Hope and Change: The Current State of the Memphis Grizzlies

March 07, 2017 - 9:01 am
By: Jeffrey Wright
Email: [email protected]
I try to avoid covering basketball teams in the same manner that we cover football, meaning that I try to avoid overreactions because I recognize the difference between a 16-game season played over the course of 17 week and an 82-game season played over approximately 24 weeks.
Bad losses occur during an NBA season, but chalking last night’s 122-109 loss to the Brooklyn Nets as simply a poor outing would also not do the result any justice, even Grizzlies Head Coach David Fizdale said as much.
“We just lost at home to Brooklyn,” Fizdale said. “No offense to them, they earned this win tonight but that’s a game we have to win. Credit to them. They really outplayed us, played harder than us, played faster obviously. This is our lowest point.”
In an effort to break out of a rut, Fizdale made significant changes to the starting lineup by adding Andrew Harrison while removing Tony Allen and simultaneously moving Mike Conley to more of an off-ball guard. He also replaced JaMychal Green with Branden Wright at the power forward.
“We’re stale,” Fizdale said of his rationale. “Right now we’re 14-14 since January 1. It’s my job to shake it up and there were some good things about it and overall, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who was on the floor for us.”
On December 31st the Grizzlies had the National Basketball Association’s third-best mark in defensive efficiency rating at 100.5. Since January 1st, the Grizzlies rank 21st in the same category with a rating of 108.3.
In fairness, the Grizzlies net rating that combines offensive and defensive efficiency ratings has only dropped 0.4, moving the Grizzlies from 11th prior to January 1, 2017 to 12th.
The Grizzlies made a habit of winning close games early in the season. The Grizzlies were 22-14 with a 0.9 point differential on games before New Year’s Day. However, now they’re 14-14 with the exact same point differential since January 1st.
Prior to New Year’s Day, no team had more wins than the Grizzlies (22) with a point margin under 10.0 in wins. Further, only three teams in the West had more losses with a smaller point differential than the Grizzlies in losses, the Nuggets, Timberwolves, and Pelicans.
This team built a reputation of winning close games before the calendar turned to 2017. While hardcore statisticians will argue that using data about past events isn’t a predictor of future outcomes, rational minds could conclude that the close wins would eventually become close losses. Most seasons have demonstrated that reality.
Therefore, the question becomes is the roster shuffling the right move currently? Here’s a breakdown of the Grizzlies’ net efficiency rating on games played before New Year’s Day.

Source: NBA.com

Now here’s a look at the Grizzlies’ net ratings on games played since New Year’s Day.

Source: NBA.com

The most noticeable differences are that Marc Gasol has fallen from the Grizzlies 4th-most efficient player on both ends of the floor to the 10th, Vince Carter has fallen from the Grizzlies most-efficient player to the ninth, Branden Wright, who spent all of 2016 injured, has been a welcomed addition ranking as the Grizzlies 3rd most-efficient player in 2017, also Mike Conley, whom most observers believed was having his best season prior to his injury in late November, has actually improved since January 1st.
Overall, the results have been marginal statistically, yet the results have seemed major on the floor.
Determining the necessity for change can be a difficult proposition, especially when you consider a team like the Grizzlies where the margin between success and failure is so slim. The reason that the NBA keeps score is that winning and losing matters; in fact it’s the only metric that actually matters. Therefore, when determining whether a change is needed, one must consider if the change will affect the only metric that matters, the scoreboard.
Over the past 15 games, the Grizzlies are 8-7 with a point differential of 2.8. In their eight wins, they have a 14.4 point differential while they have a -10.4 point differential in their 7 losses. The most noticeable difference for the Grizzlies in comparison to the first 36 games is that their wins are by a wider margin and so are the losses.
The aforementioned reality is the cause for the emotional reaction to the current state of the Grizzlies. When they’re clicking, they look great, but when things go south, they nadir.
Hence, the question becomes was a change necessary? Statistically, Chandler Parsons and Tony Allen have the worst net efficiency ratings of all Grizzlies players over the past 15 games at -2.4 and -2.5 respectively. Therefore, one can see the necessity of Fizdale’s wanting to separate the two from the same lineup.
Most observers haven’t criticized the decision to make the change but rather have criticized who was involved in the changes, particularly replacing Allen with Harrison while keeping Parsons in the lineup.
Personally, I think that Fizdale is somewhat in a no-win situation, given the fact that it seems that playing Conley off the ball seems to be a change that works for the Grizzlies.
Based on numbers alone, the most obvious change seems simply to replace Parsons with James Ennis III, who has the highest net efficiency rate on the team during the past 15 games. However, whether the decision is his or not, Fizdale has given no indication that Parsons will come off the bench any time soon given his public comments. Therefore, if you know you have to move either Parsons or Allen out of the starting lineup and Parsons isn’t an option, determining a lineup that makes sense becomes difficult.
If the Grizzlies simply added Toney Douglas into the starting rotation while moving Conley to the two on offense, they are left with either Conley or Douglas guarding an opposing shooting guard, a situation that wouldn’t work. The logic behind adding Harrison seems defensive-minded in nature as Harrison possesses the size and length to guard shooting guards, on paper at least. However, by moving Harrison into the starting lineup for defensive purposes creates a situation in which both Harrison and Douglas play nearly 45 minutes combined, a reality that’s not likely to render success.  
Another option would be replacing Allen with Troy Daniels, but Daniels has averaged just 11.0 minutes during the past 15 games, so is he equipped to handle an extended workload?
Also, one should note that efficiency rates often favor players that play the least minutes, so those that have high efficiency rates in limited action aren’t necessarily the answer.
The Grizzlies are a flawed team, a fact that isn’t new. They don’t have a reliable backup point guard. Also, there’s a reason that Player/Coach/GM LeBron James traded away Andrew Wiggins when he went back to Cleveland. Rarely do playoff teams rely on rookies and succeed.
Therefore, if the Grizzlies are going to mount a charge for the No. 5 seed in the West and they’re still committed to playing Chandler Parsons in his current role as it seems, the best course of action is to get on the same page with Tony Allen. Allen has shown the ability this year to take over games with his defense and energy, but the current version of Tony Allen isn’t that version. It’s up to Fizdale and staff to figure out the best way to recapture the Tony Allen that took over the games against the Warriors in December at home and January on the road. That task isn’t impossible, and it has never been more imperative.
My name is Jeffrey Wright, and these are my thoughts.   

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