph heading into his 13th season makes him a prime candidate to decline this year, however aside from Randolph both putting up mediocre statistics the last two seasons anyways, by trading for Davis the Grizzlies have positioned themselves to have a soft landing when Zbo goes downhill. Davis is the more efficient scorer, but Randolph takes a higher volume of shots and takes pressure off teammates. While in upcoming years finding a way to replace his volume is a problem, Zbo is still likely to be a high usage player this year, thus even if his minutes and possession slightly decline the impact may not be felt on teammates. Having both these Davis and Koufos the bench and losing Gay’s possessions, while potentially getting mor efficient wing production from Pondexter and Miller, could make a big difference to the Grizzlies’ offense.

The question in addition to that is, will their defense also stay at elite levels? Since the Grizzlies played better defensively after the Gay trade with Prince and Pondexter providing similar length and help defense acumen, it should seem their defensive results will continue. Koufos should also help their defense, as a better combination of size and intelligence than what they had backing up Gasol last year. Davis’ athleticism also gives him defensive upside.

I’d argue the Grizzlies are poised for an elite season. They were within a stone’s throw of the top seed in the West last year anyways, then filled weaknesses. On a role-level, a backup center and shooting on the wings were two holes and they did a good job filling both. On a statistical level, they should have less inefficient possession users and more efficient ones, if not super efficient, on both the perimeter and the frontcourt. The Grizzlies are a team with both stars and depth. One can make the case that still competent Tayshaun Prince and Mike Miller are the 9th and 10th most valuable players on the team after Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Kosta Koufos, Ed Davis, Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter. Sometimes a key to being great in the NBA or in other sports, is filling an entire team with players who are at least average and avoiding having any bad, squeaky wheels on the roster. The Grizzlies are a great example of a team where everyone in the rotation is at least average.

Right now I am leaning towards predicting Memphis for the 1st seed in the West, based on the scary aging of the Spurs and the Thunder losing Kevin Martin. This could be their year, at least in the regular season.

Written by jr.

August 6, 2013 at 9:04 pm

Kevin Love, Dirk Nowitzki, Spencer Hawes, Andrea Bargnani and “Vertical” vs “Horizontal” rebounding

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Kevin Love, the 5th pick

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Measuring an individual’s impact on team rebounding is a tricky, mystifying subject. In a way, rebounding is analogous to scoring in that it’s not as simple as measuring points per game and assigning impact from that alone. When a player takes a shot, he may be infringing on another player’s effectiveness or drawing enough defensive attention to improve it. Corey Maggette appears to get in the way of teammates by selfishly stopping the ball, Dirk Nowitzki appears to help teammates greatly by drawing defenders out of the paint. Even staticians favored stats like True Shooting %, measuring points per shot, can miss the whole picture.

Rebounding has even less statistics differentiating it. We have rebounds per game, Rebound %, plus/minus stats… and that’s about it. The rest we have to judge ourselves.

There are rebounders who have higher numbers on the boards who draw skepticism. Among those are Kevin Love, David Lee and Marcus Camby. The reason for this is that it looks like that instead of boxing out an opponent to get a rebound, they prefer to chase the ball to where it’s going to go. This is fine, but if they guess wrong, the man they’re not boxing out is open to get it. If they do get it, they may be taking a rebound a teammate was already going to get – thus despite being credited with the rebound, they are giving their team no additional value on the play. Thus the defensive rebound on this play is a misleading stat. On the other hand, if a player like Dirk Nowitzki shuts down his opposing PF’s bid to grab a rebound by boxing out and the ball is going towards him, but at the last moment a horizontally moving teammate grabs it, the player who grabbed it gets the rebounding credit, but it’s likely Dirk who deserved it.

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2011 Player of the Year – Final

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The Player of the Year Watch has gone on all season long. Here we have the Final ranking.

Player (last rank)

1. Dirk Nowitzki (1A)

This is an easy choice for me. When it comes to literally lifting a team, Dirk has been the personification of this all year long. With the way LeBron came on against Chicago, I thought he was going to make me toss that aside but it didn’t happen.

I’ll admit that I actually thought that Wade was the MVP of the Finals over Dirk, but over the course of the entire season, nobody contributed value like Dirk.

2. Dwight Howard (3)

My regular season MVP got knocked off his perch down to the 3rd spot after the Conference Finals. However he floats back up a spot after LeBron’s weak Finals play. I’m always hesitant to let someone who has already been eliminated rise in my rankings, particularly when they were eliminated in an upset in the first round, however I can’t find real fault in Howard’s playoff performance, and what happened in the Finals did sway my opinion on LeBron’s season.

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2011 POY Watch – End Conference Finals

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The Player of the Year Watch continues past the regular season factoring in all of the playoffs and coming up with the player that truly had the best overall season. After each round, I will update the rankings.

Player (last rank)

1A. Dirk Nowitzki (4)

It’s been a joy to watch Dirk this year. He would without question be my Offensive Player of the Year. He plays so damn smart, with such an unreal touch. The Mavs are in the finals, with not a ton of talent around Dirk. I know that fit matters, and the Mavs have fantastic fit, but Dirk deserves some credit for helping to build that fit to.

1B. LeBron James (3)

And then there’s LeBron. I talked once before about how much I hate ties in rankings…when I last ranked a tie. Again though it seems appropriate right now as an in flux ranking to have a tie on top.

What LeBron did to Chicago was unreal. Tier 1 level offense, with world class defense. He is the best player in the game, and at this point I’m expecting him to take the crown over Dirk when all is said and done. But as they say, that’s why they play the game.

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How to make the good times last, Memphis Grizzlies

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Left: Jim Calhoun, head basketball coach, Univ...

Fitting Rudy Gay in will be essential to the Grizzlies next season (Image via Wikipedia)

The Memphis Grizzlies’ memorable 2011 playoff run reminds me a lot of the LA Clippers in 2006. Like the Clippers, this is the Grizzlies first real playoff run after eons of terrible years. Both were built with strong frontcourts anchored by a 20 and 10 PF having his first real success in Zach Randolph and Elton Brand. Both ended with 7 game 2nd round losses.

The Clippers couldn’t keep it up and fell back to their usual ways the next year. The Grizzlies need to make the right moves to make sure they don’t follow suit.

So why did the Clippers fall back to earth? Sam Cassell’s decline played its part, as did Elton Brand and Chris Kaman both having lesser seasons – and Corey Maggette’s presence the whole year hurt the team’s ball movement. I’d also point the finger at Mike Dunleavy for not being a strong enough coach to keep the team’s defense and ball movement together for more than one year.

Here’s what the Grizzlies should do to get back to this spot next year:

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Written by jr.

May 16, 2011 at 8:08 pm

2011 POY Watch – End Conference Semis

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The Player of the Year Watch continues past the regular season factoring in all of the playoffs and coming up with the player that truly had the best overall season. After each round, I will update the rankings.

Player (last rank)

1. Dwight Howard (1)

Odd position to be in. Howard’s sitting at home while the next 5 guys are all on the last 4 teams playing for the championship and playing fantastic. As much as I don’t want to be swayed by who has the better supporting casts, at this point I think it’s unlikely that Howard will keep the top spot when all is said and done.

2. Derrick Rose (2)

Started off the playoffs slow with some nagging injuries. He’s looking quite solid now. It’s also interesting that there was so much stat community negativity toward the guy during the season, meanwhile he keeps showing more as the season goes along. Doesn’t mean they were wrong by any means, but if Rose truly does emerge as a guy challenging for the top spot in advanced statistical metrics in the near future, I can just hear the frustration among the statistically minded.

Bucher: “So you admit you were wrong now?”

Stat guy: “No, YOU were wrong, but now you’re right. It’s a complete coincidence.”,

Bucher: “Whatever you want to tell yourself, I could have told you he’d do this because I watch the games.”

Stat guy: “Gah! That statement doesn’t even mean anything!” <Head explodes>

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How they got here: The Memphis Grizzlies’ defensive culture change

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Memphis Grizzlies logo

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So, the Memphis Grizzlies are now a good basketball team. There’s a handful of reasons why. They have great frontcourt talent with Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and good perimeter players in Mike Conley, Jr., O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Tony Allen and Shane Battier. But their success is really built on elite defense and making the unselfish play offensively. The Grizzlies team culture is in the right place. They play the right way.

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The difference between Mike Conley, Jr. and Russell Westbrook

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Mies-ian: Less is more... more or less

The Memphis Grizzlies just toasted Oklahoma City in Game 1 of their first round series and I believe one of the big differences was the play of Mike Conley, Jr. compared to Russell Westbrook

Now I’m in no way saying Conley is as good a player as Westbrook. Westbrook is a perenniel all-star talent and a true impact player.

However in this case I believe less is more. Conley’s job for the Grizzlies slightly resembles Rajon Rondo‘s on the champion 2008 Celtics – Running the offense without being the offense. He’s done an admirable job getting the ball to Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol and found the wing players OJ Mayo, Shane Battier and Tony Allen when open. On this team they don’t need Conley to do more than put up 12-15 points and 6-7 assist performance while making good decisions.

Russell Westbrook‘s role is much bigger. He has the ball the  most on the team and has been leading the team in shots more and more frequently. His usage rate in the playoffs has been much higher than teammate Kevin Durant‘s. The result is the Thunder are not playing a 5 man game offensively. It’s more of a Westbrook, Durant and then a bunch of other guys offense. James Harden in particular has been completley invisible, perhaps because of Westbrook’s ball dominance. The dominance of Westbrook and Durant in the offense has led to easy to guard predictability. Despite Westbrook being a superior player to Mike Conley, Jr., Conley’s picking spots offense led to a much more balanced, unpredictable and effective offense in the first game. Conley’s scaled back approach led to a much more cohesive team. The key to offensive success is ball movement and in game 1 it was the Grizzlies who wielded this and not the Thunder. Less ball domination by Conley meant better shots for the other players.

I picked the Thunder as my title pick pre playoffs, but I’m beginning to suspect it’s too early for them. The Thunder right now are not a 5 man team playing as one. They are not in the mindset in sacrificing shots for the fluidity of the offense – and I did not like their lack of defensive intensity in the first game. When you aren’t playing together offensively, it’s hard to expect to defensively. If the Thunder want to beat the Grizzlies, Westbrook will need to take a page out of Conley’s Game 1 performance scale back his usage for the betterment of team balance.