Five Things To Watch: Memphis Grizzlies

zach randolphThe more things change, the more they stay the same.

Everyone is familiar with that old cliché. It’s one the Grizzlies understand well after the 2012-13 season. Over the past year, there has been a complete changing of the guard in the Bluff City. An ownership swap was the first domino to fall when Michael Heisley officially completed the sale of the team to tech mogul Robert Pera right before the regular season began.

From there, the rest of the hierarchy was dismantled systematically. John Hollinger was hired away from ESPN to become vice president of basketball operations. The first roster change under the new ownership came when Marreese Speights, Wayne Ellington, Josh Selby and a future first-round pick were traded to Cleveland for Jon Leuer. Hardly a week later, Rudy Gay, the face of the franchise, was shipped north of the border midway through the season.

Despite a multitude of momentous changes, the Grizzlies continued to obliterate opponents with nasty defense and grind-it-out offense just like in years past. With that said, the Grizzlies didn’t simply stay on track. They ascended into the NBA’s elite. The team finished with its best record in franchise history and played better than ever, post-Rudy. In the playoffs, the Grizz made an impressive run to the Western Conference finals before being picked apart by the San Antonio Spurs.

All this is to say the Grizzlies know how to handle change and arguably thrive during it. That’s a good thing, because the Grizzlies have multiple changes to adapt to for the 2013-14 season.MEM_Joerger_DavePera and company, having never connected with coach Lionel Hollins, clearly became too disenchanted with his philosophical differences by last season’s end to retain his services. However, they didn’t have to look far to find a coach that jived with their organizational philosophy. As a matter of fact, they only had to look to the seat adjacent to Hollins.

Enter David Joerger. He led the defense as the lead assistant for several years, and now will get the chance to shine as a first-time head coach. He will take over a savvy, veteran group of players that know what it takes to be successful. The Grizzlies have one of the strongest starting five in the league. Add Mike Miller (free agent signing), Jamaal Franklin (draft pick), and Nick Calathes (acquired via trade) into the mix, and Memphis might have its most potent roster ever.

After grittin’ and grindin’ all the way to the conference finals last season, coupled with the offseason additions, the Grizzlies enter the 2013-14 season with the highest expectations they have ever had.

So what are the key themes to keep an eye on? Here are five things to watch.

1. The transition into the David Joerger era. After going through a bevy of coaches before Hollins took over, it was nice for Memphis to have some continuity for a while. With that said, it was time to move on from Hollins despite his record of success with the team.

His replacement, Joerger, has been on the staff since 2007, so it isn’t a complete restart. It will be interesting to see how philosophically different Joerger’s coaching style is to Hollins’. The answer is obviously enough for the new ownership group to give the job to Joerger rather than reaching outside the organization.

The defense isn’t likely to change, since Joerger has been the defensive coordinator since 2011. That’s a huge plus for this team. But one thing that is likely to change is the pace on offense. Joerger’s plan is to speed up the tempo a little bit in hopes of creating easier opportunities that lead to more points to take some of the pressure off the defense.

There are a lot of unknowns surrounding Joerger entering his first season as an NBA coach. All of these unknowns can’t be answered without playing some games. One thing that is known is Joerger has never failed as a head coach at any level, and his record is rather impressive: IBA champion (2001), three-time CBA champion (2002, 2004, 2005), NBA D-League champion (2007), two-time CBA Coach of the Year (2002, 2004). It’s hard not to expect more of the same from him at the highest level.

MIA_Miller_Mike2. What about those persistent offensive spacing issues? Last season, the Grizzlies ranked last in 3-pointers attempted per game, taking just 13.5. Not only did the Grizzlies take the fewest threes, but they also made the fewest at 4.7 per game.

When a team isn’t at least a threat from deep, it makes it a lot easier for teams to pack the paint. The Grizzlies struggled mightily against the Spurs in the conference finals largely due to their lack of perimeter scoring. When Tony Allen was on the floor, the Spurs left him alone at the 3-point line because they knew he was no threat to them all the way out there. That essentially made it four-on-five every time the Grizzlies were on offense. Throw Tayshaun Prince into the game at the same time as Allen, and things become really ugly in terms of spacing.

The Grizzlies have tried to solve these spacing issues this offseason. They signed Miller to come in and do one job – bury threes. Sure, good 3-point shooting doesn’t necessarily make a team great offensively, but it can’t hurt. With the 3-pointer being the great equalizer in the modern game, making a couple more threes a game could do wonders for the Grizzlies. It could alleviate some of the pressure on the defense to come up with stop after stop, and most importantly, it would go a long way toward fixing those spacing issues, thus creating space for Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol to go to work down low.

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  1. says

    I wish I had the data required to study usage and encifiefcy because my feeling is that this is one of those areas where what’s true in most cases is not true in all cases.1. I think usage typically tends to vary with the development of a player’s shooting range and other offensive skills. Things like better ball handling, post moves, finishing ability and general shot creation allow for greater usage with similar or better results. So if you study a group of players and chart an increase in usage without a corresponding decrease in encifiefcy, you may actually be charting an increase in overall skill that allowed for greater usage (and vice versa) and not that usage doesn’t matter. 2. As I mentioned in a previous thread, a small increase in the number of shots is not going to cause a huge decrease in overall encifiefcy. If a player’s eFG% is 50% and he adds 2-3 shots per 36 minutes, it’s not like the next group is going to be made up of 10% shots. It may be made up of 45% shots and not move the overall encifiefcy needle much at all. It may take a more extreme change in usage to have a clearly measurable impact. 3. Sometimes I like to use simple common sense and think about how these things would impact me or players whose game I am familiar with. For example, Renaldo Balkman is a fairly low usage efficient player with almost no outside shot. He’s also a poor free throw shooter. I ask myself. With his limited scoring skill set, do I think he could add 1-2 shots per 36 and remain as efficient? I’d say easily. 3-4?Maybe. 5-6?No way.Do I think Lebron James could add 5-6? Absolutely? 7-9? Perhaps.15? No way.

  2. Andy says

    Andrew, nice article and Griz nation can’t wait for the season to start.

    A few criticisms:
    1. You don’t even mention Kosta Koufus, who started 81 games for the 57-win Nuggets.
    Can’t overstate the importance of his acquisition, as Griz fans held their breath and
    watch leads quickly evaporate anytime Gasol went to the bench for a breather.
    And Koufus is signed at only $3M per year for the next 2 years, and only cost the
    Griz a deteriorating Darrell Arthur and a 2nd round pick. Genuis trade.
    2. A whole section on Jamaal Franklin – who the Griz were happy to take at pick 41 -
    but who will likely be the 13th player on team this year? A focus on Quincy Pondexter
    would have been much more appropriate. Along with Miller, Quincy will be counted
    to improve team 3-point shooting and spacing. Most think he will have the most
    minutes off the bench and eventually replace Tayshaun Prince.
    3. Many of the current players did not like Lionel Hollins – Ed Davis, Jarryd Bayless
    (hard to imagine Joerger shoving a player like Hollins did Bayless last year), Tony
    Allen, Jon Leuer and Zach. These guys were professionals and did not complain to
    the media, and of course the team was winning so that kept the lid on discontent.
    Hollins had his favorites and everyone knew who they were. It will be interesting to
    see how these players perform under the new coach.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Andrew Ford of Sheridan Hoops runs down five things to watch when it comes to the Grizzlies this season.  One of the keys for Memphis will be Mike Miller and it’ll be interesting to see if the returning veteran can hold up enough to make an impact.  The 33-year-old has dealt with a litany of health issues in recent years and was let go via the amensty provision by Miami this summer. […]

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