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.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Grizzlies look to acquire Juan Carlos Navarro

The terms of the deal are believed to be as follows per Chris Vernon at

Memphis receives J.C. Navarro. Washington will receive a first round pick from the Grizzlies (contrary to what has been reported, I am told that this is how it will break down). I will try to make this as simple as I can, but it is a little tricky.
'08 if the Grizzlies select 20 or further down, it goes to the Wizards (top 19 protected)
'09 if the Grizzlies select 17 or further down, it goes to the Wizards (top 16 protected)
'10- '12 the Grizzlies pick is lottery protected
'13 - the pick is top 12 protected and if it has not been given, cash considerations will be given to the Wizards.

Face value, this deal isn't a great one, because we are, in fact, potentially giving up a 1st round pick for a player who can only sign a one-year deal. A player that's not a big name or a proven contributor, I might add. Most of the people who are opposing this deal see it in those terms.

However, if you weigh in all the factors, you'll see that this is a low-risk deal. First, unless he signs a contract, we're not parting with anything. Second, the draft pick is lottery protected, so there is a strong possibility that it will be rolled over to the following year's draft anyways. Third, Navarro's friendship (and loyalty) to Gasol make it a strong bet that he'll be ready to re-sign with the Grizzlies next offseason without holding us over the proverbial barrel. Fourth, this move will be the "cherry on top" in meeting Gasol's various requests over the past few seasons, since he's already been provided with two capable young point guards and the big man he's been in need of for the past 4 years. Acquiring his best friend -- who isn't exactly a sub-standard shooter, by the way -- should lay to rest the last of his concerns about the team being willing to do what is necessary to not only compete and move towards being a contender, but to also prove that they feel he is the cornerstone that they want to build around.

I don't believe in kowtowing to a player's demands simply for the sake of "keeping them happy", but since we all seem to recognize that Navarro will likely be a solid pro and will upgrade the overall talent level of the team, I see this as a positive move for the franchise as a whole, not just for Pau. The Heat and Lakers were both working to acquire Navarro's services, so I'm fairly certain that he has the talent level to make an impact in the NBA.