Friday, May 16, 2008

Career Choice: College vs Internationals

A lot of people have been claiming that the international game is a better feeder system to the NBA than the NCAA lately. I must admit it does seem to be a compelling argument when you consider that three of the top rookies this season came from international backgrounds (Navarro, Scola and Yi). Throw on top of that Jamario Moon who played internationally before making it in the NBA and there is serious support for the allegation that the international game, with their focus on team play and fundamentals, should be the place kids go while waiting to be allowed access to the NBA. And this is not taking into account the OJ Mayo situation where college players are being paid under the table.

So why don't kids chose the international game with their professional seasons and salary over college?

The cynics might say their handlers have no pull overseas and so they push them toward the college ranks where they can continue to exert their influence (and continue to get 'gifts' from agents). Some might say that the kids don't want to leave their homes and families to be alone in the old world. There is validity to both arguments.

But is that reason enough that no high school players have tried to go overseas? Imagine you are a talented player and you don’t have the grades to get accepted to a major college. Would you rather attend a junior college hoping to get your grades up and transfer or spend a year in Barcelona getting paid and living the good life? In my opinion the answer seems simple.

Of course, to me the language barrier could be overcome easily and I have no dreams of making the NBA as a player so my opinion isn't really germaine. Things are different overseas and it is quite likely those differences and not pay-offs or the love of their family and friends that keeps Americans at home. The European basketball game is college length so players don't play 35 minutes a game most nights, the players are more mature and as a rookie in the league you would not be playing more than 20 minutes at most. Would that exposure enable you to reach the NBA in a year or two? How would a 19 yr old rookie who doesn't speak the local language compete with older men familiar with the lifestyle, the language and the system? Consider how hard it was for Navarro to break into the lineup in Memphis when he couldn't speak English and Navarro was a former MVP overseas. Wouldn't it be even more difficult for a young man who knows no one, can't speak the language and is away from hoome for the 1st time?

It's a risk and a big one at that.

This assumes the European leagues would want want such a player. Right now the NBA and FIBA has a cordial relationship. Would that continue if European teams started to aggressively court US high school players for their leagues? It was rumored that an Italian league team offered LeBron James a contract as a high school junior to play his senior year overseas so it may already be happening. How long would the NBA maintain the age limit if players started darting to Europe instead of the NCAA after high school? Do the European leagues want players who would want to be paid a nice salary and yet have cheap buyouts every year of the contract? Do Europeans want to be a feeder league for the NBA?

Probably not but the Euroleagues might be interested in acquiring American players earlier. Players turn professional as early as 16 in Europe. Would a team be interested in signing Americans onto their junior rosters when they can get 3-4 years to develop the players? What would happen if that 8th grader who promised to sign a letter of intent to USC suddenly decided to play for FC Barcelona instead?

If a US high school athlete was seriously considering a professional basketball career at a young age he might be tempted to play overseas. What are the pros of going overseas? The 3 pt line is between the NBA mark and the college line so you would have a better idea about how that player could shoot the three in the NBA. He would be playing a more physical game which would prepare him for the NBA life much better. Playing a professional season would train him physically more than college would. The competition would be higher over all. The maturity of the player playing oversees would be higher in general from the experience.

The cons are that he may not make it overseas and then he doesn't have an education, even at the high school level. What would he do then? The trapezoid lane and other rule differences would alter the players development in ways unimaginable. He wouldn't be as familiar to NBA coaches and scouts which could hamper his draft status. He could get into trouble being a teenager on his own. It happens here with college players in their teens. What would happen to a teenager in Europe in similiar situations?

I suppose that some player will take the challenge and bolt to Europe instead of college some day and depending on how he develops more may follow but for now I doubt the international game will be viewed as a realistic alternative for most players no matter how many OJ Mayo's are found taking money.

Unless the NCAA starts penalizing the players instead of the school for accepting money for their efforts. Then all bets are off.

BallHype: hype it up!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Worst Thing To Ever Happen To The Grizzlies

With a title like that, I'm sure that a lot of you flashed back to last year's draft lottery. Some of you probably flashed forward to this year's draft lottery, where you are already expecting the worst possible outcome. I'm sure others conjured up images of the Pau Gasol to the Lakers trade, Shane Battier to the Rockets trade (believe me, there are some who think that was the worst move of the franchise), drafting Drew Gooden over Amare Stoudemire or Robert Archibald over Carlos Boozer or Dahntay Jones over Josh Howard. For that matter, some longstanding fans probably even thought about Bryant "Big Country" Reeves or Michael Dickerson.

But in this blogger's humble opinion, none of those compare to when the Memphis Grizzlies made the postseason for the first time in franchise history.

Ok, I'll wait for you to pick your jaw up off the floor -- and no, I won't buy any of you new monitors. Settle in and I'll explain why I feel this way

When the team moved to Memphis from Vancouver, it was the worst professional sports franchise in the history of the world. Even the Washington Generals thought that these guys were a bunch of losers. The first season by the Mississippi River, they tied a franchise record with 23 wins. The next season they hired longtime commentator Hubie Brown as head coach. He led them to 28 wins by employing his patented 10-man rotation to wear other teams out using two separate 5-man units. The following season, with the additions of James Posey and Bonzi Wells, the team won an astounding 50 games and made the playoffs, shocking fans, experts and opposing teams alike. The team hired another commentator in Mike Fratello to replace the departing Brown the next season and made the postseason each of the next two years to make it three straight appearances. During this time, the team shipped out members of its "core group", such as Wells, Posey and Jason Williams for veteran players such as Damon Stoudamire and Eddie Jones

Ok, now that we've got the history lesson out of the way, let's take a closer examination of what making the playoffs that first time really did for the organization and its fanbase. For the fanbase, it raised expectations substantially. Rather than rooting for a team that was the doormat of the league, suddenly they were cheering for a team that made the Final 8 in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. Even after they got swept by the San Antonio Spurs, there was still talk of "minor moves" to be made that could make this team a title contender. Looking back it all seems quite ridiculous for anyone to believe that team was even within shouting distance of a title, but that's what fans were thinking and talking about in the 2004 offseason. Ever since then the expectations have always been obscenely inflated. Even going in to this season people predicted that the team would double their win total from last year and others even said that we should expect another 50-win season.....just like in 2003/04. Making the playoffs legitimized this team for a fanbase that was begging for something to believe in. The unintended consequence of that was to superglue Beale Street Blue goggles on the heads of those same fans and render most of them illogical and unreasonable. They became fanatics and desired more success and more improvement, no matter what the cost

That sentiment carried over to the front office, unfortunately. Rather than developing a plan to supplement the team with young, promising players loaded with potential, the powers-that-be chose to surround the young core of Pau Gasol, Shane Battier and Mike Miller with proven veterans (the aforementioned Stoudamire and Jones) and drafted 4-year college players with limited upside like Troy Bell, Dahntay Jones, and Hakim Warrick. When JWill, Bonzi and Posey proved to be distractions incapable of remaining with the team, they could have formulated a model that would have meant taking a step back in order to achieve long-term success. Instead, they listened to their customers who demanded more, more, more and now, now, now. They piece-mealed a roster around a talented player in Gasol that never truly emphasized his strengths and didn't take a chance in the draft until 2006 with the trade that brought in Rudy Gay and drafting Kyle Lowry. They were faced with a "dare to be great" situation back in 2004 and they whiffed on it. Now they are mired in a rebuilding process with a disgruntled fanbase calling for changes by the dozen. Of course, lest we forget, it was the cries of that same fanbase that helped usher in a lot of these issues to begin with.

Realistic expectations -- is there truly such a thing? Yankees/Red Sox fans expect a World Series ring every season. Colts/Patriots fans expect to see their team deep in the playoffs each January. Spurs/Pistons fans always think that their teams will be playing come June. I think that Memphis Grizzlies fans should learn how to temper their expectations and that the front office should never, ever listen to that fanbase when it comes to personnel moves.

But what do I know? I'm just a guy with a keyboard who thought this year's team was good enough to win 13 more games than last year. I guess I should learn how to take my own advice.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An Arbitrary Interview with an Arbitrarian

Some of our readers may know that I am a fan of a more detailed look at players true production on the court and not just how many points, rebounds or assists he gets. I have been in search of a system that better explains how production on the court relates to team success in a mathematical (and therefore repeatable) manner. Previously I have interviewed David Berri, one of the authors of the book Wages of Wins, who also has attempted to find such a formula to explain what creates wins on a basketball court.

In my searching I ran across a new way of looking at this question albeit more in an individual sense than what Wages of Wins attempts. David Sparks, a self-proclaimed Arbitrarian, is attempting to gather a consensus of opinions on what is important to a game to rank players objectively from different teams. I hope you enjoy this and visit his website and the People's Statistics Project as well.

3SOB: David, can you tell us about yourself?
DS: First of all, thanks for the opportunity to do this interview--it's exciting to get to have a forum like this to discuss ideas and basketball.

Just before my freshman year of high school, I came across some of Bill James' work on baseball, and it showed me for the first time that the conventional statistics were not necessarily sufficient, or even all that accurate in measuring what they claim to be measuring. I was a bit of a sports fan at that time, mostly basketball and baseball, and so I sat down with some box scores and a calculator and began making up stats like "Absolute Bases" (total bases + walks + stolen bases, essentially), and one not too dissimilar from a linear weights system for basketball stats, where I added together weighted points, assists, and rebounds. At the time, being from Houston, I was interested in making sure that Hakeem Olajuwon and Jeff Bagwell were highly valued, but I was trying otherwise to be fairly objective.

In college, I finally learned how to run a regression, and so I threw baseball box score stats in as predictors of runs scored, and it worked almost perfectly, and I was hooked. Since then, I've leaned much more toward basketball analysis, partially because I enjoy basketball more, partially because basketball players all do important things on offense and defense, and partially because basketball seems less fully explored, statistically.

Now that I'm in graduate school, I've taken a couple of actual statistics courses, learned some of the software, and read Edward Tufte. One of the big shifts, for me, has been figuring out that when you do something like take an average, say points per game, you lose a lot of information--you no longer know how those points are distributed, or how consistent the player was, etc. Also, it's interesting to me to see things in more than one dimension: ranked lists are fine, but I prefer to compare and understand players in a multidimensional way, and that's something that using graphics allows one to do.

3SOB: What is an Arbitrarian anyway?
DS: An Arbitrarian is one to whom arbitrariness and subjectivity is unpleasant, even abhorrent (So an Arbitrarian strives to be anything but arbitrary). My whole life, I've always tried to have a good reason for doing the things I do, and thinking the things I think--I have always tried to operationalize more subjective concepts, in order to look at them more objectively, and I'm very interested in measuring things--for example, you might measure how worthwhile an errand is by dividing the time spent in transit by the time spent at your destination. If this ratio is more than one, the trip maybe isn't really worth it. An Arbitrarian tries hard to think through how they will make a decision or analysis, and then sticks with their guns and carries it through, even if the results aren't what they hoped for.

For example, I may still want everyone to think Hakeem Olajuwon is the best player ever, and I could easily design a statistic to say he's the best (one could design a statistic that says Darko Milicic is the best), but when I set out to quantify basketball value I design the metric with at least some sort of theoretical motivation, and whatever comes out when I hit Enter in the spreadsheet is the answer I stick with. A common misconception is that just using numbers makes the analysis thorough and accurate--this just isn't true. Using numbers makes you dangerous, because numbers can say anything you want them to (it's easy to lie with statistics), but they have a certain authority that just making the same claim without numbers doesn't have.

3SOB: Okay, Do you really believe you can devise a statistic that says Darko is the best player in basketball? Surely statistics can’t be massaged that far can they?
DS: Well, Darko would be a little tricky, but I think I could do it: I'd first look at the things at which he is better than average (or, bk), and the things at which he is worse than average (as, three-point shooting, he also takes almost no three pointers). I'd then make a set of linear weightings that put a lot of value on blocks and offensive rebounds, while putting little weight, possibly negative weight, even, on the things at which he is not good. The thing is, there are mathematical ways to arrive at good estimations of the value of each statistic, but basketball is so complicated that they don't apply very well. Folks have done it (I've tried it, myself), but the results usually arrive in a cloud of dust, escorted by a lot of hand-waving. This is why we have to think critically about any statistical approach, because the numbers can be massaged essentially infinitely--but most such metrics won't stand up to a good, critical, look. That said, I am a huge advocate of taking the statistical approach, and really like some of what's out there.

3SOB: You are running the People's Statistics Project. If you are trying to devise a system objectively why are you asking for so many subjective responses to devise this system?
DS: I'm actually working on a separate individual project, where I am trying to come up with my own, quasi-legitimate system--if you haven't seen it, check out this post: where I introduce it. I like the idea of multiplying a player's contribution by team success to estimate value. I'm happy with that, and convinced of it's theoretical validity. The question arises in identifying the appropriate way to estimate value--that is points*x+assists*y-turnovers*z, etc. The x, y, and z determine what type of play is rewarded, and there's a lot of discussion about that. Most of the criticism I've gotten for the Winshares project has been "You can't measure value [especially defense, which, as you may have heard, is half of the game] with statistics [especially box score stats]," the second largest complaint is that I've got my weightings wrong... At first, I didn't include any penalties for missed shots, for example, and I probably overweighted assists, and these sorts of decisions change the outcome. If I could determine a set of weights which were accurate, at least with respect to each other, Winshares would work to my satisfaction, so I'm trying to do that both on my own, and by consulting everyone for their own input.

Based on the reaction to Winshares, I realize that there were about as many opinions as to the appropriate weightings as there are basketball fans, and that there may be some validity to those opinions. I count myself among the least expert basketball analysts, there are literally millions of people out there with opinions as valid, and probably more accurate than mine. Why not ask them? If you have a jar with some unknown number of pennies in it, and ask 1,000 people to guess their number, you would expect the mean of their guesses to be relatively close to the actual number--I'm just doing the same with basketball value.

We ask people "Do you approve or disapprove of how George W. Bush is handling his job as president?" and get a thousand completely subjective responses. However, from this, we construct an approval rating, which has some meaning, and is reasonably comparable across time. The other aspect of the People's Statistic project is that it's a study of the people who are themselves responding--we might be able to interpret their responses to see who they want to be the best, for example, and other things like that.

3SOB: If someone wanted to put their thoughts into your database how could they do it and is there a way to see how a purely subjective system would work?
DS: That's easy: go to and click on "Take the Survey" on the left. Answer the short series of questions, and then return to the People's Statistic home page, and click on "View the Leaderboard" to see where all your favorite players rank according to one iteration of the consensus statistic you've helped create.

The way to see how the purely subjective system works is to look at the numbers people are putting in, and try to summarize them somehow. The way it's currently set up, I'm generating a mean of the responses, normalized to the value of points. However, the data is there and available for anyone: one might take the modal response for each statistic, or the median, instead of the mean, and construct a scaling out of that... Then use apply those weights to all sorts of different situations--if you're an expert on the 1986 Celtics, apply the formula to the players on that team, and see if it sorts them according to your own subjective opinion on how they should be sorted, if the sorting comes out all wrong, go back to the People's Statistic page, and retake the survey, entering in what seem to be more accurate weightings. If everyone does this, over and over, we'll refine the weights until they maximize their usefulness, which is all we can ask, I think, of a statistic.

Thanks for the questions! Be sure to participate and tell everyone you know to participate, too!

BallHype: hype it up!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Projecting the All-Rookie Team

Memphis had one of the youngest teams in the league last season, the youngest at the end of the season. So naturally it is of interest to Grizzlies fans to see how the All-Rookie voting comes down. If the Grizzlies are planning on rebuilding with youth, then picking the right youth to build your team becomes rather important.

NBA posted a mid-season all-rookie list that included two Grizzlies among the starting five (Navarro and Conley). Should that hold true at the end of the year?

In my opinion the 5 best rookies this season, based solely on this year's performance, were Al Horford, Kevin Durant, Luis Scola, Al Thornton and Jamario Moon and if the voting went strictly on performance then I would expect most people would agree with that list. You might notice that not one point guard is on that list and technically not even a true guard since Kevin Durant is more of a small forward. Don't worry that has happened before. After the 2002-03 rookie season the list included Yao Ming, Amare Stoudmaire, Caron Butler, Nene and Drew Gooden. You don't have to have every position represented in the list. The 2nd team should include Mike Conley, Carl Landry, Jeff Green, Joakim Noah and Thaddeus Young. Glen Davis would the odd man out.

Navarro would be mentioned but not included on either list despite nearly setting a rookie record for 3 pt shots made and having appeared in all 82 games. He just wasn't consistent enough to make the list.

However a case can be made that Mike Conley should make the rookie list. Conley plays the most demanding position for rookies. He started over 85% of the games he played. He led the rookies in assists. His shooting percentages from both long range
and the field were surprisingly strong and he finished the season on fire. Since injury claimed a large part of the early season for Conley it should be factored into his performance. Wouldn't 14.3 ppg, 4.4 apg and 4.3 rpg deserve some notice for not only the all-rookie team but rookie of the year? That is what Conley averaged the last month of the season.

The problem for Mike is that he did miss all of those games with injuries. Missing 29 games makes it difficult to give him the nod ahead of the other candidates, all of whom played at least 73 games. The other problem for Mike is that he didn't pick up his play until after most people had made up their minds about his season. How many people really paid attention to the Grizzlies the last month of the season?

I hope I am wrong and Mike Conley makes 1st team and Navarro second. I just don't believe I am. So instead of the Grizzlies placing two players in the top 5 it looks like they will be shut out. Just another disappointment in a disappointing season for the Grizzlies.

UPDATE: I was close but not perfect with my predictions. Mike Conley didn't make the 2nd team but JCN did. I got the number of players correct but not the names!

Dave Berri has written an interesting blog about the productivity of the 1st and 2nd teams. He thinks the 2nd team would beat the first and I have to agree with him to a point. Durant wasn't that special and Green was a shock to make 1st team but who on the second team could stop Horford?

The Top Seven - Or who do you take with each potential pick

The men at 3 Shades of Blue have disagreed on many things during the season. Was Conley better than Lowry this year? Should Damon have opened the season starting? Is Miller better as a 6th man? You get the point. Usually they are simple differences of opinions and honestly wouldn't it be boring to hear the same thing day after day?

However this may be the first time we have actually started a blog with the express intention of pointing out our differences.

This should be interesting for that reason alone (and it makes Zack write something again before we have to start calling him Dr. Z!). I am including the fans voice as well as our own. For a proxy of the comman fan I am selections voted from the Grizzlies Message Board.

On May 20th the Memphis Grizzlies will be assigned one of the top 7 picks in the upcoming lottery to pair with the pre-determined 28th pick from LA. Not knowing where we are going to pick has created a lot of discussion about Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, OJ Mayo, Brook Lopez, DeAndre Jordan, Jerrod Bayless and others as well. The odds were taken from the Wikipedia NBA Draft site. What's interesting to note is that the most likely pick for the fourth place Grizzlies is 5th followed by 6th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, 4th and then 7th. Only in America.

So who would each of us take in each spot in the top 7 and why?

Pick #1) Probability 13.7%
ChipC3 - Michael Beasley - a beast who can score, rebound and occasionally even play defense. Is tied in my mind in talent with Rose but fills a more pressing need.
MemphisX - Micheal Beasley - Absolute freakin' beast of a player. Skilled and he can shoot. Grizzlies never had this type of physical interior player with skill. If Rose wasn't a Tiger, it would not be a question.
Zack - Derrick Rose - Like everyone else, it is a toss up between him and Beasley. I probably change my mind everyday between them. I think my final argument is that Rose is going to be a better PG relative to the average starting NBA PG than Beasley will be relative to the average starting NBA PF. The added benefit is that I think if semi-forced to deal Conley, the market would be very favorable to us.
Spartacus - Michael Beasley - I want him at this spot even though I don't believe that he is a "franchise changer" because he fills a gaping need in the frontcourt. I look at him and see Antawn Jamison in his current incarnation with his scoring, rebounding and range.
Grizzlies Message Board - Derrick Rose

Concensus: Michael Beasley

Pick #2) Probability 14.2%
ChipC3 - Derrick Rose - Probably the best PG prospect since Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Has Memphis ties as well but plays the position Memphis is deepest and forced trades to clear space rarely work out well for teams
MemphisX -Derrick Rose - I would love him at #1 also. He would bring excitement to the organization that would rival the team's first season.
Zack - Michael Beasley - If we draft Beasley, I think him and Beale street have a destiny to be marketed together (Beale Street Beasley, Beasley on Beale, Michael "the Beale Street Baller" Beasley...well you get the idea).
Spartacus - Derrick Rose - If you're taking Beasley first, you obviously have to take the hometown hero at this spot. He has all the physical tools to be one of the very best PG's in the NBA for several years.
Grizzlies Message Board - Michael Beasley

Concensus: Derrick Rose

Pick #3) Probability 14.5%
ChipC3 - O J Mayo – Or trade down honestly. Mayo as LeBron type potential but is more likely going to be a Jamal Crawford type of pro shooting too much and not being a team player. Still he could start at SG with Miller at the 3 and Rudy at the 4 for a small ball lineup or allow Miller to come off the bench backing up both Mayo and Rudy.
MemphisX - O.J. Mayo - I am just a big Mayo fan. Love his swagger, he can make shots, and he can handle the ball. He can defend.
Zack - Danilo Gallinari - The "Italian LeBron James" has the benefit of me never actually seeing him play a full game, so I have a hard time coming up with many negatives to his game. That's why is 3rd for me. Also, my gut tells me this is who Wallace has had his eye on since dealing Gasol for peanuts.
Spartacus - Kevin Love - I know a lot of Tiger fans will roll their eyes and shake their heads at this, but my reasoning is simple based upon my evaluation of him. If you had the opportunity to take the next Elton Brand or Carlos Boozer at #3, wouldn't you? That's the kind of player I see Love becoming with better passing ability and one heckuva mean streak.
Grizzlies Message Board - O J Mayo

Concensus: O J Mayo

Pick #4) Probability 08.25%
ChipC3 - Jerryd Bayless - I know we don't need his skills and all but do you pass on such potential? At 6-3 he has good size, he is fast, he can hit the outside shot (something none of the Grizzlies current PG's can do nor Derrick Rose for that matter) and he comes from a Program known as a factory for NBA PG's.
MemphisX - Anthony Randolph - Long, athletic and skilled. Nothing like Stro or Tyrus Thomas. He will be an offensive and defensive force.
Zack - OJ Mayo - I like his attitude, which is odd for me to admit because I had a negative opinion of him a year ago. We have a glut of guards, but I don't care. I'm trying to toughen up our team and I think Mayo does that
Spartacus - Nicolas Batum - He often draws comparisons to Rudy Gay, but with better ball-handling ability and defensive skills. Sounds like a future starting SG to me!
Grizzlies Message Board - Danillo Gallinari

concensus: None

Pick #5)Probability 32.3%
ChipC3 - Brook Lopez – Only if he shows he can play PF in the NBA. This pick scares the heck out of me since he doesn’t fill a need other than taking Hakim out of the starting lineup, which is a need in itself. Brook looks stiff and unwilling to impose his will in the paint and that was against college players. Scary to think how far Amare Stoudamire, Tim Duncan or Dwight Howard would push him away from the basket.
MemphisX -Danillo Gallinari - I think he will be a good NBA player. I love players with a history of being the top dog on their team. Can he defend his position?
Zack - Anthony Randolph - I don't know much about this kid actually. I think he is super-raw with loads of talent. It is unfortunate he attended LSU, because I can't help but compare him to Ty Thomas and our beloved Stromile
Spartacus - Anthony Randolph - I know the LSU connection will scare a lot of people when considering an athletic PF, but he has legitimate basketball skills to go along with his physical talents. If he measures up to a legit 6'10", then he could be a player similar to Chris Bosh, IMO.
Grizzlies Message Board - Brook Lopez / Anthony Randolph

Concensus: Anthony Randolph

Pick #6) Probability 15.6%
ChipC3 - DeAndre Jordan – Call me crazy but at #6 Jordan starts looking a lot better than more traditional names like Eric Gordon, Damilo Gallinari or Anthony Randolph to me simply because he has defensive rebounding talent. Memphis can be patient in letting him learn the offense. He isn’t exactly ready yet and his tourney performance scares the heck out of me but you have to take risks sometimes.
MemphisX -Eric Gordon - if he has an acceptable standing reach then he night go higher. If he is 6'3 in shoes then he might be out of the top 10. Great shooter and a supreme athlete. Injury and coaching change slowed him down.
Zack - Eric Gordon - We need better shooters and if we fall to #6, Gordon might be the best player available. I think he might take a few years to develop, so I'm tentative, but he grew up playing with Conley and would fit in with the fast-paced, helter-skelter offense Iavaroni seems to like.
Spartacus - O.J. Mayo - I know that people see "Superstar" when his name appears, but I see "Steve Francis". That is to say, I see an All-Star caliber player with the ego and attitude to go along with it. But at this spot, you have to take a chance on "Character Issues" in the hopes that he can let his talent do all the talking.
Grizzlies Message Board - Brook Lopez / Anthony Randolph

Concensus: Eric Gordon

Pick #7) Probability 1.3%
ChipC3 - Kevin Love – Only if he measures out close to 6-10 in his shoes. Love isn’t real athletic. He isn’t in great shape. What he does have is an incredible basketball IQ and the power to be a decent interior player on defense. The range to clear out the lane offensively. He has the best outlet pass I have seen in college ball since Bill Walton wore UCLA blue and gold. He just is too slow to run the court effectively. His conditioning needs some work as well.
MemphisX - Donte Green - he can shoot and rebound. Will be a matchup nightmare. So, so defender but has the athleticism to defend either forward slot. NBA range at 6'10 is just silly.
Zack - Nicolas Batum - Again, I don't know him very well, so he gets the benefit of me not seeing lots of negative aspects in his game. Ideally, I like his size to play the SG, so that we assure Rudy plays SF.
Spartacus - DeAndre Jordan - A risk? You betcha. A reach? Absolutely. Worth it if he turns out to be the next Andrew Bynum? You better bet your franchise on it.
Grizzlies Message Board - Eric Gordon

Concensus: None

Final Comments:
- I realize I am going after need more than talent but equal talent is available in many different and inexpensive places other than the draft. Heck CDR could be available at 28th. Memphis can trade down from the 4 or 5 spot to allow a team to get Jerryd Bayless or Brook Lopez. I prefer to have OJ Mayo if we pick third. So picks 4-6 could be candidates for moving down in the draft but it is doubtful. Switching the 2nd and 4th picks two years ago only brought Chicago Victor Kryapa in return. I wouldn't risk missing on one of the seven I want for another Kryapa unless his contract is expiring and it includes a top pick next year. So while moving down seems to make some sense I don't believe it will happen.

MemphisX -Others: Brook Lopez - his calling card from college is scoring and I doubt he will be a big scorer in the pros. Mark Blountish..., Jerryd Bayless - on talent he is on par with Gordon and Mayo but his size makes him a hard fit with Conley and DeAndre Jordan - I like him as a 2nd pick only.

Zack - I left off Lopez and Jordan on purpose. I just think big stiffs are not worth our draft pick selection. I'm fine with Darko being our big stiff. In fact, I think many teams will start to realize that you can sign a similar big stiff in free agency after the become a bust for the team that originally drafted them in the lottery. I do not want to see us draft a Patrick O'Bryant, Sene or even Spencer Hawes. Lopez will not be able to get the same inside position that made him effective in the (weak) Pac-10. I also left off Kevin Love because frankly the Memphis-UCLA is still fresh in my mind.

Spartacus - Others Brook Lopez - Left off, because quite frankly, I think he'll only be an average player in the NBA at best. Danilo Gallinari - I haven't seen enough legit tape of him to definitively put him in the Top 7 and I've seen everything they have posted about him on the internet to date. I don't want the next Skita on our hands. Eric Gordon - While I believe that he could be a solid SG in the League, his size worries me a little. He could be the next Ben Gordon, though.

BallHype: hype it up!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Season in Review: The Browns

Andre Brown and Kwame Brown were the big men who couldn't. Neither player could hit a free throw, grab a rebound or get on the court too much to even remember that they were a part of the team on a regular basis. The interesting thing is that one player has to believe this season was a major disappointment while the other should consider it a major success.

On the disappointment side, Kwame Brown has reached the stage of his career where people are calling him the biggest bust since LaRue Martin who was drafted #1 by Portland bypassing the Michael Olowokandi and Joe Smith draft busts. That is a bit unfair since outside of Pau Gasol there wasn't a clear cut choice at #1 that season while Joe Smith required a pass on Jerry Stackhouse, Rasheed Wallace and Kevin Garnett and Michael Olowokandi was chosen ahead of Dirk Nowitzki, Paul Pierce, Mike Bibby and Antwan Jamison. Kwame battled threw injuries this season to his knee and shoulder and never was able to give Memphis a real chance to see what he can do.

What he was able to do is show Michael Heisley how he could save over $70 million over the next 5 years. Kwame's expiring contract freed up over $9 million this summer alone. For a team losing around $20 million a season that is more than fair compensation for the loss of Pau Gasol according to the owner when you throw in two future #1 draft picks, the best center playing in Europe and a flashy 19 yr old combo guard with great potential. After all the team as it was previously built was losing a ton of games and fans. It was obvious a remake was needed and cutting expenses while rebuilding the team makes a lot of sense.

Andre Brown was the forgotten man on the team for most of the season. He appeared in 33 games but averaged only 8.7 mpg. While he only made the league minimum salary that isn't bad pay for less than 9 minutes of work over 33 days a year. I know that isn't a fair statement because he practiced with the team and travelled with the team and all but seriously who wouldn't want to get paid the league minimun salary to be in his position for a season?

That isn't to say Andre didn't contribute either. Andre scored 19 points against Denver the last game of the season on 8-14 from the field shooting. He grabbed 18 rebounds against Minnesota to set a season high for the Grizzlies. Those games were not real competitive efforts by either team but the fact that Andre was still working and doing the best he can shows a personality that may be brought back for a 2nd look next year. After all he did average 13.0 ppg and 11.5 rpg in April.

BallHype: hype it up!

Great Expectations in the NBA

On Mother's Day, John Hollinger published an inspiring article in his blog. In hit he detailed some of the criticism that has been given to soon to be New York Knick coach Mike D'Antoni's system. Like me, Hollinger is perplexed by the criticism that states D'Antoni's system can not win in the NBA. I think this is significant since the Memphis Grizzlies did hire his former lead assistant to take us into the future. As someone who spends a lot of time reading different blogs and message boards on the NBA, it just gave me chuckles to read fans parroting the fact that the Sun's system failed like it was fact. Are they really trying to build a case that a system can only be a success if you win a championship?

Yes, winning a championship is the pinnacle of competition but if that is your sole definition of success then you are likely to be disappointed...a lot.

Anyone who has hit a trade thread or post has seen it. "He might be good but he won't lead you to a championship," or "He is not a winner" label placed upon certain players. Case in point...Carmelo Anthony. On April 25th ESPN's cowardly Bill Simmons suggested the Grizzlies trade for Carmelo Anthony. Shortly there after the Grizzlies message board along with two of my favorite Grizz writers, Joshua Coleman and Chris Herrington , were dead set against it thinking that Carmelo was a bad fit. I was flabbergasted. Herrington tried to construct an argument that ended up with him saying he would rather start a team from scratch with Rudy Gay. If that is not a big WTF then I don't know what qualifies. For this to even pass by as some kind of inspired logical thought that was agreed upon by others bears examination.

Carmelo's crime is not getting his team out of the 1st round of the playoffs by the tender age of 23. Even Josh called this a"pattern". What about the pattern of his team never having a losing record after coming to a team that won 17 games the year before he arrived. The same team he led to more wins in the tough Western Conference than LeBron could muster in the East. Ask Kobe how hard getting out of the first round of the West can be win you only have two legit offensive threats on your team.

Comparing Melo to Gay as franchise players is just laughable. Rudy has won 44 games in two years, Melo does that almost every year. Until Iverson came to Denver, Carmelo had never had a teammate as good as Pau Gasol but he was leading his team to the playoffs. Unfortunately for him, the West is loaded. Before Iverson arrived, Anthony was leading the league in scoring at 31.6 points per game.

If you won't trade Mike Miller and Mike Conley for Carmelo Anthony, what is the point. If your only measure for success is a championship, very few will make you happy. Guess what John Stockton, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller and Micheal Jordan all have in common? None of them made it out of the first round of the playoffs by the age of 23.

Some times in this age of immediate information and all access, our expectations as fans has gotten extremely out of whack. We have fans of teams like the Knicks saying that a coach that averaged 55+ wins over the last few does not win enough to coach their team. We have fans of a team that has never had an All NBA performer and has averaged 22 wins the last two seasons, thumbing their nose at a 23 year old two time All NBA player is insufficient for their needs. Somehow, things have gotten off track.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Youth Will Be Served

The deepest definition of youth is life as yet untouched by tragedy.
Alfred North Whitehead

The Grizzlies officially began their youth movement on January 29th with the trade of Pau Gasol to the Lakers for a 19 yr old rookie, 2nd rd draft pick Marc Gasol, two future 1st rd picks and of course $9 million in salary cap space called Kwame Brown. Combining those players with a 21 yr old up and comer like Rudy Gay, a 20 yr old PG in Mike Conley, a 22 yr old center in Darko Milicic and 21 yr old back up PG Kyle Lowry and it is obvious Memphis isn't planning on turning things around by bringing in veterans. Put away the fantasy of seeing Marcus Camby or Gilbert Arenas in a Grizzlies uniform for the time being. Acquiring players past their prime could improve the team but only to the level of a 1st rd exit in the playoffs. Memphis has been there and it isn't enough.

Since the Gasol trade people have wondered what exactly a youth movement means for the future of the Grizzlies both in Memphis and in the NBA. Is this an attempt to sell the team? Is this a new way of describing the Clippers/Donald Sterling strategy of being profitable for the owner but not successful on the court? Is this actually a strategy that will lead the team to a higher level of success in the future?

Experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.
Aldous Huxley (1894 - 1963), "Texts and Pretexts", 1932

Not many NBA teams have succeeded in turning things completely around with a pure youth movement. Recent exceptions could include Chicago and Portland. Chicago went from one of the worst teams in the league for 6 years to a playoff contender and then right back down when the lack of maturity and some poor management decisions caused the team to fall apart right at the point where it appeared they would join the ranks of the elite teams in the league. Portland is still an unknown but the team has many serious decisions to make going forward if they expect to continue to grow from their recent success.

What usually happens in a youth movement is that instead of learning how to win NBA games, the young players learn how to lose NBA games. Losing can be especially difficult on a young player and as losses pile up, effort drops down. Attitude deteriorates and players want out at any cost. Pau Gasol is a great example of this. He appears to be a player reborn after getting away from a losing franchise. His numbers are no better in LA than they were in Memphis but his body language has definitely improved.

It is human nature after all. To overcome the apathy induced from losing a team needs a strong leader both on the bench and on the court. Right now it could be argued that Memphis has at most one and more likely neither. The team will need to find an on-court leader and develop their leader on the bench. Experience is called the great teacher. Well if that is true then we have set in place the building blocks for a great leader from this past season.

Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.
Vernon Sanders Law

Iavaroni has been given his test. So has Mike Conley, Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry for that matter. For Memphis to make meaningful improvement next season, and by that I am not saying playoff improvement, these people will need to show what they learned from last year's test. Will Iavaroni improve his ability to make good decisions from the bench? Will Conley take the next step forward in controlling the pace of the game and his outside shot? Will Rudy become the type of player that elevates his teammates play as well as his own? Will Lowry become a team leader instead of a momentum changer?

The leaders for next season most likely won't come from this draft. That is not a slight on those players either. It is extremely rare for a rookie to step into this league and be able to lead veterans. The refs don't give you calls. The travel and long season take a heavy toll. The speed of the game needs to be adjusted for. And the rookies entering the league now are not men yet. Most likely the Grizzlies draft pick will not be able to celebrate his selection with a glass of champagne!

So as Memphis enters the first full season of their youth movement it should be interesting to see who learned the lessons from last season and improved and who were beaten by them.

And a little luck on Tuesday wouldn't hurt either.