Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Zack's Notebook

The loss to the Pistons was demoralizing. Even though I knew before the game we where going to be down big early and end up losing in double digits, the loss just sucked. Now, I am left wide awake with Griz on the mind and no desire to do any needed school work. So, I've decided to torture you with another Notebook session.

"Rudy Gay is a Special Player"

The subtitle above was said to me more than a few times during the Pistons game tonight. Everyone is well aware how good Rudy is doing this year. He is becoming the Grizzlies "clean-up hitter" and is quickly moving up the teams pecking order. Rudy's improved play and sudden emergence as the teams #1 offensive weapon is partly a product of the Iavaroni's loosely-structured offense that gives Rudy the green light to shoot anytime. Although Rudy might not be the drawn-up #1 option on offense, his ability to create shots and score one-on-one - via dribble drives AND jump shots - has made him the best fit on the team to take the most shots (which he does...@ 15 per game).

The Pistons game was another notable chapter in his 2nd year maturation process. While other players either couldn't or wouldn't get in the groove offensively, Rudy shook off some bad early misses to finish with 20 points to go along with 3 offensive boards, 3 assists, 1 steal, 1 block (more on that later) and only 1 turnover. I was impressed with the purpose Rudy had when attacking the basket in the 2nd half. And his ability to pull up and make a jump shot despite tight man-to-man defense helped keep the game closer than it really was in the 4th quarter. To sum up his 2nd half performance, he was able to score effectively in the half court set without getting the ball in the post. Which brings me to my next subject.

(Actually, before I get to the next item, I want to mention Rudy's one block tonight. It was a fitting way to record a block, considering Rudy was matched up with Prince most of the night. After either a steal or long rebound, Rip Hamilton found himself streaking for two more 1st quarter fast break points. However, Rudy hustled down court and went and summoned his inner 'prince' and blocked Rip cleanly from behind. But then he wasn't done. Rudy raced up court and grabbed an impressive offensive rebound, leading to Darko's 12th and final point of the game and closed the Pistons lead to 4. After that bucket, Damon fouled Billups on a made jump shot and the rout was on, as that was the start of the Pistons gigantic 1st half run. Still, it was an impressive set of plays by Rudy.)

Rudy is More Effective at SF than at PF

Everyone also knows Iavaroni's intention on trying Rudy Gay out as the PF, in what he calls the "Phoenix-4" position. Now that we have played a number of games, lets look at what the stats say. breaks down each players stats by the position he is playing on the court. Here are the stats for Rudy Gay (not counting the Pistons game).

He has played SF more than PF. In terms of total minutes by any Griz player at a position, Rudy has been the SF 44% of the time and PF 29%. The team has a better plus/minus number when Rudy is a SF (+3) compared to PF (-32). However, the team averages (per 48 minutes) 4 more points when Rudy is at PF. So indeed, the team does play at a higher pace when Gay is at PF, however they just allow more points too.

The numbers show Rudy is more effective at SF and it is likely a smarter move playing him at SF (at least right now).

On a 48 minute basis at both positions, Rudy scores essentially the same amount. However, his FG% is better at SF by more than 10 percentage points (57% to 46% eFG%). His assists, blocks, and free throw attempts are the same at both positions. He rebounds better at PF (which makes sense). But maybe the most interesting evidence to not play him at PF is he averages twice as many fouls playing PF compared to SF. We all know how damaging 1st half fouls have been to Rudy this year. In terms of defense, the numbers show that he defends the SF position better too. His SF opponents average less points, rebounds, assists, and FG% compared to his PF opponents. Looks like it is smart to keep him at SF for now and play Hak more if you need another PF/C.

Knowing Your Role; Why Navarro (and Hak?) Should Shoot Early and Often

It is obvious that the Griz are not so good on defense. Part of that reason is because many of our key players primary skill is shooting and not playing defense. For instance, Miller and Navarro being able to guard Rip Hamilton effectively is just not going to happen. Not this year, not next year. That is precisely why Navarro needs to look to score (or make a play) every time he touches the ball. With Darko healthy and Miller's length and all-around game, Navarro's minutes are limited. Therefore, I think he needs to be more aggressive on offense. Against the Pistons, he showed that quick trigger and aggressive drives in the 2nd quarter and helped take a 20 point deficit down closer to 10.

I don't mind if Navarro shoots even more quick 3-pointers in transition. I don't mind if it looks like he is forcing offense instead of only taking open scoring opportunities. We will never be better off having Navarro be passive on offense, because he is destined to get burned on defense. Navarro has to know his role is to score off the bench and sometimes do so in the face of "slowing down and getting a better shot". I think this is espicially true in the transition game, where finding JC at the 3 point line should be a primary tactic when he is in the game.

After this game, where Hak scored 17 points and seemed in rhythm early in his playing time, the same maybe true for him too. We have all made fun of Hak for NEVER passing. But he likely sucks at passing anyway. If we put him in the game, the only way he is not going to be outscored by his man is if he scores himself. No coach is going to be able to make Hak a good defender. Thus, he needs to be a good scorer IF he sees playing time.

Although I am more comfortable saying I want Navarro to look for his shot early and often on offense (even if he is forcing his opportunities), maybe the same idea could extend to Hak. Maybe.

What is Iavaroni's Instruction Regarding Handling Screens on Defense?

Game after game, I am constantly amazed at how bad the Grizzlies - ALL the Grizzlies - play defense against offensive screens. Most teams exploit this weakness with pick-and-roll screens on the ball. The Pistons also exploited it with a variety of off the ball screens. Either way, our players don't work together well in dealing with an offense using screens. And every offense uses screens. Ugh.

It is easy to point to the players in this situation, saying they aren't playing good defense. But when every player deals with offensive screens bad, game after game, maybe it is time to question how the coach is instructing and/or preparing the players to deal with these screens. Is there a consistent technique or strategy employed against ball and off-ball screens?

Early in the year, I went on and on about the passive play against the traditional pick-and-roll. Every guard went under the screen and the bigman rarely hedged (resulting in lots of uncontested jumpers by the PG or SG). Furthermore, the bigman usually stepped back to guard against the roll, only to still give up a easy layups off the roll by the player setting the screen or by the guard coming off the screen. If the bigman isn't hedging the guard to slow him down, he shouldn't then also get beat with a layup!

Against the Pistons, everyone got to see that the Grizzlies are just as bad dealing with off-ball screens. Many times, the big man would try to help out the hapless guard by showing some. That often left their man open under the basket. The confusion on how Pau and Darko was suppose to be helping the guards get through the screens was pretty obvious. After the game Darko talked about it.

We weren't sure who was covering who.

Obviously. But thanks for the confirmation, Darko.

Iavaroni needs to make sure he has clearly laid out how our defenders are suppose to handle being screened and having your man set a screen. At this point, I don't think he is doing a very good job of either having a successful plan, or getting the players to implement that plan successfully.

Is the Coach Just as Responsible as the Players?

After each game, I try to remind myself that this is Coach Iavaroni's first time EVER being a head coach. He is the ultimate rookie head coach, really. He hasn't even been the head coach at a lower level. Clearly, he then is going to be learning what the hell he is doing as the season progresses. At at this stage, I believe, his actions and decisions are just as responsible for our record as the players.

One interesting stat I am curious to see is annual "success after time-outs" article. It is usually one of the more interesting articles they produce each year because it analyzes a stat that is more closely related to the coach, rather than the players. I bet that Iavaroni is not going to do very well in this aspect. I have noticed that we continually do bad coming out of a timeout. Have you noticed the same thing?

Feels the Same as Last Year, But It Can't End the Same

It feels eerily similar to last year at this time, when the team essentially quit playing hard in December. However, it is obvious the solution of firing the coach will not be repeated this time around. As little as a week ago, I was convinced that Wallace wouldn't have the guts to make any type of shakeup to the top 8 players in fear of giving up on the players too soon before the team got to know each other and Iavaroni's system. I figured that the magical 50 game observational period would turn into 82 games and any major moves to the top 8 players would occur in the offseason. But that tide is turning, as the season starts to feel more and more like a repeat of last year. Can Wallace afford to keep sitting on his hands waiting? Maybe, maybe not. But I will no longer be surprised to see a move made sooner than later.

Conley Out 2-3 Weeks; In Other News I Have Some Ocean Front Memphis Property to Sell

Right after Conley was diagnosed with a partially torn shoulder, it was said he would only be out 2-3 weeks and surgery was not needed. I called BS on that immediately in my post on if we should be worried about Conley's injury (answer=yes). Now it is 3 weeks since that first 2-3 week proclamation and he doesn't look like he is close to returning. Just the other day, some one asked Eric on the Vernon show how much longer Conley would be out. He answered 2-3 weeks. Still? I guess that means the initial timetable should have been 5-6 weeks. Well, I call BS again. He couldn't even lift his arm up after the injury. This mysterious constant answer of 2-3 weeks until he returns seems like poppycock. There is no reason to rush him back and I doubt the team will. Right now, I'll put the over/under on when Conley returns to be the All-Star break.


AC said...

You're dead on, Zack, with how badly the Griz are dealing with off-ball picks. But I think they've finally started to improve in defending on-ball picks. They started the season trying to fight through them, which was a disaster, and are now going over the top and switching. Communication on switches is still a problem, but at least progress is being made.

It's offensive picks I still have a problem with. The only big on the roster who seems to know how to set a pick (aside from Cardinal, who never sees the floor) is Darko, and he's very good at it. But everyone else is abysmal, and the guards habitually move either way before the pick is in place or way too far away from it, making the screen useless. It's maddening to watch. No one will ever be open, outside or inside, if you can't set a simple damned screen.

ChipC3 said...

Great comments Zack.

I was wondering where Michael Conley was in rehab myself. Perhaps one of the 'legitimate' media types will try and find that out for us in the next few days. (hint, hint)

hptmatt said...

hey Zack..sorry i said that about "rudy being special" so many times...but damn, he just is :).

Great post. Nice and substantive.

The consistent frustration shown by Ivy on the sideline tells me that *in his mind*, the players just aren't executing on defense like they do in practice...but you are correct in that the CONSISTENTLY horrid defense EVERY FREAKING GAME tells me that there is a gap (nay, CHASM) between what Ivy thinks he's teaching them in practice and tape sessions and what's actually happening in game situations. One of three things is happening:
1)he's not teaching them the right things (i.e. not maximizing assets and minimizing liabilities)
2)he's not feeding it to them in a way that they can digest, which has the same result as #1, or
3)none of our players can string together a full game of consistent defensive effort, due to lack of desire to do so.

I'd be inclined to say it's a mix of 2 and 3. Sure, we're all aware of the defensive liabilities of MM, Pau, etc...but they were on a team that LED THE LEAGUE in fewest points it can be done..and that leads one to believe that there is an instructional shortcoming in here somewhere....I think that there has just been a mental collapse, almost total, on defense, and it has gotten SO MUCH WORSE as the season has progressed rather than improving/gelling/developing chemistry/whatever sunshine term needs to be applied.

I may not make Friday's game due to work, but rest assured, were it not for work,I'd be there rootin' for our Grizzlies.

MemphisX said...

Putting 2 and 2 together, you are on to something. How do you learn to defend screens when you practice against bad screeners all day?

Come on Chris Wallace Ivy has already cried for help.

zack said...

ac...thanks for the comments...always appreciate your insight....

matt...great comment too...

hptmatt said...

oh..and Zack..I'll take 10 wings on the under for Conley :)

I'm thinking mid-january.