Saturday, February 9, 2008

Links: NBA Officiating, Gasol Trade Review, Team Names, Rudy Illustration

One of these days, the guys over at Hardwood Paroxysm are going to stop looking to us for answers. Until that happens, we're going to keep pulling answers out of our nether regions. This time around, they wanted to talk about NBA officiating. Well, that's one of our favorite subjects to vent our frustrations about, so we quite willingly obliged.

Chris Mannix ( thinks that the Memphis Grizzlies -- and Chris Wallace in particular -- might be a little in over their heads right now, given what they got in return for former franchise player Pau Gasol. Once you get past his biting sarcasm, it isn't hard to find some common ground to agree with him on, though.

Rooktopia has taken it upon themselves to rate the Western Conference's teams based solely upon their name. You'll be happy to know that while they only gave the Grizzlies 4/5, they do have a solution that would make them, along with 2 other teams, tops in the league.

Joel Kimmel has another fantastic illustration up on his blog -- this time of Rudy Gay in a representation of a dunk he'd like to see performed in the Dunk Contest.

Blog/Website of the Day: Basketbawful

Friday, February 8, 2008

Postgame Thoughts - Dallas

I don't understand how people can't be entertained watching the Grizzlies these days. My friend and I had a blast watching the Dallas game. Halfway into the 3rd quarter I bet him that the Grizzlies would score 80 points in the game. It was so exciting watching to see if it would happen.

What has Juan Carlos Navarro done to earn the hatred of the refs? He was getting mugged tonight without any calls. I can understand his frustration. We were absolutely laughing watching Eddie Jones nearly knock him over at midcourt in the third with no call, regrouping himself and driving into the lane and having Barea hook his arms with no call. The next time down the court Devan George elbowed him to the court for a rebound right in front of the ref with no call. I realize that Navarro has to be down after buying his contract out from Barcelona (yes he paid them to get out) so he could play with Pau only to see his best friend traded but the calls, or lack of them, certainly has to be making him wonder what he is doing here.

Rudy looked great in the first half but disappeared in the 2nd. Miller looked off all night and particularly bad in the 2nd when he lost the ball at midcourt, only to have it knocked back toward him so he kicked it toward the sideline and then slid out of bounds going for the ball. That was just embarrassing. Darko failed to get his double-double but didn't look particularly bad. He just didn't look particularly good either. Hakim is playing like he is a career bench player.

Free throw shooting was abyssmal. How does trading Pau cause the team to shoot 19-32? 13 missed free throws and a 12 pt loss. I wonder if there is a connection? Shooting below 40% from the field isn't going to get you many wins either. It just appears the team is lost without Gasol drawing double teams down low.

Face it, the team is bad right now. That doesn't mean they are that bad a team however. If the team doesn't shoot well then they aren't going to win but I believe that the shooting will improve once the team adjusts to Pau's being gone. Free throw shooting is a longer term problem however. Darko shoots free throws so poorly my high school coach would bench him on that alone and Kwame is worse!

The team looks lost on offense but at least is improving on defense. Probably the highlight of the game for me after Dallas went on a 11-2 run to end the half was when Jason Collins flattened Devan George instead of letting him get an easy layup. When has that happened by a Grizzlies player before?

Saturday night will probably be more of the same but after the all-star break I expect a better overall effort from the team. It's tough to make major changes to a young team in mid-season but there is a green light at the end of this tunnel. That FA money should find someone to help this team this summer. We just have to endure the rest of the season until that happens. A high draft pick and a veteran FA who can contribute inexpensively (I don't believe we will be going after a name player this summer) plus experience for Navarro, Conley, Rudy (yes he can still get better) and Lowry will make the team better next year.

I wasn't around when the Brooklyn Dodgers played ball at Ebbetts Field but I have heard their refrain: "Wait til next year!"

Memphis at New Orleans -2.10.08

Memphis comes to New Orleans desperate for a win, any win, but it will be difficult against the Hornets, one of the best teams in the league this season. Memphis has struggled to find an identity after trading their biggest name, Pau Gasol, for cap space and future draft picks essentially. The most encouraging player from the trade, Javaris Crittenton, may be forced to play out of position if he wants to get any playing time this season. Kwame Brown adds size and defense to the interior but has been mostly a disappointment since being the #1 pick in the draft. This is most likely the last chance Kwame will get to impress anyone enough to sign him for more than the MLE so motivation should be on his side as well. Rudy Gay and Mike Miller are still the leaders of the team but will struggle to find open looks without an interior scoring threat.

New Orleans had been one of the top teams in the Southwest Division all season. Led by MVP candidate Chris Paul and balanced with a strong rotation including Peja Stojakovic, David West and Tyson Chandler, The Hornets have resurrected the franchise that only three seasons ago won a grand total of 18 games after trading their biggest name, Baron Davis. That trade brought back two old bad players in Dale Davis and Speedy Claxton and no draft picks. The Hornets are the poster children for the idea that by making smart draft picks and good free agent signings a quick turnaround is possible. New Orleans has improved thanks to improved health as much as anything. Last year New Orleans struggled with injuries to Chris Paul and Peja Stojakovic to just miss the playoffs. This season New Orleans is 3-0 against Memphis including two overtime games.

Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Chris Paul
Mike didn't start against Dallas but he was clearly the more polished player and will most likely start against the Hornets. Welcome to the NBA rookie, go guard MVP candidate Chris Paul. Paul has been outstanding this season and while LeBron is the front-runner, CP3 isn't far behind. Conley is a great looking rookie but he has only played 20 games this season and 2 years ago was playing high school ball. He has a bright future but this isn't the future.
Advantage: New Orleans

Shooting Guard: Mike Miller vs Morris Peterson

Miller started at SF against Dallas but MoPete can just shoot over Navarro while being a good enough defender to prevent JCN from getting any looks. Miller on the other hand is tall enough to contain MoPete and can cause him problems when the Grizz have the ball. Miller is good for a lot of points in spurts as long as they aren't crucial points in the game. He should be able to do some damage against MoPete.
Advantage: Memphis

Small Forward: Rudy Gay vs Peja Stojakovic

Peja has a history against Memphis that isn't very good. If there is a better pure shooter in the NBA than Mike Miller than Peja is on that short list. At 6-10 he is a matchup nightmare on the perimeter where his deadly accuracy and fast release allow him to score in bunches. Rudy Gay is able to hit some great shots but struggles against better defenders off the dribble. Lucky for Rudy that Peja isn't one of those defenders. Rudy will need to force Peja to work on defense so he can't focus on offense. Rudy has also been doing a great job on the boards lately and will need to continue to do so.
Advantage: Memphis

Power Forward: Hakim Warrick vs David West

Hakim has not played well enough to earn the spot but then again what interior player has off the bench? West is a monster when his game is not on. Give him some quick easy baskets and he will likely get on a roll. Hakim had shown an instant offense reputation off the bench but Memphis can't wait that long to get a scorer on the court. As a starter Hakim hasn't been nearly as effective. Memphis needs someone who can score around the hoop and Hak is drifting further and further from the basket too often.
Advantage: New Orleans

Center: Darko Milicic vs Tyson Chandler

TYson Chandler didn't play Thursday against the Suns but is expected back for this game, Why are they rushing him? Darko had his string of double-doubles end in Dallas but is capable of starting another run as soon as the ball is thrown up. Darko still relies on one basic move but teams struggle to stop a 7-2 man throwing up hook shots. Once he refinds his range he could be deadly effective underneath. Darko can't fall too in love with his shot however or Tyson Chandler will be sprinting past him to get easy baskets. Darko needs to rebound on the defensive end and rush to get on defense on our misses. If healthy Tyson Chanler is hand full on the backboard and has range out to at least 12 inches from the rim. The problem is nothis range since he is such an effective offensive rebounder.
Advantage: New Orleans

Bench: Memphis vs New Orleans

No contest here. Moving ice cold Juan Carlos Navarro to the bench won't help him find his shot. Crittenton is exciting but out of control. Hopefully that has more to do with his lack of knowledge of the system and not a character trait. Kwame Brown makes Darko look good at the free throw line. Jason Collins at least has shown the willingness to guard the lane with his body. Lowry will have to force the pace to be effective. Memphis' gamble of going big early means they have no backup SF. The Hornets have been getting freat production from their bench. Janerro Pargo is on a roll. Former Grizz Bobby Jackson will drain anything if left alone. Even Julian Wright has been getting some court time but it is still the starters that drive this team.
Advantage: New Orleans

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Wondering about the Wages of Wins

3 Shades of Blue in general (and myself in particular) have always been fans of the work of David Berri, one of the co-authors of the book Wages of Wins. I recently had the opportunity to ask David some questions via email about the Grizzlies and the Pau Gasol trade in particular. Here are the results of that conversation.

3SoB: David – First let me say how much I appreciate you taking the time to do this. I suppose given your Bakersfield residence you felt obligated the fill in the blanks left from the Pau Gasol trade. After all if Memphis can give the Lakers a championship you can at least give a bit of your time to the Grizzlies blog writers!
David: Glad to talk to you and your audience (which I gather is growing very rapidly).

To keep reading click here...

Memphis at Dallas - 2.8.08

Memphis continues the painful trip from optomism to reality as they venture to one of the most difficult arenas to play in the country when they take on the Dallas Mavericks Friday night. Memphis has seemed in shock, both the team and the fans, from the Gasol trade. On the good news front Mike Conley is expected to play for the first time since the Washington game on January 23rd. The bad news is that Dallas is where he originally hurt his shoulder that caused him to miss so much time early in the season.

Dallas continues to hang around the lead of the Southwest division thanks to the play of Dirk Nowitski. Last season's MVP started the season slowly but has been steadily improving and, despite the back to back losses last week at Boston and Detroit, Dallas is in great shape to win the division again as they are currently tied with Saturday night's opponent New Orleans and have a 1.5 game lead over San Antonio. Rumors have been swirling however that Dallas may be interested in acquiring former Mav point guard Jason Kidd. You will have to put me in the see it to believe it catagory.

Point Guards: Mike Conley vs Jose Barea
Barea hurt the Grizzlies the last meeting in the Mavericks rout. His 9 points came at crucial times when it looked like Memphis may make a run. Barea isn't a great shooter or passer overall but as a starter he has hit 54% of his FG attempts and 58% of his 3 pt shots. Mike Conley is more in control as the starting point guard than Kyle Lowry and his return should be a big benefit for the Grizzlies. Coach Iavaroni has said that Conley has looked good in practice and even taken a few tough hits without problem. However rust has to be a factor as will conditioning. If Conley is 100% and not afraid of contact then he should have the advantage but only time will tell if that is the case. Barea will physically challenge Conley despite his relative size disadvantage.
Advantage: Dallas

Shooting Guard: Mike Miller vs Eddie Jones

Eddie Jones is old. His performances this season reflect. His 3.5 average and 36.8% shooting means Mike could have a relatively easy night on defense for a change. The problem is Eddie Jones can still play defense and he knows Mike's tendancies and prefered shooting locals. He won't let Mike get open looks very often. When defended Mike has a tendancy to disappear and the Grizzlies don't have enough offensive weapons to match the Mavs if Mike isn't being aggressive. Mike should outperform Jones but will it be enough to change the outcome?
Advantage: Memphis

Small Forwards: Rudy Gay vs Josh Howard

Two players having serious break out seasons meet in this matchup. Rudy Gay is now considered the second best player in last season's draft but unlike Brandon Roy doesn't seem as comfortable in the lead scoring role yet. Rudy can hit clutch shots and has little fear but his ball-handling skill leaves much to be desired and he doesn't hit open teammates as much as is needed for a lead player. Howard toiled under Dirk's shadow for 4 seasons but this season emerged from the shadow to establish himself as a legitimate threat. Averaging 20.8 ppg this season puts Howard in 2nd place in scoring ahead of Jason Terry and only 1.6 ppg behind Dirk. What's more he has played above that level against Memphis averaging 26.5 ppg in the series.
Advantage: Dallas

Power Forwards: Hakim Warrick vs Dirk Nowitzki

Dirk Nowitzki used to light up Pau Gasol on the defensive end while letting his big centers work him over on defense. Now he will have to guard Hakim who has the size and quickness to frustrate Dirk offensively. The problem is that Hakim's reputation on defense is worse than Gasol's. Hakim needs to keep Dirk in check and that won't be easy. The real problem comes on the boards as Hakim is averaging a meager 3.1 rpg compared to Dirk's 8.7 rpg. If Dallas gets 5 more rebounds than Memphis from the PF position it is going to be a long night.
Advantage: Dallas

Centers: Darko Milicic vs Erick Dampier

Dampier is one half of the Mavericks powerful center combination. Known for his rebounding ability Dampier has managed to grab 7.0 rpg despite playing less than half of the game. Dampier gets most of his points close to the rim usually from tipping in misses which explains his 62.5 FG%. He has little range however which also explains his 62.0 FT%. Darko has posted three consecutive double-doubles but those games were against less physical big men. Diop and Dampier average 2.5 bpg between them and will clog the lane as well as any one. Darko needs to make sure he is taking good shots and hopefully will get Dallas' big in trouble more than himself.
Advantage: Dallas

Benches: Memphis vs Dallas

Jason Terry has moved back to the bench but that just means he gets to try and score against backups instead of starters. The man knows how to score. His points alone could outscore the Grizzlies bench players unless Navarro gets hot. Throw in Brandon Bass who is showing the athleticism that made him a star at LSU. Diop provides great defense in the middle and Dallas' bench with Terry becomes as scary as any in the league. OUtside of Navarro there just aren't a lot of points coming off Memphis' bench right now. Crittenton could help but Kwame Brown, Andre Brown, Brian Cardinal and Casey Jacobsen don't actually create fear in opponents. Kyle Lowry played well as a starter but hasn't shown the spark coming off the bench as much as people expected this season.
Advantage: Dallas

Darko's Redemption

He is still just 22 years old. He is still 7 feet tall. He is still very skilled for his size. However, his name is still Darko Milicic and he is still considered one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history. Ok, Mike Kahn says the biggest bust since 2001. However, playing in virtual NBA obscurity in Memphis, Darko Milicic is starting to slowly become the player Joe Dumars envisioned taking over for Ben Wallace.

Early in Memphis Darko established himself as a superb one on one defender of big post scorers against the like of Tim Duncan and Yao Ming. However, an early season injury to his shooting hand left Darko struggling to be able to grip the ball and make clean catches. Darko tried to play through the injuries and looked every bit the bust as he came back slightly heavy and bobbling entrance passes and rebounds at almost every turn.

Darko started the season off averaging 10.6 points, 7.7 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in just 29 minutes before his thumb injury against New Orleans on November 16th. He returned from injury the first of December and he was not the same player. His stats took a noticeable dive and so did his minutes. Memphis fans began to think they had been sold the same pig in a poke that Detroit and Orlando fans had bought.

At the end of January, Grizz mainstay Pau Gasol began to have back pain. Unfortunately, the first two games that Gasol sat, Darko was not able to take advantage. However, on January 30th against reigning defensive player of the year Marcus Camby and the Denver Nuggets, Darko had perhaps his best game in a Memphis uniform. He posted 14 points, 16 rebounds (7 offensive) and 5 blocks while almost helping the depleted Grizzlies knock off the Nuggets. On February 2nd against the equally good frontline of the Utah Jazz, Darko was one of the lone bright spots after posting his first career back-to-back double double with 12 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks.

So Tuesday marked a big night for Darko.

With Kwame Brown joining the Grizzlies, Darko was able to look into what could be his future. A former high draft choice that is unable to make his mark in the league during his second NBA contract. Brown will be lucky to play for the veteran minimum with his next team. Darko really has two and a half seasons to prove that he can become a credible NBA center. Nobody at this point expects him to fulfill his enormous draft day promise.

On Tuesday night facing former #1 overall pick Andrew Bogut, Darko turned in another worthy performance. He posted 11 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks. Are the numbers eye popping? No. However, Darko is quietly turning in some very quality performances especially for a 22-year-old center. Darko needs to continue posting consistent efforts for the Grizzlies to get back to being a playoff team.

Coach Marc Iavaroni has a reputation as a big man’s coach. Amare Stoudemire always credited Iavaroni with a big part of his development in Phoenix. A lot of Iavaroni’s future success in Memphis is dependent upon Darko’s development as an anchor to the Grizz running game on offense and defense. So far, it looks like Iavaroni’s extra work with Darko is paying off in on the court performances. Next up…the win-loss column.

BallHype: hype it up!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Power Rankings 2-4 & 5

Pau is getting more positive press than he got in Memphis for a long time.
Every ranking mentions Pau in their intro and/or comments.
Of course, Memphis falls and it seems primarily because Pau is gone.
While the Lakers rise and for some it is because Pau is a Laker.
The Grizz drop to number 30 in the SI rankings!
Should I start listing this as inverted standings as Zack suggests?

Power Rankings for 4 & 5 Feb. '08
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BallHype: hype it up!