Dave Joerger watched from the sideline Wednesday night as the Memphis Grizzlies went to the free throw line a grand total of six times against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Should he have been a bit more, ahem, demonstrative regarding the way his players were being treated in the paint?
Mike Conley was being beaten up so bad he was forced into a 3-15 shooting game. Zach Randolph went 1-8. Both players attacked early but realized that the refs didn’t care how hard they were getting hit; they weren’t going to call a foul. It clearly was frustrating the Grizzlies big guns, and the frustration grew when both players got in foul trouble themselves for far less obvious contact.
This happens from time to time in an NBA season. Maybe the refs just don’t like the style of play of the Grizzlies. Maybe the refs had side bets going on for the game on who would call the fewest fouls on Grizzlies players. Maybe they simply felt that body slams are admissible but touches aren’t. Maybe they wanted to give Rick Adelman, whose wife is very ill, something to feel good about in front of the home crowd.
We will never know what happened but the Grizzlies weren’t getting calls.
When the refs allow two standards to be played in a game the team with the more stringent situation gets down on themselves and basically quit trying after a while. That appeared to be the case in Minnesota.
But I am not going to complain about the officials.
I am going to complain about the reaction to the officials from Coach Joerger.
How can a coach sit there and allow his players to be manhandled and not get so upset that he receives at least one technical foul? James Johnson received a technical foul for not allowing Kevin Love to throw another elbow at face by wrapping him up but there were no technical fouls on the bench or the coach in the game. How can players expect to keep their motivation strong if their coach isn’t going to have their backs when the refs clearly appear to be against them?
I was watching this happen and thinking to myself, Coach Popovich would not sit still for this nonsense. He would have gotten a technical foul called. Heck, he probably would have gotten thrown out of the game. Sure enough, Sunday night in San Antonio, Pop picked up a T for pure rage at the officials…and the crew “listened”. At the least he would be screaming at his team trying to motivate them to get over it and fight. Doc Rivers would have as well. So would many other coaches. They don’t put up with nonsense like that. They don’t accept poor officiating. They demand to be given a fair shake.
This is actually a normal coaching maneuver when the coach feels his team isn’t getting a fair shake from the refs.
Dave Joerger was perfectly calm as his team quit under the onslaught of the referee’s lack of whistles.
Last season the coaches with the most technical fouls included Doc Rivers, George Karl and Frank Vogel. Not coincidentally those teams finished respectively 4th in the West, 3rd in the West and 2nd in the East.
Most experienced coaches use technical fouls for strategic purposes rather than frustration. They use technicals to cool off the refs or motivate their team. It’s unclear if it works but when Frank Vogel was told he spent over $22,000 in fines for his 9 technicals received he responded “Money well spent.”
Coach Joerger isn’t leading the league in technical fouls called either for emotional or strategic reasons. He has received at least one (January 7th game against the Spurs) and it did help motivate the team to make a comeback that fell short in OT but it isn’t his modus operandi to be talking with the refs much at all much less arguing with them.
The friendlier, more gentle approach exercised by rookie head coach Joerger may be having an effect on the refs as well.
The Grizzlies are among the worst teams in the league in getting to the foul line this season after being middle of the pack last season. How much worse? Last season the Grizzlies Free Throw Attempt (FTA) to Field Goal Attempt (FGA) was 0.202. So far in 2013-14 the Grizzlies FTA to FGA ratio has dropped to 0.185 which is among the league’s lowest numbers.
Part of the decline can be attributed to Marc Gasol’s missing time this season. Last year Marc led the team in FTAs while playing 80 games. This season Marc has missed over a fourth of the season and has been less than 100% for most of the year. Losing your top foul drawing player is going to negatively affect your FTAs. However, there is something misleading about this statistic.
Marc Gasol is taking more shots per game than last season and yet he isn’t shooting a higher number of free throws. It isn’t simply that Gasol missed games. He’s been more active in the games he has played but isn’t being rewarded with an equal increase in FTAs.
Mike Conley is shooting more field goals per game (14.3 this year, 11.8 last year) and is getting to the line more this season (3.7 FTA vs 3.5) but the ratio has declined. Last season Mike went to the line one for every 3.37 FGAs. This season the number has dropped to 3.86 FGA per free throw despite taking 21% more FGAs. With 7 games remaining and Mike having already missed 7 more games than all of last season he still has already taken more FGAs this year than last year but has been to the free throw line 40 fewer times.
Zach Randolph has made a career of playing through body contact without foul calls but surprisingly his attempts from the FT line have actually risen this year. Z-Bo is taking 15.1 FG attempts this year and has been sent to the line on average 4.3 times a game. Unlike Gasol and Conley, Randolph is being rewarded with more FTAs per FGA.
This has been a season long trend. Randolph, the Grizzlies two-time all-star is getting respect from the refs but Marc Gasol and Mike Conley- the up and coming stars of the team- clearly are getting no respect.
That is where Joerger needs to have a larger impact. When Conley is getting beaten up Joerger needs to let the referees know this isn’t acceptable and make sure it is visible by everyone in the stands and hopefully by NBA TV and ESPN at night. There is no reason a team should only go to the line 1 time against Atlanta. There is no reason a team that attacks the paint like the Grizzlies only has 6 FTAs against Minnesota.
The rule of thumb has always been that the team being more aggressive gets the calls. There are few teams that attack the rim more than the Grizzlies but instead of getting more calls this year they are getting fewer calls. It falls to the head coach to make the displeasure in this situation clearly heard.
Yes Joerger will have to pay more in fines to the league (and we can’t forget that Joerger makes far below the league average salary as a head coach) but when you call out refs it usually is money well spent.