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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Spurs Sweep Offensively Challenged Grizzlies

The San Antonio Spurs will be well rested when they face the Miami Heat or the Indiana Pacers in the 2013 NBA Finals; the Spurs earned a nine day vacation with their 4-0 sweep of the Memphis Grizzlies in the Western Conference Finals. Tony Parker had a magnificent series, averaging 24.5 ppg on .532 field goal shooting while also leading both teams in assists (9.5 apg). Tim Duncan played outstanding defense (3.0 bpg) while also ranking second on the Spurs in scoring (15.5 ppg); he dominated the overtime period in game two and he dominated the overtime period in game three, playing his best basketball in perhaps the two most important five minute stretches of the series. San Antonio's third option, Manu Ginobili, averaged just 10.0 ppg while shooting a wretched .407 from the field; Ginobili only ranked fourth on the team in scoring behind Parker, Duncan and Kawhi Leonard (11.3 ppg) but he hit some timely shots and his dribble penetration opened up opportunities for San Antonio's three point shooters. Ginobili ranked second on the Spurs in assists (4.5 apg).

As I predicted, the Grizzlies struggled to score 90 points versus the Spurs; the Grizzlies averaged 87.8 ppg, with their two highest scoring efforts coming in the two overtime games (89 points in game two, 93 points in game three). The Grizzlies are a well-coached team that plays excellent defense; if they had not traded Rudy Gay for spare parts (Tayshaun Prince, Austin Daye and Ed Davis) then they might have had enough offensive firepower to defeat the Spurs. Prince averaged 5.8 ppg versus the Spurs while shooting .360 from the field; although Memphis Coach Lionel Hollins kept Prince in the starting lineup, Hollins slashed Prince's minutes because of Prince's ineffectiveness. Daye and Davis rarely played during the regular season and, not surprisingly, they rarely played in the Western Conference Finals, logging a combined 25 minutes. Gay's absence--and the uselessness of the players brought in to replace him--meant that the Spurs could pack the paint, making it difficult for Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph to even catch the ball, let alone score. Gasol averaged 14.3 ppg on .397 field goal shooting and Randolph averaged 11.0 ppg on .302 field goal shooting. Call this the anti-Kobe Bryant effect. Kobe Bryant's presence and impact boosted Pau Gasol's field goal percentage after Gasol joined the Lakers even though Bryant's field goal percentage is not extraordinarily high; the absence of Gay had a correspondingly negative effect on the field goal percentages of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in the Western Conference Finals. This is something that "stat gurus" do not understand: a player who can create shots for himself and others distorts the opposing defense and thus his value cannot be measured just by looking at his individual field goal percentage (or by looking at his "advanced basketball statistics"). Gay is not nearly as good as Bryant but Gay performed a similarly key function for Memphis--and that role inevitably becomes more important as a team advances deeper in the playoffs, because the game slows down and defenses focus on a team's top offensive options. The Grizzlies advanced to the Western Conference Finals despite the Gay trade, not because of it; the Grizzlies survived their first round matchup because the L.A. Clippers are not a championship caliber team and the Grizzlies eliminated the Oklahoma City Thunder mainly because of Russell Westbrook's season-ending injury.

ESPN's halftime shows during the Western Conference Finals provided great comic relief as baffled "stat guru" apologist Bill Simmons struggled to explain what was happening; it was hilarious to hear Simmons criticizing Hollins for not benching Prince earlier in the series; not too long ago, Simmons predicted a Memphis win, he did a symbolic victory lap because he had praised the Gay trade for improving the Grizzlies and he said that Prince was a better fit for Memphis than Gay.

It will be very interesting to see if the Grizzlies retain the services of Hollins, an excellent coach who publicly criticized the money-saving but strategically unsound Gay trade by saying, "When you have champagne taste, you can't be on a beer budget." Hollins has played a major role in Memphis' steady rise in the standings but his playoff rotation demonstrated that he has no use for the players who the Memphis "stat gurus" acquired in the Gay deal so his vision of how to compete for a championship may be incompatible with the front office's plans.

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posted by David Friedman @ 4:56 PM



At Tuesday, May 28, 2013 11:42:00 PM, Anonymous Don said...

Hey David,

I agree with you on the value of someone who can create his own shot (the Kobe Bryant effect) and have been for a long time. I don't think much of whatever stat gurus may say as there are a lot of important actions in basketball that are not quantifiable, more so than any other sport. However, on the Rudy Gay trade, I was under the impression that the Grizzlies management are "entrusting" the creator and game-closer responsibilities to Mike Conley. Is he not capable of this role?


*Sorry for posting a lot of questions about the Heat-Pacers series, but it really is a fun series where it is exciting how players will step up/fumble and how both coaches adjust to the other's gameplan and schemes. You should really consider making another post where we can read your thoughts regarding it.

At Wednesday, May 29, 2013 5:52:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I think that the WCF answered your question about Conley; I like Conley's game a lot but he cannot fill a Kobe Bryant/Rudy Gay type role as someone who can both score and create shots for others. That kind of role needs to be filled by a 6-6 or taller wing player; most championship teams in NBA history have either been led by that kind of player and/or by a dominant center.

At Wednesday, May 29, 2013 6:20:00 AM, Anonymous Don said...

Hey David,

How about Russel Westbrook? That exact role is what he's been providing the Thunder. Do you think he can succeed even without the 6-6 or taller height that most of the players that fill this role have? Thanks for the answers, I really enjoy learning your thoughts.


At Wednesday, May 29, 2013 6:31:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Durant and Westbrook share that role. I have a very high opinion of Westbrook; even though he is not 6-6, he is bigger and stronger than guys like Paul, Conley and Parker. I think that the Durant/Westbrook duo can lead a team to a title but I am not sure if either guy could quite get the job done without the other. Of course, a lot depends on the composition of the rest of the roster plus the roster composition of the opposing teams that they would face along the way.


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