Saturday, December 23, 2006

Grizzlies Lose to Depleted Hornets

Mike Fratello must be closely watching Ohio State games this holiday season. With 2.5 minutes left in OT, Fratello pulled Gasol from the game. Gasol had played over 27 minutes, exceeding his allotted 25 minutes. The chances are slim that Gasol would have been set back in his recovery or injured himself during those 2.5 minutes, and once he left for good, the Grizzlies promptly demonstrated that they needed him.

Gasol dominated against the Hornets' front line throughout the game. In a spectacular play, Gasol dunked over two Hornets players to send the game into overtime. He showed no signs of slowing down or being hampered by his injury.

Still, I'm willing to grant that I know little about sports injuries. Gasol may be at risk to re-injure his foot while his muscles build strength. Further, Gasol may be at risk to injure himself independently while regaining his conditioning. (He didn't look out-of-breathe to me.) Even more, I'm willing to grant that Fratello may have little leeway to decide whether Gasol's rationed minutes may be extended.

It makes sense to err on the side of caution with your franchise player, especially when you have no chance at making the playoffs. While I'm don't subscribe to theories that suggest players, coaches, or management 'throw' games to negotiate their position in the draft lottery, I also don't doubt that this year's strong lottery class makes the decision to slow Gasol's development easier.

I'm willing to forgive Fratello's heartbreaking decision to pull Gasol from the game.

What I'd like to hear more about is Fratello's decision to ration 12 minutes to the Grizzlies' second best player, Hakim Warrick. (I was most excited during the brief stint in the second half when Gasol played along side Warrick. Unfortunately, the results weren't as spectacular as I'd hoped.) When Gasol came out of the game, why was Warrick not immediately inserted?

Warrick is the only player besides Gasol (and Chucky Atkins) who has consistently demonstrated the ability to create his own shot in the paint. In his limited playing time Friday, he attacked the basket with authority scoring all 8 free throws off 4 fouls. Instead of Warrick dominating Marc Jackson in the last two minutes, the Grizzlies called for Mike Miller penetration.

Miller attempted 0 free throws and (while remaining remarkably consistent from the outside) has struggled to convert in the paint in all games I've watched. While Miller does create outside shots by driving and kicking, outside shots are still lower percentage shots. When players are tired at the end of the game, they should take the ball inside and get fouled.

What's more disconcerting is that Fratello opted for Brian Cardinal and Alexander Johnson over Warrick. Cardinal made spectacular (outside) shots midway through the second half, but he was done by OT. He shouldn't have been on the floor, and he proved it during the worst play of the game.

With less than 24 seconds, Cardinal rebounded a missed Grizzlies shot. When you're Pau Gasol or Hakim Warrick (finishers around the basket) maybe you go up for the shot with a rebound deep in the paint with time winding down. However, in doing so, you still give the opposition a chance to win or tie the game. When you're Brian Cardinal, you kick the ball out and reset the offense to ensure you have the last shot.

What happened in actuality was Cardinal tried to score against a more athletic Hornet front line that was in position to defend . It was a rookie mistake from a veteran who hadn't played in the 3 previous games and was too tired to ignore his instincts and make the smart play.

In a perfect world, the referees would have (legitimately) sent Cardinal to the free throw line. However, Cardinal is savvy enough to know that refs are opt to swallow their whistles at the ends of games (especially when it's Brian Cardinal who's fouled).

To compound his error, four Grizzlies allowed Chris Paul to score a layup in transition after the no call. Paul is an impressive talent who can navigate to the basket, but Jannero Pargo could have scored against the defense on that possession.

The result was another disappointment in a game where the Grizzlies were not outmatched.

Where was Hakim Warrick?

UPDATE (12/23 9:58 PST): I saw the last 1.5 quarters of the Utah-Memphis game. I really liked Fratello's rotation. Warrick and Gay played significantly more minutes at the expense of E. Jones, Swift (DNP), and Cardinal. The Grizzlies continue to get destroyed on the boards, but are still making games competitive. They just can't finish.

The Grizzlies (I saw D. Jones, Johnson, and Gasol) had some spectacular blocks. I loved D. Jones' block against Carlos Boozer.

Also, Mike Miller continues to shoot the lights out. He's a great compliment to a low post scoring game. He also provides great ball handling, passing, and some rebounds.


Brian said...

Great thoughts on a well-written article. I definitely agree with your opinions on why Gasol was taken out of the OT game with the Hornets. It makes sense to ease an injured player back into the mix, especially one as valuable as Gasol. The incredible talent coming up in the 2007 draft probably is in the back of the mind of Fratello and West, but lets hope they don't intend on losing every close game to try to improve their odds of getting Greg Oden. I mean, even if we do finish with the worst record in the league, it is not 100% certain we get the first pick in the draft.

That being said, I do not agree with the move to take Gasol out. While I am not the avid Grizzlies fan I was the past two season, I can recall at least three games (possibly more) this season where the Grizzlies had a chance to win the game with their last possession. I find myself cringing at the site of not having a "go to guy" in the game at crunch time. I know that most likely the ball will be put into Chucky "I am playing more minutes this year than I have in my entire career because I am on a point-guard depleted team" Atkins' hands and the play will be a designed penetration with either Chucky hoping to get fouled or a kickout to an open shooter (preferably Mike Miller, who is usually double-teamed anyway). Gasol is our All-Star and should be the guy who gets the ball in crunch time. For him not to be out there, injured or not, is just plain wrong!

That Portland game might have been the worst of all. Two turnovers in the last 5 seconds of the game (one by Mr. Dependable Chucky Atkins and Mike "I'll do my best Brett Favre impression" Miller). Although the Double OT thriller versus Seattle was pretty awesome!

Alright, that's enough rambling. See, I told you I had nothing to do this week. I'll probably post some other thoughts in the other articles.

David Jones said...

The Grizzlies have clearly struggled to finish games. They are a bad team though the have the pieces to rebuild nicely. (Unlike the Knicks for instance who will need an extreme makeover to rebuild.)

I'm not as down on Chucky Atkins as you though. He's done much more good than bad. He may be more of a scorer than a distributor, but he's developed into a nice scorer.

With more than 7 seconds, with no time to draw a play, my first option with the ball is Gasol, then Warrick, then Atkins.

If we can draw a play, my third option becomes Miller, who's better shooting off a screen or a pass than getting to the lane.

Gasol, Warrick, and Atkins can all get to the lane and either finish, get fouled or kick out to Miller, Stoudemire, or Cardinal for the open shot.

Brian said...

Thanks for the response. I guess I do agree with your opinions on Chucky being more of a scorer than a distributor. But, I think the reason I am so down on Chucky is that I think that a PG should be a passer rather than a scorer. To me, an effective offense runs through your PG's ability to be able to run the offense and distribute accordingly. Steve Nash, Jason Kidd, and Tony Parker are phenomenal at getting their teammates involved in the offensive sets.

To take this even further, the best PG's have the ability to recognize that if the pass is not there, then they have to create their own shot.

We all know that Tony Parker is not a scorer, and that he continually gives the ball to Ginobili or Duncan. However, did you know that Tony Parker usually ranks among the top in FG% in the paint. This is obviously due to his limited shot selection, but it goes to show that he has the ability to create a shot if the pass is not there. That's what truly makes a great PG.

I'm not saying that having a score-first point guard is a bad thing. Gilbert Arenas is an incredible player (as he demonstrated last night in the Grizz Wizards game). But, I think the more successful teams have that PG who is the leader and understands how to play the game correctly.

Relating somewhat to this subject, I'd be curious to know who you think are the top five NBA players this season, as well as the top player at eash position.

Andy said...

Is brian a grandpa? He wants to know who the best at eash position is. I bet it is Brian Aycock. Please be Brian Aycock.

This isn't really a comment about your hornets post, except to say that Brian Cardinal (a) is the man and (b) really shouldn't be faulted for driving the ball to the basket. I can't believe that you would say he was wrong to go up with it. I wasn't watching the game, so I don't exactly know the situation, but that seems like a fairly high percentage play for a "big man" (using the term very loosely for his sake). And it is goofy for you to say that he should have thought in his head the instant he got the ball, "I'm savvy enough to know that refs are opt to swallow their whistles at the ends of games, especially in my case."

I don't think you can agree with those nine paragraphs you wrote about Cardinal. I hope this doesn't sound like I care that much.

And what the hell, David? Am I supposed to develop my own opinions about Tony Barone and his striking resemblance to Big Pussy? Is your plan to just wait until next season and another coach and just act like he never happened? You're making me look like an idiot at the water cooler at work, David. Give me some material. Geez.


Andy said...

Oh my gosh. I just realized that it is actually Brian Cardinal posting on your blog about him.


David Jones said...

Don't get me wrong, Brian is a nice player. He doesn't play big, though he is tall. He should have reset the offense because they Grizzlies could've held for the last shot and won the game or sent it into overtime.

He shouldn't have shot the ball because he had bad position, and the defensive players were more athletic.

Your point that asking him to make the decision in that situation may be fair. In most cases it makes sense to go up when you've got the ball under the basket. If he's made it, he would've looked like a hero.

As for Brian, he's a friend from Memphis, but not Cardinal or Aycock.

Brian, I certainly wouldn't compare Atkins Kidd, Nash or Parker. But like most folks, I was down on Atkins when the Grizz signed him in the offseason. I think he's proved me wrong. I wouldn't rely on him as my starting point guard, but he's definitely earned significant minutes.

Not sure about the top five players yet. Here's a tentative 5 at every position. It's sad that there are few good centers left.


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