Saturday, September 22, 2007

More Linkage

There is a preview of the Grizzlies over on by Joel Brigham. Chip has promised me a post about it, so all I'll do is link to it for the time being. Check it out so that you can see what kind of expectations others have for the Grizz.

Former Grizzlies' GM and Pacers' head coach Dick Versace announced that he will be running for Congress. has the details:

Versace said he will tour the district in a 28-foot motor home called the "Common Sense Express" after he formally announces his intention to run for office at a news conference in the next couple of weeks.

I could make a cheap joke at his expense here, but I'll pass for now. Feel free to take up the slack in the comments section, though.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Links Worth Clicking

Here are a few things worth checking out:

Marc Iavaroni did a conference call with (click for the full transcript) today, covering topics such as the trip to Spain, Juan Carlos Navarro and competition at the point guard position. A solid interview from the Memphis Grizzlies new coach. Here's a snippet of what was said:

Q: At the point guard spot there is a lot of competition this year. How are you going to handle playing time with the training camp?

A: There is competition at several spots, particularly the four spot, between Gasol, Hakim Warrick, Stromile Swift and Brian Cardinal; the two spot between Mike Miller, Tarence Kinsey and Juan Carlos; and also the point guard spot you mentioned. So the players have been advised during the summer through numerous phone calls and a letter that we do want to defend and run, and the guys who come in top shape are going to have an advantage. And this system is going to see who has been most serious about their preparation and I have always felt that the ones who are the most prepared are going to shine. No one is going to be handed the keys. Certain people will have more experience in Memphis and in the NBA, but there is certainly no given, expect maybe Pau should start. I think it's just a question of where he'll start. I think that Mike Miller has in the past started but you know he may feel more comfortable coming off the bench, but other than that I don't think we have many set in stone decisions that have already been made.

Coach Iavaroni also did an interview with local station FOX Memphis (Channel 13), which you can see video of by clicking here.

Over on, staff writer Damien Pierce has a preview of the Southwest division, which he says remains the NBA toughest. It's a good overview of the division that has produced 4 of the past 5 Western Conference champions. Here is what he has to say about the Grizzlies:

Quick Take: Pau Gasol got some help. After finishing last season with the NBA's worst record, the Grizzlies vastly improved their supporting cast. Darko Milicic gives the Grizzlies someone who can team up inside with Gasol, while Juan Carlos Navarro is a seasoned veteran who should boost Memphis' offense with his shooting and passing. But in order for Memphis to make the leap from the lottery to the NBA playoffs in one season, the Grizzlies need some of their young stars to grow up fast. Their first-round pick, Mike Conley, is a promising point guard, but he'll be running an NBA offense for the first time. Rudy Gay must also raise his play in his second season.

Player to Watch:
Juan Carlos Navarro. Pau Gasol's close friend from Spain will make his NBA debut this season. He'll bring some much-needed scoring and passing.

If we miss anything noteworthy, be sure to let us know by e-mailing us at three_shades_ofblue[at]hotmail[dot]com or by leaving us a comment.

And the Hits Keep Coming

Just a word of thanks to some more media markets giving out little web page some serious props. Call it a Verno Bow for the self-promotion if you like.

Wages of Wins mentions us as the lead-in for their review/preview of the Grizzlies season. This web site is an excellent source for statistical analysis of players and other interesting information. They were so kind they even added a link to our web site from theirs.

Unfortunately the preview of the upcoming season wasn't as kind. Brutally honest perhaps but not kind. Unfortunately it is difficult to argue with their reasoning either. David Berri believes that it is unlikely that Darko Milicic will progress from a below average performer during his first four years in the league to an above average performer in his fifth. Sure there are exceptions but we are talking about statistics here and if you roll the dice enough you will eventually get them to land on top of each other but I wouldn't want to bet that happens on the next roll.

What makes matters worse is that they accurately predicted last seasons performance. To quote the preview

Does this mean Memphis cannot have a “good” season this year? As we note in the book, whether something is “good” or “bad” depends upon your point of reference. If your reference point is the top teams in the West, Memphis will probably have a “bad” season. If your reference point is the Vancouver Grizzlies, then Memphis will indeed be “great” in 2006-07.
Last season Memphis won 22 games. One fewer than the best season ever in Vancouver.

I hate it when stats don't lie!

The Commercial Appeal also referenced our web site today with the mention of our meeting a Buffalo Wild Wings with Chris Wallace and the subsequent TrueHoop commentary about the rarity of a GM doing something like that. If I might make a suggestion Ron Tillery, before describing the people's reactions at the meeting you may want to interview at least one person in the group who was present. Just a small piece of advice.

These references joined with the kind words from Chris Vernon, Blog-A-Bull and others really has our website feeling some love heading into the season. Even if our beloved Grizzlies aren't getting as much.

Thanks to all of our readers for checking us out. Especially that one reader from Auckland, New Zealand. If you ever get to Memphis we have to get together!!!

Position Battles - Interior Players

Sorry to take so long to get around to this article but frankly it is the most difficult and with the Chris Wallace meeting and the Joey Crawford story I was somewhat distracted.

Why some may ask are the interior players a more difficult section to write than the Point Guards or Wing Players? Surely this area is the most experienced a pre-determined of the lot.

Actually it isn't that simple. After Pau Gasol there is a lot of confusion on who will play and where. Darko Milicic was the big free agent signing of the summer and at 7 feet, 285 pounds the first legitimately sized big man the team has had to put next to Gasol. Hakim Warrick is more of a tweener forward than a true interior player, Stromile has never lived up to his potential, Brian Cardinal is a broken down shell of the player who was over-paid three years ago and who in heck is Andre Brown anyway?

Well there is a lot more confusion than people expect at first glance. Can Darko play an all-out up tempo game? Can Warrick control the ball well enough to to run the break? Has Stro matured? Has Cardinal's most recent knee surgery cured what ailed him for the last two seasons? Is Andre Brown a diamond in the rough or just a dirty rock?

So many questions and so few answers.

The Interior Players-

Pau Gasol:
The Bearded One had a strong summer performance in front of the home crowd until the FIBA Finals against Russia. A turnover, 4-9 FT shooting and a missed shot in the last 5 minutes killed Spain's chances for their first European Championship. Another meltdown in the final minutes of a big game for the Spaniard is tough to swallow. Real stars don't collapse in the pressure of the bright lights. How emotionally frustrated Pau will be this year should be interesting to watch. The good news for Pau is that, despite never having a true big man to relieve pressure under the basket, he has been remarkably consistent and now he is joined by his good friend Juan Carlos Navarro. With the combination of two new Europeans one -of whom is a legitimate big- should help this be Gasol's best season ever. Throw on top a return to the fast paced game he prefers with new coach Marc Iavaroni and a return to the all-star game may not be outside the realm of possibilities.

Darko Milicic: He has had a troublesome summer as I talked about previously. What I didn't talk about previously was his previous season and playoff performances. Darko was never able to wrest full time duty away from Tony Battie last year averaging only 23.9 mpg. He did use that time efficiently however scoring 8 ppg, grabbing 5.5 rpg and getting 1.8 bpg. In the playoffs those numbers changed to 28.8 mpg, 12.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 1.0 bpg. So he played more, scored more, rebounded less and blocked fewer shots. Now granted, he was playing the Pistons in the playoffs. Darko's best month of the year was in February when he averaged 30.3 mpg, 11.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg and 2.1 bpg. However, his minutes fell in March and April when Orlando made their push to the playoffs averaging fewer than 24 mpg over that time. Why? What is it about Darko, a former #2 pick in the draft, that he can show so much potential but fail to deliver on a consistent basis?

Stromile Swift: Speaking of a former second pick in the draft failing to deliver on a consistent basis, I present you Stromile Swift. Who has been a bigger disappointment in his career, Darko or Stro? Stromile is in an option year of his contract. He can opt out next summer and play the free agent game again. That alone should suggest a bigger year from him than last seasons dysfunctional 54 games. Stro somehow managed to average 7.8 ppg and grab 4.6 rpg last year while blocking 1.1 shots in only 19 mpg but the lack of production seemed far worse during the year. Stro is emotional and maybe the shock of playing for the Grizz again combined with Mike Fratello and his mother's stroke was too much to handle. None of that explains the falloff in February, March and April last season when he should have adjusted to being back, his mom was healthy and Fratello was gone. This could be near the end for Stro as he has a coach who should bring out all the positives of his game. Up-tempo should really benefit Stro, but the crowded rotation means inconsistency won't be tolerated any more.

Hakim Warrick: He is facing the all important 3rd year of his NBA career. If a major step forward is going to be taken this is statistically the year he should show it. And it isn't like Hakim didn't start making those steps last season. His scoring improved from 4.1 ppg to 12.7. His rebounding improved from 2.1 to 5.1 per game. His minutes improved from 10.6 to 26.2 mpg. So basically his scoring tripled, his rebounding doubled and his minutes improved by 2.5. What does this tell us? If you play more you will get more stats but it doesn't mean you really improved your play. Hakim needs to really improve his play this season and that means improved defense, better understanding and functioning in the offense and a more physical play. Most important is defense. Much of the criticism of Gasol's defense last year was when Warrick lost his man and Gasol came over to help, only to have his man left wide open. That cannot continue. Warrick also was the final option offensively too often. Not because he was the last option but when he got his hands on the ball he never let go. Warrick has to prove he can play the 4 similar to Boris Diaw who included everyone in the offense while playing good defense.

Brian Cardinal: Did you hear that TV is bringing back the Bionic Woman...and Memphis is bringing back their $6 million Dollar Man. Unfortunately our man is not any better than the show. Many people forget that Brian Cardinal had another knee surgery last spring. Will this surgery finally cure what has ailed him since his first year in Memphis or is the damage too severe? At this point no one knows for sure. One thing for sure, Cardinal may be able to be rebuilt, but he won't be faster, jump higher or shoot more accurately than before. At best Brian will be the 5th interior player on the team or the 3rd small forward. He definitely is smart enough to play the game, but physically I don't believe they can give him the ability to stay up with the speed and height of the game today.

Andre Brown: If Cardinal is the $6 million dollar man, then Andre Brown is The Shadow. Everyone has heard of him but no one knows what he looks like, has seen him play or know anything about his past other than wild rumors of his dominating lesser talent in South America (actually the NBADL but what's is the difference). At 6-9 Brown should push Swift as the backup big man and could actually pass an uninspired Swift. Brown was described by Chris Wallace as being a hard worker who is content with his role on the team. In other words he won't complain if he sits on the bench in street clothes but has to workout with the team every morning. Apparently that role didn't sit well with Alexander Johnson. If Brown outplays Stro then we could have a physical player to band underneath with a bargain basement price. If he doesn't then we have a hard worker who appreciates the opportunity.

So what is going to happen? Gasol and Darko will become the Ivory Towers on opening night. Warrick could be in the running for sixth man of the year if he improves his defense and his passing. Swift is a big question mark while Cardinal and Brown should rarely appear in anything beside street clothes and warmup suits. I would go so far as to say that if anyone sees what number is on Andre Brown's jersey this season then something has gone terribly wrong.

The big picture depends on Darko. Can he finally break out of his underperformance and become a valuable contributor on a team. The Grizzlies paid him to be there big man. Gasol will do about 20 and 10 like he always does and Warrick should excel in the running offense so whether or not the team can win will depend on Darko being the big man that the city has longed for since 2001. If Darko averages 10+ ppg and grabs 7+ rpg to go along with his shot blocking then Memphis will be tough to stop inside and probably much tougher to score on as well. That frees up the perimeter players to press more on the perimeter which means more opportunities to run. If Darko isn't able to provide that type of production then it will be more difficult to play the pressing defense Iavaroni has said he wants to play and everything else slows down.

Slowing down is not something that most Grizzlies fans want to hear about this team.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Free Agency Fallout

Fans love the frenzy that comes with the offseason. Trades are made, draft picks are scrutinized, free agents are pursued and hope is renewed. This is more true in the NBA than in any other sport, as they tend to have the most active market of any professional sport in America. While the fans love it, the players likely have a different feeling altogether in association with the uncertainty that the offseason brings.

For example, what is Phoenix Suns forward Shawn Marion to think when there are trade rumors swirling about, with the most likely destination being Utah? Or how about Cleveland Cavaliers big man Anderson Varejao and swingman Sasha Pavlovic, who have yet to be offered contracts by the team, despite interest from other teams during the initial free agent period? It appears they'll be re-signing, but when?

Then there are the ramifications of what happens when a team signs one free agent at the expense of re-signing one of their own or having to trade away a player to free up minutes or avoid the luxury tax. Let's take a look at a few situations where that occurred this summer.

Boston Celtics: Traded for Ray Allen, giving up Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West and the #5 draft pick (SF Jeff Green) to the Seattle Supersonics.

Seattle Supersonics: They acquired three SF's (Kevin Durant, Jeff Green and Wally Szczerbiak), effectively paving the way for Rashard Lewis to leave town, which he did in in a sign-and-trade to Orlando for a conditional 2nd round pick.

Orlando Magic: They signed Rashard Lewis to a monstrous free agent contract (6 years, $110 million), so they had to bite the bullet and withdraw the qualifying offer to Darko Milicic, rather than even attempt a sign-and-trade because they couldn't take back any additional salary.

Memphis Grizzlies: The Grizzlies then signed Darko to a 3 year contract and waived forward Alexander Johnson. Johnson later signed with the Miami Heat, who we'll hear from later.

Milwaukee Bucks: They re-signed PG Mo Williams to a extension, which then led restricted free agent G Charlie Bell to decide that he wasn't needed in Wisconsin any longer. So Bell signed an offer sheet with the Miami Heat.

Miami Heat: Signed Charlie Bell to an offer sheet, leading to speculation that oft-injured PG Jason Williams will be moved, for the purposes of playing time and luxury tax implications. Finding a new home for J-Will could potentially save the Heat millions this season. Perhaps he'll go to Atlanta since Milwaukee just signed Royal Ivey to a contract.

As you can see, transactions in the NBA can have a domino effect that can affect multiple players and teams and lead to many other transactions and deals being made. This was just a small sample that really started with just two teams each making a move, but it involved 6 teams and might not be finished yet. I could go on and on with every transaction made this offseason, playing connect the dots, but I think I've made my point. This is also another thing to consider when factoring in just how difficult it must be a GM in the NBA, when you never know how the Butterfly Effect will touch you.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Despite 'Average' Play, Miller Represents

Most Griz fans are well aware that 4 current players participated in international, Olympic qualifying tournaments this year. Shades of Blue has reviewed the play of Pau Gasol and Juan Carlos Navarro for Spain and Darko Milicic for Serbia (and his, um, performance).

I’m going to delve into Mike Miller’s play for Team USA.

Of the 4 Griz players, Miller had the least impact on his team. This was, of course, due to Team USA being composed of nothing but top tier NBA players at least 3 of whom are future Hall-of-Fame players.

Despite his limited role, I don't want to take anything from Miller. I thought just being invited to the try outs said a lot about Miller as a player and by itself was a high honor. Miller was originally on the bubble to make the team. Just before cuts were finally made, I read arguments on both side regarding Miller's status. Here is what one prominent NBA writer wrote:

Since Miller is considerably less mobile than Redd, there's no strategic reason for him to be given a uniform.

Though Mike DeCourcy made a much better argument for his inclusion.

If I asked you to find the single essential member of that team by perusing that list (of 15 invitees), would you come up with the right guy? Would you recognize that the U.S. absolutely needs Miller to be an important part of this team?

In the end, Nick Collison, Kevin Durant, and JJ Reddick (why was he even invited?) got cut from the 15 man roster and Team USA (correctly) kept Miller.

Miller competed mostly with Michael Redd and Tayshaun Prince for reserve playing time at the wing. In the Las Vegas tryouts, Miller shined while Redd was off. For the most part, the opposite was true during the 10 FIBA games. Miller and Redd were the resident 3-point specialist, with the two leading the team in 3-point attempts. Below average 3-point shooting was identified as one of the weak spots in the last Olympics.

Speaking stats, Miller averaged 7.9 ppg and 38% on 3-pointers. The 38% was by all accounts a disappointing number. It is about 2 percentage points lower than his NBA career average despite the 3-point line being closer. In comparison Redd's numbers were much better (which is who everyone will compare Miller with because likely one of the wing players is going to get bumped to make room for another big come '08). Redd averaged 14.4 ppg on 45% on 3-pointers.

Though I must say, although Redd averaged more points and shot better from beyond the arc, I think Miller is a better overall fit for Team USA. I think Redd forces too many shots. Miller is at his best being setup for open catch and release 3's against either a zone or trailing the break. Team USA has plenty of players that can force shots.

What grade would you give Miller for his 2007 Team USA performance? The consensus seems to be 'average'.

ESPN's Sheridan gives Miller a C+:

Had his best game of the tournament Saturday with four 3-pointers and 14 points, but was erratic in the games before that and shot only 43 percent overall, 37 percent on 3s. Can't see him having any chance of making next summer's team unless injuries make Michael Redd and/or Joe Johnson unavailable.

SI's Chris Mannix gives Miller a C:

He was brought on board to shoot threes, and when he couldn't do that effectively (38 percent), he lost his usefulness. Expect Wade to snatch Miller's spot next year.

Looks like the conventional wisdom will be that Mike's Team USA roster spot is as good as gone next year. Regardless, I'm proud to see a Grizzly on the team, even if he underperformed. Miller represented the Grizzlies well (and I'm extremely happy he came away unhurt). We have been told that Iavaroni's system needs good 3-point shooters and if Miller was good enough at that skill to be selected for Team USA as a 3-point specialist, my guess is he is going to follow up this summer with the confidence and opportunity to have a career year in the NBA.

Lead the Way

In a recent Q&A session with Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News, Dallas Mavericks coach Avery Johnson had the following exchange:

What does Dirk Nowitzki have to do this year to improve on an MVP season?

Dirk can get better, and there are some things that Dirk can improve in that may not be basketball-related. It may be leadership-related. Dirk can get better on and off the court. And that's why I've been stretching him. He's the reigning MVP, and if he's not willing to be stretched by his coach, then he never would have improved. So he's willing to be stretched. And his stretching may not be necessarily on the court, but it may be in the area of leadership, and we're willing to help him get better in that area.

In case you didn't catch that, allow me to spell it out for you: Avery Johnson believes that Dirk hasn't been the leader of his team to this point. Here's what Mavericks blogger Tim McMahon had to say in response to this:

Dirk's off-the-charts work ethic sets a tone for this team, but he does not have a take-charge personality. Not sure how that's going to change a decade into his career.

The reason that I bring this up is because I see yet another parallel between Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol. Both players have been recognized as the best players on their respective teams for several seasons and have the stats to back up that claim. While Nowitzki has had more postseason success (arguably due to a far superior supporting cast to this point), their careers have followed similar arcs as two of the premier international players in the NBA today. However, with the levels of success that both of them have achieved, there has been a widespread perception that even though they are the best players on their teams, they are not their team's leader.

I realize that you can lead a team in many different ways. There is the obvious example of being a vocal leader who not only encourages teammates and exhorts them to raise their level of play, but also criticizes them when necessary and is someone who commands the respect of his entire team (example: Steve Nash). Next, there is the clutch leader -- the guy who takes control of a game, demands the ball when a score is needed and relishes pressure (example: Kobe Bryant). Then, there is the consumate leader. He is the player who does both things listed above and finds ways to win games, even if it means letting others take the big shot (example: Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan). There have been times over the past two seasons that Dirk has been either a vocal leader or a clutch leader, but not consistently enough for him to be considered a true leader of his team. When he criticizes his teammates ,it always seems to be in the wrong manner, often by using the media to deliver his statements, which creates problems in the locker room. In the same way, Pau has hit game-winning shots for his team and has encouraged his teammates in tough situations, but has also been quoted in Spanish newspapers (some of questionable repute) asking for a trade or complaining about the supporting cast the front office has provided. These are not the traits of a true consumate leader (you listening Kobe?), because what that does is create disharmony amongst the team, the organization and the fans. By doing things in this manner, Pau and Dirk have undermined their own leadership of their teams.

As ChipC3 said to me earlier today, a team without a leader is like a foot without a big toe. Without the big toe, it is impossible to even maintain balance, much less walk in a straight line. For the Mavericks and Grizzlies to reach the full potential of their respective talent levels, someone will have to step up and captain their ships. O Captain! My Captain!

Joey Crawford is Back

Joey Crawford is back...and I am shocked.

Only the NBA would look to clean up their officiating issues after Tim Donaghy and his gambling by putting Joey Crawford back on the payroll.

It isn't like the NBA has had a real easy time this summer. I mean hasn't the league had enough bad publicity involving their refs. Tim Donaghy isn't a big enough black eye for the league?

I do believe everyone deserves a second chance in life so don't get me wrong here. If he has truly rehabilitated from his anger issues then he definately deserves a second chance but is it wise to put a person with anger issues in a high stress job like NBA officiating when everyone is already gearing up to jump all over the refs this season after the gambling scandal?

Isn't this like putting a recovering alcoholic in a beer drinking contest? Sure he should be able to withstand the temptation but WHY WOULD YOU DO IT?

Not only with Joey have to deal with the stress of travel, the constant beratement from fans and the constant whining from players but now he will have people screaming about the game being fixed by the refs on top of it. Would it have killed the NBA to wait one more season before bringing back the most polarizing official in league history?

I hope everything works out well for Joey. I hope his counseling has produced a more laid back but just as efficient official. Joey when he is on his game is an excellent referee who doesn't coddle stars, favor veterans over rookies or basically play with more than one set of rules. He calls the game as he sees it.

Joey's problem is when he is off his game. When Joey's inner demons took over and he would toss anyone for any reason. His inability to remain on an even keel was his undoing. Fans, players and coaches alike who have witnessed Joey on an off-night will testify to how he not only lost his composure but complete control of the game. I personally remember a night when Joey threw out nearly half of the Grizzlies team within a 5 minutes span. This is the same Grizzlies team that didn't lift a finger to respond to Kobe Bryant decking Mike Miller. We aren't talking about a real aggressive team here.

If course that appears to have changed with the addition of Darko Milicic. He doesn't seem to have any problems showing his inner feelings when angry.

One piece of advice Joey. Don't have an off night in Memphis. And I wouldn't bring your mother, wife or daughter to the game either.

Brian Cardinal - Unlikely Success Story

Jeff Washburn has a nice article on Brian Cardinal in the Journal & Courier today titled "Cardinal continues to realize NBA dream". According to Cardinal, his expectations were met when he made the varsity basketball team in Tolono, Illinois. Needless to say, he has achieved much more than that accomplishment.

"I've succeeded just by being myself ... working hard and being proactive," Cardinal said. "I've improved as the years have gone on. I'm not getting younger, and it seems like the kids coming into the league are getting younger and younger.

"Those guys are much more athletic than what I am. In my position, I'm just trying to stay ahead of the game by continuing to work out and stay in shape. I always try to get after it."

Cardinal and his wife, Danielle, live in Memphis and have a 10-month-old son, Bryson. Cardinal's wife is former Purdue women's basketball player Danielle Bird.

"We enjoy living in Memphis," Cardinal said. "It's a great city. I have a lot of good friends there. There are several Purdue grads that we have befriended. We love it."

And barbecue connoisseur Cardinal couldn't have picked a better city to satisfy his dining habits. He is a frequent visitor to The Rendezvous and Interstate Barbecue -- each a Memphis staple.

"I probably get there too often," Cardinal said. "It's great ... some of the best barbecue. It's good living down there."

It's a nice piece about where hard work and determination can lead you to, and it was nice to hear about one of our less-heralded team members for a change. Who knows, maybe I'll get an Andre Brown or Casey Jacobsen story later this week to top this one.

I know that a lot of people complain rather vociferously about Cardinal's contract and his continual stints on the disabled list the past few seasons. It is true that he hasn't fully lived up to the deal he signed in terms of presence or performance. However, after reading something like this and then recalling how his play in the 2004/05 season helped propel the Grizzlies into the playoffs despite Pau Gasol's absence in several games due to plantar fasciitis, it makes me realize that we, as fans, can be incredibly heartless and critical of guys who are just like us in reality...only a little bit taller. I'm sure none of these players want to get injured after signing these big contracts -- that's just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. And, for all the offbase talk about how "bad" Cardinal's contract is, it isn't like we're dealing with a contract the size of Penny Hardaway, Grant Hill or Allan Houston, is it?

With all that said, I believe that Cardinal can be a valuable contributor for this team, even with the uptempo style they are sure to play. He won't play 24 mpg as he did in 2004/05, but the hustle and perimeter shooting he can likely provide for 8-12 mpg (if needed) should be enough to give Pau, Hakim and Rudy some much needed rest at the forward positions. For me, this is just one more reason to get excited about Memphis Grizzlies basketball as the season draws ever closer.

Monday, September 17, 2007

International Flavor

The European Basketball Championships came to an end Sunday night, as Russia stunned host country Spain 60-59 in the Finals, while Lithuania knocked off Greece in the bronze medal game 78-69. You can read a recap of the Final on Yahoo! Sports and get some analysis from my source for international baskeball commentary-- The Painted Area. Also, be sure to check out Chris Sheridan's spotlight feature on J.R. Holden, the American born Russian basketball star who aided Andrei Kirilenko in bringing home the gold medal. In fact, check out all of Sheridan's columns about the tournament, as he shows a true committment to covering the international scene, rather than just relying on boxscores and highlights to form opinions. He's one of the better NBA writers out there right now. Henry Abbott has some insight on TrueHoop, too.

This was a disappointing conclusion to what had been a great tournament for Spain and its premier player, Pau Gasol. Gasol joined his entire team in having a rough day, as Spain shot a tournament low 29% from the floor, with Gasol having difficulty from the floor (3/12) and the free-throw line (4/9). He finished with 14 points and 14 rebounds, but missed what would have been the game winner at the buzzer after J.R. Holden scored the go-ahead bucket with only seconds left on the clock. Gasol had played very well throughout the tournament, averaging 19.4 ppg on .680 FG% and .773 FT% in 27 mpg prior to the Final against Russia. As noted earlier, he was not alone in his struggles, as only José Calderón seemed to be on his "A" game, scoring 15 points on 5/7 shooting from 3-point range. Newest Memphis Grizzlies member Juan Carlos Navarro also had an abnormally quiet game, going scoreless in 17 minutes after averaging 14 ppg in his previous 4 games. While the final result was a huge disappointment to Spain, its players had performed extremely well all tournament and they suffered no serious injuries, so for NBA fans paying attention to the tournament, this was an all-around success for all teams involved.

Of course, Gasol and Navarro weren't the only Grizzlies to play this summer, as both Mike Miller and Darko Milicic joined their national teams in action. You can check out ChipC3's thoughts on Darko . We'll have a post about Miller later this week, so be sure to check back for it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Darko's Summer in Turmoil

Darko Milicic has had the type of summer movies are made of this year. Disaster movies like Earthquake, The Towering Inferno or The Poseidon Adventure.

First he began the summer as a restricted free agent who's agent was suggesting Darko was worth $10 million a year. Then Orlando relinquished his rights choosing to sign Rashard Lewis instead. This led to rather hostile discussions between Darko's agent and the Magic which eliminated any chance Darko would return to Orlando in any manner other than an opponents uniform.

Darko accepted Memphis' offer of $6.5 million a year instead. This became a little uncomfortable when it was released that Darko had possibly implied that Pau Gasol, Memphis' resident big man, may be less than physical in his approach to the game. This was most likely misinterpreted and more directed at Spain than Memphis but it left a sour taste in people's mouths.

While this was going on Darko was preparing to play for his home country of Serbia in the FIBA European Championships. Serbia is a relative newcomer to European basketball. Originally a part of Yugoslavia and then combining with Montenegro this was to be the first European championship where Serbia competed as an individual country. Darko felt immense pressure to perform at the highest level for his country.

And perform he did. Darko was second in scoring (14.7 ppg), first in rebounding (9.7 per game) and first in blocked shots (3.3 per game). While shooting a disappointing 41% from the field a major reason for that was the 2-13 shooting performance against Russia. Darko did shoot over 50% for the rest of the tournament. His free throw shooting left much to be desired however.

Unfortunately Darko was also first in fines at the tournament after an expletive laced commentary about the referees following a close loss to Greece.

Serbia failed to win a single game in the competition but lost all three games by a combined 15 points. Russia, the eventual champion, beat Serbia by 10. Greece, the 4th place team, won by a single point in the highly controversial game. Israel beat the deflated Serbian team by a mere four points that was probably more of a hangover from the Greece game than anything else.

So what did we see from Darko's international experience this summer? We found that Darko won't sit around and accept things. We discovered that Darko is capable of rebounding and scoring on the international stage and as a player is ready to mature his game on the bigger stages. We also saw quite graphically that Darko isn't mature yet and still has troubles with maintaining his emotions.

Most encouraging was his rebounding, a major weakness of the Grizzlies in previous seasons. Darko was among the best rebounders in the tournament averaging 9.3 a game. To put it in perspective that was more than Dirk Nowitzki (8.6 per game), Pau Gasol (7.0 per game) and Andrei Kirilenko (8.6 per game). His weaknesses were maintaining his composure and free throw shooting (52.6%). Throw in the physical way he played and there is a lot more to be excited about than some originally thought.

Now if he can co-exist with Pau and Hakim Warrick in the paint, things could be very good for the Grizzlies this season.


As the international tournaments came to a close today (more on that tomorrow), I contemplated the transition of international players who enter the NBA not having attended college here in America. I recalled a post of mine from the Grizzlies Messageboard and will revisit it here.

We're all probably aware of the dreaded "rookie wall" that all players hit after entering the NBA from college. For most players this occurs somewhere near the middle of the season, typically around late January/early February. This is a result of players having to adapt from playing an average of 30-40 games a season in high school/college to an 82-game regular season in the NBA that is filled with travel and back-to-back games. So, we've come to recognize this as an eventuality, rather than something that only affects a percentage of in players (like the lesser-known "sophomore slump"). We're able to follow players in America from early on in their careers now, which means we usually have a reasonable level of familiarity on which to base expectations. However, with more and more players coming from international backgrounds, it has become increasingly difficult to determine not only how well their talent level and abilities will translate to the NBA game, but what expectations we should place on them. I believe that much of this is due to the fact that many fans are unaware of the length and type of seasons that are played overseas. An increased knowledge about this area should help us to determine what the transition curve should be for incoming international players, such as Juan Carlos Navarro.

Many of the leagues are set up in a very similar nature to their soccer counterparts, which means that there are 2 or 3 different "leagues" or tournaments that occur throughout a season. Navarro's former team, FC Barcelona, played 73 games last year, spread out over two leagues and a tournament (ACB, Euroleague and Spanish Cup). Their "season" lasted from October 1 through June 24, which is comparable to an NBA regular season and playoffs, albeit with approximately 20 fewer games played over that timeframe. Also, they only played one set of back-to-back games, which were the semifinal and final of the Spanish Cup. The more extensive schedule combined with the constant travel leads to fatigue for veteran players, so it is no surprise that it affects incoming rookies as greatly as it does.Here's a look at how some heralded international players (either then or now) have fared in their initial foray into the NBA.

Pau Gasol, age 21 (2001/02): 36.7 mpg, 17.6 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 2.7 apg, 2.1 bpg, .518 FG%, .709 FT%

Yao Ming, age 22 (2002/03): 29.0 mpg, 13.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1.8 bpg, .498 FG%, .811 FT%

Peja Stojakovic, age 21 (1999/00): 21.4 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.5 apg, 0.9 spg, .378 FG%, .320 3PT%, .851 FT%

Manu Ginobili, age 25 (2002/03): 20.7 mpg, 7.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.0 apg, 1.4 spg, .438 FG%, .345 3PT%, .737 FT%

Tony Parker, age 19 (2001/02): 29.4 mpg, 9.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.2 spg, .419 FG%, .323 3PT%, .675 FT%

Dirk Nowitzki, age 20 (1998/99): 20.4 mpg, 8.2 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 1.0 apg, .405 FG%, .206 3PT%, .773 FT%

Andres Nocioni, age 25 (2004/05): 23.3 mpg, 8.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.5 apg, .401 FG%, .258 3PT%, .766 FT%

Leandro Barbosa, age 21 (2003/04): 21.4 mpg, 7.9 ppg, 1.8 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.3 spg, .447 FG%, .395 3PT%, .770 FT%

Jose Calderon, age 24 (2005/06): 23.2 mpg, 5.5 ppg, 2.2 rpg, 4.5 apg, .423 FG%, .163 3PT%, .848 FT%

Boris Diaw, age 21 (2003/04): 25.3 mpg, 4.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.4 apg, .447 FG%, .602 FT%

Jorge Garbajosa, age 29 (2006/07): 28.5 mpg, 8.5 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.2 spg, .420 FG%, .731 FT%

Toni Kukoc, age 25 (1993/94): 24.1 mpg, 10.9 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 3.4 apg, 1.1 spg, .431 FG%, .271 3PT%, .743 FT%

Based on the statistics above, it would seem that there is an adjustment period for practically every player upon entering the NBA, no matter how much talent they possess. It is worth noting that there was no discernible "rookie wall" that international players hit in comparison to their fellow players who attended college in the U.S. For the most part, many players simply exhibited a typical inconsistency from game to game that we expect out of rookies, but no dropoff after a certain amount of games. The conclusion I came to is that international players are more prepared for the long grind that is the NBA regular season than their collegiate counterparts. However, both sets of players require an adjustment to the talent level of the NBA. I'd love for David Berri to tackle this subject in the future just to see what results he comes up with.

Hakim Warrick prepared for new season

In today's Commercial Appeal, Grizzlies beat writer Ron Tillery has an article titled "Grizzlies' Warrick ready to run". Here's what Warrick had to say:

"I'm looking forward to this season because I think the opportunity will be there for me. It's going to be an up-tempo system. Coach said he wants us to get out there and run," Warrick said after working out with several teammates last week in FedExForum.

A good, positive article that should get most fans excited about the upcoming season. Be sure to read it if you haven't already.

Edit by Zack (9/17/06, 9:48am)...

I wanted to throw a little bit more out there on Hak.

In particular, two things in the above mentioned Commercial Appeal article caught my eye.

The first was Hak's mention of working on his mid-range game.

"We got a lot of shots up, working on my mid-range game," Warrick said. "I'm trying to become a more polished player from 15 feet."

Something very similar to this was said last offseason about Hak working on his mid-range jumper. Did it help? Yes, I think it did.

In 05/06 Hakim shot 44% from the field (in only 10 mpg). In 06/07 Hak shot 52% from the field in increased minutes of action. From those numbers alone, that shows that Hak's practice paid off.

But there is more to it if one looks at stats provided by 82games.

In 05/06 Hak shot just 27% on what 82games labels as "Jump" shots. Not good. In addition, 16% of those jump shots were blocked (!) and only 37% were assisted.

Compare that to 06/07 where Hak shot 41% on jump shots, with only 4% getting blocked and 61% being assisted.

Looking at the 82games stats, it is easy to see how much Hak improved his mid-range game between his rookie and sophomore campaigns. He almost doubled his percentage of made jump shots. But more important, he got less shots blocked and let the shots come more naturally in the flow of the offense evident by having more be assisted shots.

The next point that raised my interest was Iavaroni mentioning that Hak would be asked to pass more and specifically mentioned the hand-off pass.

"He has to be versatile enough to make that mid-range shot and be a confident passer," Iavaroni said. "He needs to be a confident dribble hand-off guy. That's big in our offense. (Frontcourt players) in our offense have to be able to make decisions."

How well will Hak do given more responsibility passing? I'm not sure. Last year, particularly when Pau was hurt, Hak regularly would shoot almost anytime the ball came his way in the post. On top of that he averaged almost 2 turnovers per game last year.

Being asked to pass more will most likely challenge Hak to raise his overall game, not just his ability to score from inside and out. Keep in mind Griz fans, this is Haks 3rd coach in as many years. If he doesn't immediately show Boris Diaw like passing skills in Iavaroni's system, just be patient. He might just find that next offseason will be devoted more to passing and less on scoring.