Saturday, December 1, 2007

Darko's back, so who goes to the bench?

As Zack told you last night, Ron Tillery is reporting on the Memphis Edge that Darko Milicic is ready, willing and able to play tonight against Minnesota. This brings up an interesting issue as to who will go to the bench if Darko starts. The most common assumption is that either Juan Carlos Navarro or Mike Miller will take a seat to make way for the Dark One. We're going to look at the pros and cons of those two starting or sitting, as well as two other players you might not have considered -- Rudy Gay and Pau Gasol.

First up is Juan Carlos Navarro -- "La Bomba". The 27-year old rookie has been making quite a name for himself recently with his prolific outside shooting and surprising ability to do practically everything on the court - by himself at times. He's the low man on the totem pole, so it is probably correct to think that he would be the logical choice to be sent back to the bench if Darko starts tonight. However, when you look at his numbers when starting vs. sitting, you wonder if it is wise to go that route.

JCN "the starter": 5 games, 35.6 mpg, 14.6 ppg, .517 FG%, .389 3PT%, 4.2 rpg, 3.2 apg
JCN "off the bench": 10 games, 15.6 mpg, 6.8 ppg, .397 FG%, .457 3PT%, 1.1 rpg, 1.4 apg

Obviously there is also a large discrepancy between minutes played per game in those two stats that could still be rectified with Navarro playing a lot of minutes off the bench, but it is clear that he is a more productive player when he starts.

Next, we come to Mike Miller. Miller is a former 6th Man of the Year, which means that he has not only come off the bench before in his career, but thrived in that role. Prior to the season beginning, a few of us pondered whether or not MM would be better served to returning to that role, but were quite willing to ride along with whatever decision the coaching staff decided to make. Now, I'm not so sure that a change isn't needed. By sending Miller to the bench rather than Navarro, you get more size off the bench at the SG/SF positions without sacrificing any scoring ability. If Iavaroni is truly sincere about whittling his rotation down to 8 men, this makes the most sense to me, having Miller come off the bench along with Lowry and Swift for the vast majority of the time, allowing for Hakim, Casey, Conley and TK to get playing time in the event of injury or foul trouble.

Then we come to Rudy Gay, who is surely a surprise entry into this category. In all honesty, I probably wouldn't have even considered him despite his recent poor play if I hadn't seen this post on the Grizzlies Messageboard the other day. While I don't believe that it will happen, as Miller is the more logical choice of the two swingmen to take a seat, it is worth contemplating. Rudy has been a starter all of this season and has appeared to have taken on the mantle of lead scorer for the Grizzlies. His bouts with foul trouble and inconsistency have caused concern among some fans, as well as his perceived unwillingness to pass up open shots when they present themselves. Well, according to Marc Iavaroni's philosophy "If a player is wide open and has a shot he practices, then that player has the green light to shoot." That means you should expect Rudy to keep shooting with the coach's blessing. So while it is interesting to contemplate, I don't see Rudy starting the game tonight as a spectator.

Our final entry comes courtesy of one of our faithful readers, L3ESmith:


Great blog. Wanted to pitch this wacky idea, see what you guys thought of it.

I posted a message at the CA boards entitled: "So crazy it just might work. . . ." Here's the body of it:
Now here's a thought. Just a thought: What about NOT starting Pau?
Starters: Damon, Navarro, Rudy, Stro/Hak, Darko.
Bench: Pau, Mike, Kyle, Stro/Hak
This would NOT be to penalize Pau; Hope he's enough of a team player to see the logic of it, which is this:
Mostly, it would be to match him up against the bench front court of other teams. Imagine bringing 20/10 off the bench! He'd still get his minutes, probably in the 2Q; and almost certainly finish games. But I can't help but imagine we'd increase his personal offensive punch, and make us one of the strongest benches in the game (with Mike and Kyle also coming off the bench).
Darko, albeit not totally healthy, has shown that he can be a threat in the post. If we can get early offensive production from Hak, I think it could pay off (and/or showcase him for a trade?). Defensively, Darko and Stro protect the rim, Stro gets to play his natural 4, and he's a better defender than Pau, to keep opposing PFs from getting going too early. Rudy moves back to the 3 and we get those extra 8-9 PPG we need from him. Damon and Navarro, no comment necessary.
But again, the main thing it that I could see it being a matchup nightmare for opposing teams. Let's just look at December:

Wolves: Pau matches up against Theo Ratliff and Mark Madsen instead of Al Jefferson.
Blazers: Pau matches up against Joel Pryzbilla and Raef Lafrentz instead of Lamarcus Aldridge.
Rockets: Pau vs. Scola/Mutombo instead of Yao/Hayes
Hornets: Pau vs. Melvin Ely/Hilton Armstrong instead of David West/Tyson Chandler
It's taking too long to look all this up. But you get the idea. Matching our superior player up against the inferior benches . . . Pau could likely eat their lunches, or force the opposing teams to play their starters longer than they really want to, which would help us at the end of games. Either way, it works to our advantage.
Much of this would be contingent on Darko emerging as a go-to offensive threat while maintaining defense, Hak not getting killed on defense by opposing fours, and Stro playing good defense on opposing fours. If a starting lineup of Stro/Hak + Darko could post 30/16 (that's figuring 18-9 for Darko and 12-7 for Hak/Stro), I think it's just crazy enough to work.
Oh yeah. For the record, closers would probably be: Kyle, JCN, Rudy, Pau, Darko.
Of course, I could be delusional. I'm sure several of you will let me know if I am . . .
After a little bit of ridicule from another poster whom I respect, I posted this reply:

But let's think for a sec: Isn't the future core of this team shaping up to be Kyle, MC, Rudy and maybe Darko/Hak/JCN? That's not to say that Pau isn't a contributor; to the contrary, he would be a very valuable contributor. But for all the ranting on this board about how Pau's not a franchise player, why not try him for a while as a very,
very significant role player?
He's not the person you want to throw the ball into at the end of games, agreed? But we could still certainly use his 20/10 a night, and the double teams he commands, even at the end of games. And many of the players he'd be matched up against are not serious offensive threats, thus helping to mask his defensive shortcomings.
Pau is on his way to no longer being THE MAN in Memphis. David Robinson accepted a reduced role in SA and look what happened. And would anybody debate what Manu Ginobli does for the Spurs simply by coming off the bench? Nobody really thinks of him as a bench player anyway.
Why don't we embrace Pau's shifting role on the team? I'd rather have him dominate off the bench then to be sometimey as a starter . . .

While I was skeptical of this idea, I was willing to entertain it just as I had done with the idea of Rudy taking a seat. Then I saw this great article by Ron Tillery in the Commercial Appeal titled Gasol tries to step up game plan. Here's a relevant quote that deals with Gasol's sub-par stats this sesaon:
"I have to be a little more active without the ball," said Gasol, who is averaging career lows in points (17.1) and rebounds (6.9). "There are not a lot of plays called. Period. It's more of a flow game. I haven't felt extremely comfortable with it because I was used to being told you go here, this is going to happen and you're going to get the ball.
"But that's more of a set game; a slower-paced game. We want to increase the tempo, and not let the defense set. I just have to look for the ball, and get my offense in the flow. It's been hard to assimilate (to the new system), but I'm going to do a better job of being more active without the ball and then demanding the ball."
Iavaroni said criticism of Gasol is unfair because the 7-foot Spaniard has complied with the coaching staff's wishes. Gasol essentially sacrifices his low-post game to
conform with the Grizzlies' goal of playing fast and adhering to equal-opportunity scoring.

In other words, Gasol is doing exactly what the coaching staff is asking him to do, so the critics should turn their attention to Iavaroni and Co. when talking about Gasol's stats. In fact, I seem to remember somebody suggesting that Pau's stats might take a hit in this new uptempo system. Also, L3ESmith made mention of David Robinson taking a lesser role to allow for Tim Duncan's emergence. Robinson was 32 years old when Duncan was drafted -- 5 years older than Gasol is now. Also, The Admiral was never sent to the bench, but instead played alongside the Big Fundamental as a starter -- the Two Towers reborn, as it was. In the same manner, it appears that Pau and Darko complement each other well and should play in the same lineup as often as possible. Otherwise I don't get to use the "Ivory Towers" nickname that I'm so fond of.

I'm sure I made it clear earlier, but I think it would be most beneficial for the team if Mike Miller was the 6th man who covers both swingman positions, thus leaving Navarro in the starting lineup. We'll see what occurs tonight and the rest of the season though.

Let me know what you think in the Comments.


brandon said...

I also like a versatile 6th man, so I'd go with Miller or Rudy as the 6th. To cover the 2&3 or the 3&4, respectively.

Anonymous said...

Miller is leading the Griz in mpg. He's not coming off the bench.

JCN looks like a classic 6th man to me. Think Vinnie Johnson, Barbosa, Ben Gordon. He's a small combo guard that doesn't have a natural position, and he's a streak shooter.

zack said...

you convinced me...

miller should sit.

start damon(ugh)/jc/gay/pau/darko...

lowry/miller/swift off the bench primarily...