Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Paint and Perimeter

People wonder how the Memphis Grizzlies will stop anyone from scoring this year. Not only were they one of the worst defensive teams in the league last year but they signed players more thought of as offensive players than defensive in the off-season. Juan Carlos Navarro being the latest example but Mike Conley, Casey Jacobson and Andre Brown aren't known as defensive stalwarts and even Darko Milicic is more of a finese off-the-ball shot blocker than a big imposing presence in the middle. How can this team improve dramatically without a dominant rebounder, a imposing presence on penetrators and defensively challenged perimeter players being brought in to the team?

This isn't last year's team.

First, Tony Barone is a funny guy, a good talent evaluator and probably cooks a mean Veal Marsala but he isnt't a defensive coach. Marc Iavaroni is a defensive coach. He understands how to play team defense in the NBA both as a player with Philadelphia, Utah and SAn Antonio then as an assistant with Pat Riley in Miami, Mike Fratello in Cleveland and finally as the lead assistant with Phoenix where he was primarily in charge of defense. Phoenix gives up points but they wreck the offensive flow of most teams while doing it which creates quick scoring opportunities for the Suns even after made baskets. After all it isn't how few points you surrender but did you surrender less than the opponent that wins games.

Second, this year's interior team won't be expected to guard so much of the court. Why? Because with two shot blockers instead of one players will be less likely to challenge the paint. More importantly, Kyle Lowry and Mike Conley have the speed to deny the easy penetration drives that plagued the Grizzlies last season. The trouble wasn't that Gasol couldn't guard his man as much as he couldn't guard both his man and the point guard that Chucky and Damon let pass uncontested nor could he guard the Power Forward who snuck in unguarded either. Gasol was left too often with no one guarding the penetration and no one watching his rear either. Anyone would look bad being in that positions and Gasol isn't great to begin with.

Third, the team's focus will be paint and perimeter. Darko and Gasol will be patroling the paint and Kinsey, Gay, Miller, Navarro and even Jacobson will be guarding the perimeter. With the speed at point guard teams will be looking for players less comfortable dribbling the ball to create penetration. Memphis will be putting people on the perimeter looking to disrupt them before they get going. The idea will be to get into passing lanes and keep reaching for the dribbles in an attempt to get the opponents flustered.

And even if they get past the perimeter they have one of three options: continue into the paint where our interior 7fters are waiting, attempt another pass while the Grizz perimeter players are clogging the passing lanes or take the dreaded mid-range jump shot. That shot is what most NBA players are ineffective at hitting. Coaches have told players for years to drive the ball or take the three but the worst shot you can take is a two point shot near the three point line. This is where Memphis will want teams shooting.

Some teams will be able to exploit this defense. They will be able to beat the pressure on the perimeter, make the mid-range shot or a crisp pass to another player breaking into the lane. Teams will score on the Grizzlies no doubt about that. However they will be scoring at a pace they won't be comfortable playing. Memphis will look to run on deflections, run on steals, run on misses and even run on makes. The objective of the defense will be to establish a faster game and exploit our perimeter players ability to get up and down the court before teams can set up their defense.

So Memphis won't lead the league in scoring defense this season but they could come close to leading the league in fast break points (they were 5th last season despite 7 weeks of Fratello's slow ball style). Why is that important? Because the last few years the team with the most fast break points has won on average 57% of their games (according to That translates into 47 wins a season.

And anyone can defend that record.


Dr. Jojo said...

Hi, good ideas about pressing defense.. but I also thing that we have the proper team to play zone defenses at stretches. Both of our 7 footers are great helping the weak side, and Gay could be another imposing presence patrolling the top of zone.

I'm waiting to see a good tactical approach from Ivy, importing some concepts from international basketball: our rebounding problems will be solved through team effort, our deficiencies 1x1 will be covered and hidden with team work...

We were the worst team in defense last year, but Barone and the lack of will to do it better are the main causes, not players lack of ability... I hope to see Warrick develop a good defensive feeling under Ivy.

GrizzMan said...

Can't wait to see the press, those Hubie days where great!