Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Gasol Trade Anniversary

February 1 is the 2 year anniversary of the trade that sent Pau Gasol to the Lakers for salary cap flexibility. And since I'm bitter and I'll never get over the trade, I thought it made sense to do a post about it.

I wonder how that will turn out. Here's a breakdown of all the pieces of 2008's epic trade and how they've benefited or hurt the Grizzlies.

Getting rid of Pau
People forget how badly Grizzly fans wanted to get rid of their best player. Shortly after the trade, we were reminded when Leon Powe dunked on Gasol's head 30 times during the NBA Finals.

More recently, Zach Randolph reminded us again by doing what Pau would never do: anchoring the post with toughness, rebounding, and clutch play.

Even though we had to watch everybody ogle as Gasol won a championship, we all knew it was worth it. Now that the Grizzlies have turned it around, it's worth even more.
Getting Marc Gasol
Pau's sweet revenge on us is the fact that our new favorite player is his brother. Damn you Gasol!

Marc was better than expected as a rookie last year. And after running up a mountain all summer, he's a top five center in the league (Look at John Hollinger's Player Efficiency Rating if you don't believe me.)

Even more baffling than Pau's curse against us: the Commercial Appeal reports that we have GM Chris Wallace to thank for the younger Gasol's inclusion in the trade.

We love Gasol. Chris Wallace made a savvy move. Next thing you'll tell me is Heisley owns a successful team.
The right to draft Darrell Arthur
Arthur may eventually be a solid backup power forward. So far, injuries have slowed his development.

He does offer fans a pleasant reminder of John Calipari's legacy as coach of the Memphis Tigers. I always thought it would be nice if Arthur wore #92 to remind fans that the Tigers were up 9 with 2 minutes left.
Getting Javaris Crittenton
Can you believe there was a time when we thought Crittenton might be the point guard of the future? Wallace once said he was going to lock Crittenton in a room with Kyle Lowry and Mike Conley to see which two emerged as the Grizzlies' point guard tandem.

What Wallace did not realize is that Crittenton is not the type of guy you want to lock in a room with two point guards that are playing ahead of him.

Since he left Memphis, Javaris has contributed to one of the top five NBA scandals of last decade. (December's gun incident joins the Palace Brawl, the Donaghy scandal on the list.)

Crittenton's actions may have a bigger impact on the Grizzlies than you think. The incident may give owners leverage over the players during upcoming negotiations over the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The owners then may be able to work a deal that makes owning a franchise more financially viable.

Would that close the competitive gap between small markets like Memphis and big markets like New York? It's pure speculation, but hey, that's why I'm a fan blogger and not Chad Ford.

Getting The Laker's 2010 Draft pick
If the draft were today, the 2010 pick the Grizzlies acquired would be about as bad as it could be.
Getting $3,000,000
The Grizzlies received cash for their troubles - let's call it $3,000,000.

I can't imagine where Heisley could have invested 3 million and made money since 2008.
Getting Kwame Brown
Brown continued a long history of tragic Grizzly big men: Bryant Reeves, Stromile Swift, Ike Austin, Darko Milicic...

Am I leaving anyone off the list of Grizzly big men busts who are unintentionally funny? Oh right, Tony Massenburg.
Getting Aaron McKie
It's amazing that a member of the 2001 Eastern Conference Champion Philidelphia 76ers played fewer games as a Grizzly than Allen Iverson. But it's true. Aaron McKie did not play 1 game as a Grizzly.

On the plus side, I wasn't duped into buying an Aaron McKie Grizzly jersey.
Losing a 2008 2nd round draft pick
This pick turned out to be Joe Crawford. Chad Ford is reporting the Darko Milicic would have been a steal at this pick.

So there you have it. Not that I'm bitter or anything and need to rehash what happened two years ago to validate myself. I feel like I may be insane for admitting this in public, but that trade didn't turn out so badly after 1.5 years of torture. It's a good thing I didn't go with my initial reaction of dousing myself with gasoline, setting myself on fire, and jumping off of a bridge.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I will watch this over and over.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Grizzlies Playoffs Chances?

The Grizzlies are back above . 500 after a win in which they were outplayed at home despite the absence of the Clippers' top three big men. Both Mike Conley and the Grizzlies' bench are crushing my hopes for the Grizzlies' first franchise playoff win to come against Pau Gasol. I don't know whether to be happy of sad. So I decided to alleviate my confusion by analyzing the Grizzlies' remaining schedule to better understand their playoff chances.

Fedex Forum's Water Breaks, Fans are Evacuated.

Over the remaining schedule, let's predict, somewhat arbitrarily, that the Grizzlies win:
  • 100% of their home games against sub .500 teams
  • 50% of their home games against teams equal or greater than .500
  • 50% of their road games against sub .500 teams
  • 25% of their road games against teams equal or greater than .500
That's a strong performance, but not out of the question if they stay healthy. Here's what the breakdown of the Grizzlies remaining schedule looks like (45 games):

Remaining Games by Location and Opponent Record (1/12)

Sub .500
.500 or greater

Take the remaining games and apply my formula, and you get a 42-40 record (rounding to the nearest game) or a .512 winning percentage. That's essentially equal to the Grizzlies' current .514 winning percentage, and within one game of John Hollinger's prediction of the Grizzlies' end-of-season record. It's also not good enough to move the Grizzlies up in the standings unless other teams perform significantly worse (and the Clippers don't improve significantly).

Of the teams above the Grizzlies in the standings, I can see Houston, Portland, New Orleans, or Utah dropping, and Phoenix is one injured 35-year-old point guard away from the lottery. Even though only 2 losses separate the Grizzlies from the four franchises I mentioned (excluding Phoenix), I can't see 3 of those four franchises tanking enough to make 42-40 qualify for a playoff berth. (In the Western Conference of course.)

What that means is, to make the playoffs, the Grizzlies need to perform better than my predictions for the rest of the season.

If we don't make the playoffs, I blame Iverson.

The good news is that the Grizzlies have performed better than my prediction since December 1. Here's the breakdowns with victories in parentheses. (Opponents' Jan 12 records are used here too.)

Dec 1 - Jan 12 Games by Location and Opponent Record (Wins)

Sub .500
.500 or greater
4 (4)6 (4)
3 (2)6 (3)

You can see the Grizzlies won:
  • 100% of their home games against sub .500 teams
  • 67% of their home games against teams equal or greater than .500
  • 67% of their road games against sub .500 teams
  • 50% of their road games against teams equal or greater than .500
For those of you still reading, this means the Grizzlies need to perform somewhere between my prediction and their Dec -Jan 12 pace to make the playoffs. The most likely scenario is that the Grizzlies finish somewhere around .500 and miss the playoffs. Since the Grizzlies final record will likely qualify for the East's 5th seed at seasons end, the Grizzlies will have been screwed by the NBA's playoff rules in two of the four seasons when it wasn't lottery fodder. Don't think I forgot the 2006 playoffs when the Grizzlies (49 wins) played against the 60 win Mavericks instead of getting home court advantage against a 47 win Clippers team thanks to the NBA's superb Division leader rules.

Instead the 47-win Clippers used their home court advantage to beat the third-seeded Nuggets (44 wins) in 5 games.

Anyways, all of this is just a roundabout way of saying that it's nice to be getting back to being screwed by the NBA's playoff rules instead of the NBA's lottery rules. Go Grizz.

Monday, January 04, 2010

The 500 Club

We made it. The Grizzlies have crossed that arbitrary threshold of legitimacy by winning half their games. They did it via a not-so-arbitrary ass whooping of the Suns in Phoenix where Nash and company had lost only 2 of 15 games all season.

It doesn't surprise me that the team is better than last year's team. They added Zach Randolph without losing anyone. What does surprise is how much better they are and the fact that the change seemed to happen overnight. The Grizzlies couldn't beat lowly teams like the Pistons, Warriors, and Clippers in November. Now, they're not only beating the teams they should beat, but they're also beating just about everyone else.

The 500 Club, San Francisco, where jeans are tight and bathing is optional.

I don't know why this change took place or why it happened in what seemed like the span of a few days in late November. But I've noticed 2 differences between the current Grizzlies and their ugly stepsisters of 2006 through November 2009.

1. The Grizzlies, especially Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo, seem to be playing with some sort of selflessness that I won't try to explain here but may at another date.

2. The Grizzlies have improved their interior game. By interior game, I mean three things: A. Points in the paint. B. Rebounding. C. Interior defense.

Points in the paint start with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. We're starting to hear that this might be the most potent post tandem in the league. As Chris Herrington points out, it's partly due to Randolph's new found commitment to interior scoring. Herrington explains that Randolph has made a conscious effort to focus on scoring inside instead of relying on his outside shot.

I would add that both Gasol and Randolph's commitment to getting in shape in the off-season has facilitated their improved play.

Have you ever been tired at the end of game with your buddies? Were you more inclined to pound it inside and fight for rebounds or jack up threes? When you missed the three, which led to a fast break layup for the other team, did you make a comment to your buddy about being out of shape? But you had no intention of getting in shape, did you? That's why you aren't making $17 million this year.

The story of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph is the classic story of hard work paying off. Randolph in particular could have returned to training camp like he did every season, and he still would have been a very good power forward, but for whatever reason, he got in the best shape of his professional career this summer, and now he's dominating the post like never before. He doesn't need to settle because he's not tired.

But the inside scoring doesn't end with Gasol and Randolph. Herrington shows us Randolph's interior scoring percentages over his career to illustrate the point that he wasn't relying on his outside shot as much.

That got me thinking. I noticed that Gay and Mayo also were taking it to the hole more instead of jacking up fade-away threes with 2 seconds on the shot clock (henceforth known as the Marc Iavaroni Offense). What would happen if we applied Herrington's analysis (via data from to Gay and Mayo?

TABLE 1A: Percentage of Shots Inside vs Outside
Player / SeasonPercentage InsidePercentage Outside
Gay / 2008-200931%69%
Gay / 2009-201038%62%
Mayo / 2008-200921%79%
Mayo / 2009-201027%73%

For those who aren't good with numbers, Mayo and Gay are shooting fewer outside, low percentage shots, and more inside, high, percentage shots. Add to the mix that leading bench scorer Sam Young tries to dunk every time he gets the ball, and you will find that inside scoring is a key difference between the "2006 - November 2009 Grizzlies" and the current team.

The second part of interior play is rebounding. I discussed it some last week, and I won't dwell on it here other than to say Gasol and Randolph being in shape and Rudy Gay's devotion to team play have vastly improved the team's rebounding.

The third part of interior play is interior defense. Last year, the Grizzlies practically invited opposing players to take uncontested layups. This year, there's a visible commitment from the entire team to playing defense. Another added benefit of Randolph and Gasol being in shape is their ability to protect the rim despite their limited athleticism.

But I want to focus on what has generally been a sore subject for Grizzlies fans: Hasheem Thabeet. Thabeet is starting to look like every game isn't his first game of basketball. When he's in the game, you see his impact on the defensive end. Even when he doesn't get the block, opposing players are altering their shots and missing layups because of his presence. The commentators for other teams are even talking about it on NBA League Pass.

On a related note, for some reason, opposing teams aren't taking advantage of him on the offensive end either (eg by not guarding him or intentionally fouling him). Maybe it's because there are not good second string opposing centers. But for whatever reason, Thabeet is a significant reason the Grizzlies' improved interior defense, and he's making tangible contributions to the team's success. And the Grizzlies definitely shouldn't have taken Tyreke over him. (loading gun, inserting in mouth...)

Now here we are in January at 500, looking for our second victory in Portland this season on Tuesday. Portland will be returning home late Monday night after playing the Clippers in LA with both their centers out for the season with injuries and their starting power forward nursing a sprained ankle.

We'll be on our 3rd day of rest after destroying Phoenix at home with our finely tuned inside game looking to break the 500 barrier. I did not see this one coming.