Tuesday, October 2, 2007

John Hollinger Hates the Memphis Grizzlies

Am I overstating things? Given the track record that Hollinger has in regards to Grizzlies related items while at ESPN.com, I don't believe so. He posted his preview of the team on ESPN Insider and it was less than complimentary, to say the least. I can handle someone thinking that the Grizzlies are bound for another bad season if their logic is sound and their information is correct. However, Hollinger seems to be lacking in both areas in his preview. On one hand, he doesn't like the roster assembled. On the other, he predicts 34 wins and says that next season the Grizzlies are poised for a serious playoff run. Contradictions abound in this swirling tale of missteps and poor reasoning. We'll go quote by quote in our evaluation of his efforts.

In discussing the lack of defense the Grizzlies employed in the Tony Barone era:

The decisions to buy out veteran guard Eddie Jones and move Dahntay Jones out of the rotation accelerated the defensive meltdown; those were the team's only decent perimeter defenders.

Well, what does he consider Tarence Kinsey and Rudy Gay? I watched every single second of the game against the Nuggets when Kinsey frustrated Allen Iverson -- no slouch when it comes to scoring -- to the point that he was berating the officials and *thisclose* to receiving a technical foul. This is a case of Hollinger relying on stats instead of observation in making his determination.

On offensive play, notably Gasol's career year:
Offensively, it was a different story. Memphis ranked 11th in offensive efficiency, and may have set some kind of record for most career years on a 60-loss team. Gasol had easily his best pro campaign once he returned from the injury, while veteran guard Chucky Atkins inexplicably blew up with a Fluke Rule campaign.
Easily his best pro season? Last year Gasol posted 20.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 3.4 apg, 2.1 bpg. The year before that, he averaged 20.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.9 bpg. So we're going to say he had a markedly better season last year? I thought Hollinger understood how statistics are to be interpreted...guess not. The only thing that Gasol was noticeably better at was shooting, as he posted career highs in FG% (.539) and FT% (.748), both of which were well above his previous bests.

On the hiring of new GM Chris Wallace:
Among other moves, he pulled the trigger on the disastrous Joe
Johnson-for-Rodney Rogers deal.
Disastrous? Perhaps hindsight has blinded Hollinger. That looks like a bad deal now, but at the time it was a solid move. Joe Johnson was averaging 6.3 ppg (on .439 FG% and .273 3PT% -- and no, that 2nd one isn't a typo), 2.9 rpg and 1.5 apg when he was traded (along with Randy Brown, Milt Palacio and a draft pick) to Phoenix for Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk. Rogers was averaging 12.6 ppg (on .466 FG% and .350 3PT%) and 4.8 rpg, while Delk averaged 10.6 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 2.0 apg prior to his arrival in Boston. Does it look like a bad deal now that Johnson has turned into a Top 10 SG in the league? Sure does, but Johnson wasn't helping Boston get to the playoffs, while Rogers and Delk assisted them in reaching the Eastern Conference Finals, as Boston went 21-13 after the trade was consummated. This smacks of taking a cheap shot at Wallace's expense, rather than an honest evaluation of his tenure in Boston.

Signed Andre Brown, waived Alexander Johnson

This one left me scratching my head. Yes, Brown is an up-tempo guy who will thrive in the running game, but he has no upside beyond being an energy guy at the end of the rotation. Meanwhile, Johnson was a productive player in his rookie season and was going to be a bargain in Year 2, plus Memphis has a shortage of muscle up front that he would have helped fill. It seemed a baby-with-the-bathwater move by the new regime, and I think they'll regret it.

Since he doesn't know about the issues that team management had with Alexander -- namely that he thought he was a future All-Star PF -- it is easy to understand why Hollinger would come to this erroneous conclusion. Johnson wasn't willing to accept that he was going to be a backup after the Darko signing, probably thinking that his efforts last season entitled him to a starter's role this season -- especially after Lawrence Roberts wasn't retained. Andre Brown is a "just happy to be here" guy -- he'll accept whatever role Iavaroni outlines for him...even if that includes bringing donuts to every team meeting. Johnson seemed to believe that he was a scorer, rather than a rebounder capable of delivering hard fouls. Otherwise, why would the Grizzlies have released him in the middle of the Las Vegas Summer League, rather than waiting until after training camp? Possibly because they thought that he would be disruptive to the team in light of his new reduced role? Sounds logical to me.

Signed Casey Jacobsen, let Dahntay Jones leave
I don't really see the point in this one. Let's say Jacobsen plays better
than he ever has -- even if there's no reason to think that -- and he earns a
spot at the end of the rotation. Then what? Is he going to be any help three
years from now when this team is finally ready to do something? I know Memphis
needed help on the wings, but I don't see how Jacobsen is a solution.

Well, first of all, they signed Jacobsen prior to the Navarro deal...when the team needed outside shooting more than anything else. Secondly, Jones was another guy who thought he was better than he actually was. Finally, who cares about 3 years from now when it concerns Jacobsen -- he only has a 1-year contract, after all. Was Dahntay going to turn into a valuable contributor suddenly? More poor reasoning from Hollinger.

Biggest Weakness: Muscle
The Grizzlies would be a more serious playoff threat
in the West if any of their players weighed more than 184 pounds. Gasol is an
amazingly talented offensive player, but he's scrawny and easily pushed around
at the defensive end. Milicic has a little more bulk but has been reluctant to
use it and may not be on the court for more than 25 minutes a game anyway. The
other frontcourt players -- Brown, Warrick and Swift -- are total waifs who are
overmatched against big low-post players.

Perhaps Hollinger hasn't watched the Phoenix Suns over the past few seasons. What muscle do they employ on their way to 50+ wins every year? There's little need for banging in the paint when you can outrun your opponent every other possession. With Iavaroni's uptempo system, opponents will face the same frenetic pace that the Suns, Warriors and Raptors employ. Last I checked, they were all playoff teams last year....without big men on the roster who also doubled as walking vending machines. Logic would dictate that a larger, less athletic frontcourt would be counter-productive to this new style of play.

There were other things he had to say that I slightly disagreed with, but none of them directly defied logic or information that we've been privy to, thanks to observation of the players in games, contacts capable of providing behind-the-scenes information and a more-than-passing knowledge of the team inside and out. His conclusions about Damon's lack of worth (which we know to be off-base) and Lowry's need for a trade (way too soon to think about that eventuality) smacked of the conclusions one would reach if they simply looked at the rosters and the statistics. Perhaps John should go back to crunching numbers, since he didn't seem to do a very good job with his preview of the Boys from Beale Street.

Update: Matt (from the fantastic site Blog-a-Bull) thinks I used the wrong stats to counter Hollinger's assertion that last year was "easily Gasol's best season". So here are a few more stats -- most of the complicated stat geek variety.

First we'll go to David Berri and his Wins Produced metrics. In 2005/06 Gasol produced 14.1 wins in 80 games and posted a WP48 stat of .217, ranking 18th overall in production. In 2006/07 he produced 11.5 wins in 59 games (which extrapolates to 15.9 wins over 82 games) and posted a WP48 stat of .259. So we have a noticeable level of improvement with that metric.

Next we can go to the list compiled by databasebasketball.com, which is littered with Hollinger created stats and measurements. His Efficiency level climbed from 23.63 to 25.49, his Approximate Value dropped from 13.6 to 11.5, his Versatility Index dropped from 9.4 to 8.9, his PPFGA rose from 1.111 to 1.186, his PPR dropped from 0.31 to -1.38 and his Rebound Rate climbed dramatically from 13.8 to 16.2. So by some measurements Gasol improved, by others he declined. The increase in Rebound Rate is noteworthy though.

Then we go to Basketball-Reference.com, which has even more stats to peruse. His Effective FG% was .540, surpassing his previous best of .518. His True Shooting percentage was .593, while his previous high was .582. His Win Share was 15, while the year before it was 31. This is explained by the lack of defense, as his Offensive Win Share was an 11.2 (15.4 the year before), but his Defensive Win Share was only 3.7 (15.9 the year before). That's a precipitous dropoff. His Player Win Percentage dropped from .792 in 2005/06 to .660 in 2006/07. That's another significant decline. So again, we have increases and decreases using different metrics.

Finally we come to Hollinger's baby -- the PER. Gasol posted a 24.1 last year and 22.7 the year before. After viewing how this stat is calculated, I honestly couldn't tell you if an increase of 1.4 is substantial or not. Here is what I do see in these stats: Gasol was better offensively, but significantly worse defensively. This could be attributed to the Grizzlies lack of defensive concern altogether last season. By the same token, not being worried about defense would allow a player to focus on offense exclusively, leading to an increase in stats as the number of possessions increase, as they did for Memphis last season. With all that said, I still maintain that Hollinger should stick to compiling statistics and leave the analysis to his colleagues.


Anonymous said...

I thought the assesment was fair and dead-on in all accounts except for the idea of trading Lowry, although I see his point.

ChipC3 said...

I agree with Spartacus' view of Hollinger's comments. The biggest weakness of the team isn't a lack of muscle. Phoenix, Golden St and others have gone with the small ball lineup and had tremendous success. Memphis has better size and skill than most teams in the league.

What other team in the league can start two 7 ft players who can pass and run? What team can match Memphis depth and speed at the point? Not many teams can match the triumverate of long distance marksmen Memphis has in Miller, Navarro and Jacobsen not to mention the middle-range game play of Kinsey, Rudy and Warrick.

Memphis' biggest weakness is lack of cohesion and experience at the point. This isn't your old Memphis Grizzlies.

Anonymous said...

You left out "Of the key players, only Milicic and Miller are better walking than running." Hasn't everyone been saying how mobile Darko is and that Miller will feast off of transition 3's?

Ryan Schwan said...

Hollinger did have a pretty scathing tone in his preview of the Grizz - and he also had the same tone with the Hornets. It got under my skin a little too. But I can see his point on a few things you listed:

Pau Gasol was more efficient last year. His rebound rate and true shooting percentage were better. Both Hollingers stat system and the Wages of Wins system show significant improvement for Gasol last year. Maybe the per-game averages don't reflect it, but he was better. Bodes well for him playing uptempo this year.

As for signing Jacobsen - I'm a fan from when he played for the Hornets, but he's not likely to turn into anything. Wouldn't it make more sense to sign someone young who could? Hollinger isn't saying they should keep Dahntay. He's just trying to figure out why Jacobsen? It's kind of like the Hornets signing Melvin Ely. Why?

But for the rest of that stuff. Let him have it!

Tim said...

One other point I would make with that Joe Johnson trade too is that I think Johson is an alright player and can score and pass but he truly doesnt make his team better. The Suns actually have gotten better since he left and the Hawks are almost just as bad as before they got him. And i dont see that trade as the best trade ever but it wasnt like trading Kobe or Lebron which a lot of people seem to make it out like.

Matt, your friendly Bulls Blogger said...

Easily his best pro season? Last year Gasol posted 20.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 3.4 apg, 2.1 bpg. The year before that, he averaged 20.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 4.6 apg, 1.9 bpg. So we're going to say he had a markedly better season last year? I thought Hollinger understood how statistics are to be interpreted...guess not.

On the contrary, you're just looking at the wrong (or, less-right) stats.

Smith said...

Memphis has in Miller, Navarro and Jacobsen not to mention the middle-range game play of Kinsey, Rudy and Warrick.Pau Gasol was more efficient last year.Jobs in US
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