Saturday, November 24, 2007

Reasonable Expectations

See? Now you respect me, because I’m a threat. That’s the way it works.

The Incredibles

In the entire history of Grizzlies basketball, we have never been a threat. We are in the 13th season and nothing, nada, zippo. Only one All Star in the first 12 seasons. Dwindling attendance. Lackluster and indifferent fan base. Currently 3-9 and coming off a blowout loss to the World Champion San Antonio Spurs. Yes, it is a long way from Halloween when we played the Spurs closely. As the season wears on and the losses mount (look at December’s schedule), there is one underlying theme as the Grizzlies face the better teams…we are not a threat.

When discussing the Grizzlies, especially with regards to roster moves, the vision is for building a contender for the Larry O’Brien trophy. It is not about building a “competitive” team or a playoff contender. It is about a team that is at least on the level that the Utah Jazz is currently. Might not be a championship favorite but a team that is considered to have a chance if things break right. So the question that needs to be answered is what type of talent do the Grizzlies need to compete at that level?

When starting this conversation, it is good to refer to an article written about two years ago that covered what it takes to win in the NBA from a historic perspective. When referring to this article, it shows you the #1 reason why the Grizz have failed to build a contender. The Grizzlies have not built the team from the top down. What this means is that the past GMs of the Grizzlies have been more concerned with overall depth than the quality of the players at the top. Another shortcoming is that Grizzlies management has not valued acquiring players that defend the goal over shooters.


STEP 1: Acquire a Championship Superstar
Approach #1: Acquire a Top 5 caliber player Only two NBA Champions failed to include a player named to the All-NBA first team during their careers. These players are easy to identify as all but 4 NBA championship teams included players named All-NBA 1st Team in the prior four seasons.

Approach #2: If you fail to acquire a Top 5 caliber player, then you need a Top 5 caliber defender. Only two NBA Champions failed to include a player named to the All-Defensive first team during their careers, and each of these teams included Top 5 Players.

Approach #3: Clear salary cap space for next year. No NBA team has won a championship without a Top 5 player or Top 5 defender.

STEP 2: Add a championship sidekick (or two) Every NBA championship roster included a Top 10 caliber player or Top 10 defender as a sidekick. Most championship sidekicks can be identified by looking at players named All-NBA 1st or 2nd Team or All-Defensive 1st or 2nd Team in one of the prior 4 seasons. All told, 86% of all championship rosters included at least one sidekick with a previous All-NBA or All-Defensive selection, and over half of the championship rosters (57%) included 2 or more sidekicks with a previous All-NBA or All-Defensive selection.

STEP 3: Make sure one of your players (superstar or sidekick) can defend. No team has won an NBA title without a Top 10 caliber defender.

Now this article is not THE reference for building an NBA champion, but history should not be ignored. The key to winning in the NBA is not size, depth, defense, or scoring. The key to winning is top-level talent. Ask Phoenix if size and defense is the key to contending. Ask Boston if depth is essential to contending. Ask Detroit if you need elite scorers to contend. See I am not asking for or expecting an NBA title. I just want to enter the conversation.

Coach Iavaroni has already stated that he would prefer an 8 or 9 man rotation. So in essence, we should have 6 roster spots that we should not even discuss except in theoretical playoff match up terms such as having an extra big if we had to deal with Greg Oden or an extra long perimeter defender to disrupt Kevin Durant. Did you catch that? Yes, that is how far away this roster is from making the jump into the upper 25% of the league. I think this is the reality that must set in for us. We are at least 3 years away.

These three years assumes that Gay, Lowry, Conley and Darko progress as expected. In this time the Grizzlies should have a top 7 pick in 2008, to be a borderline playoff team in 2009, a playoff team in 2010 and to go into the 2010-11 season as a threat to make the Western Conference finals. So with that timeline it is more important to find players that fit the team our coach wants to build. A team that attacks on both ends of the court, athletic, and able to shoot proficiently from the perimeter is what Coach Iavaroni emphasized. Tarence Kinsey doesn’t count because he should not be in your top 8 or 9.

In my estimation, we have players 3 through 6 in our future contending rotation: (3) Michael Conley, (4) Rudy Gay, (5) Darko Milicic, and (6) Kyle Lowry. So we need use the rest of our assets in getting two big time players: one a glass eating (10+ rebounder) interior defender and the other a perimeter shot maker in the mold of the upper echelon wings in the league. Nothing else matters.

Now the chance of acquiring an age appropriate (25 and under), established “superstar” via trade is virtually impossible. So that leaves the draft, free agency and trading for a potential superstar before they have blossomed. Players that fit the mold we should be looking for: Gilbert Arenas, Michael Beasley, OJ Mayo, Eric Gordon, Andre Iguodala, Emeka Okafor, Andris Biedrens, DeAndre Jordan, Tyrus Thomas, and Josh Smith.

In other words, the two types of players needed are a perimeter player capable of eventually giving you a consistent 20 to 25 points a night with range and without being a defensive liability and an interior player capable of pulling down 10 to 15 rebounds per night while scoring in double figures with good enough hands that the team can use him to run the pick and roll and playing good defense. These two guys don’t guarantee a championship but they elevate the Grizzlies into contention. Isn’t that all a Grizzlies fan could ask for at this point?


Ugo said...

Nice post. Not sure if the names you are giving would really help in 3 years time (sure Darko is on the list? Both Conley & Lowry?), but I understand your point.

I believe the Grizz should make moves for the future, and all of them would imply the trade of Gasol. Maybe a trade to Charlotte for Okafor and Gerald Wallace could work out somehow, so you can get the defender and rebounder inside, plus a nice defender on the frontcourt.

In 3 years time you may have a starting five with Conley, Gay, Wallace, Okafor, and Darko. Not bad.

Would salaries work out in 3 years time?

Then there is possibility number 2: go back to the old Hubie days, and not have a contender, but at least have a nice strong team.

The actual situation is not very useful, since the mix of potential plus established is not working very well, and the feeling is that there is not a lot of chemistry on the team.

Keep up the good work, and sorry for my poor English :-)

Spartacus said...

Nice post X. I remember that article about how to build a champion and think that it is a great "in a perfect world" blueprint. Hopefully, Chris Wallace and Marc Iavaroni have something like that in mind.