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.


J-Bo said...

Nice post. Grizz are playing inside and insane... let's see what happens.

Sam said...

Well-deserved honor for Coach Hollins:

Big Bone said...

The Grizzlies made the right choice in drafting Thabeet. Being a lifelong Tiger fan and loving Tyreke doesn't make me want him on the Grizz. Without Thabeet our bench would give up way too many points when Marc or Z-Bo come out of the game. Many nights our interior defense actually improves when Thabeet comes in, and Sam is able to increase the lead by scoring at will on the other end. I'm pretty confident that every Grizz fan at the end of the season will be thankful Thabeet is on our team.

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David Jones said...

Big Bone,

I agree with you that Thabeet is a good fit with the team, and is having a defensive impact. So far, I certainly wouldn't call him a bust.

Young is also a nice pick, but (8pts / 44%) he isn't exactly scoring at will. We need more options offensively off the bench.

As for Tyreke, I do have concerns about his fit with the Grizz, and if we drafted him, we'd have problems with size of the bench. That said, he's clearly a better player than Thabeet at this point (and that's not likely to change).

John said...

But tyreke wouldn't see the minutes with the grizz that he ges with the kings and probably wouldn't garner as much attention or have a chance to find his rythm. still with mike conley it may have been a matter of time until he was starting. I think it might take another year or so for grizz fans to really appreciate thabeet he is still too raw. i also don't have a good feeling about tonight seems like a classic end of a road trip against a team coming off an a day off that is still upset they let the hornets steal one two nights ago. but all in all its nice to be in the playoff race its going to get interesting down the stretch at the bottom of our division. oh and thanks for the hot wallpapers my desktop is now on fiyah. holla!

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