From time to time the writers at 3 Shades of Blue get the unique opportunity to discuss the Grizzlies franchise with people outside of the normal realm of NBA experts. In the past Dave Berri, author of the books Wages of Wins and Stumbling on Wins, was a main contributor in this area. Since the Sloan Analytics
This year we have broadened that reach a bit to include a disciple of the Wages of Wins system, Patrick Minton at The NBA Geek. The NBA Geek has taken Dave Berri’s work and put it into a computer program that allows the casual fan can access.
While every fan looks at teams and players slightly differently the idea behind Wages of Wins is to explain how a team is performing by breaking down the overall contributions of a player. The idea is to determine why a team is winning games and who’s contributions are forwarding that cause. Sometimes the players you think are not doing much are some of the most important contributors to a team’s success. In a sense they view the stats a player produces the same way Bill James started in baseball. They are the guys developing a system of player review that attempts to emulate the success that Moneyball had on baseball for lack of a better term.
The questions are about the Grizzlies currently and moving forward to see what Patrick thinks the Grizzlies have done right so far and what they need to do moving forward to continue to make the right moves.
So without further ado here we go:
3SOB) Currently the Grizzlies are in position to make the playoffs despite missing Zach Randolph for most of the season. How do you explain the Grizzlies level of play so far?
Patrick Minton: It should be noted that the Grizzlies according to wins produced, the Grizzlies would be 18-16 now instead of their 19-15. This is obviously not a huge difference, but for the most part this season, their record is very much what one should expect from a team that played .545 ball last year. Of course, as you mentioned, that was with Zach Randolph, who had a great season. I think the explanation has several factors:
1) Mike Conley is playing better this year. He has done so mostly by improving his steals, a category in which he is in the top 5 league-wide. Since Conley is only an average shooter, the fact that he is shooting a little less is not a bad thing at all from a point guard and I suspect this helps too.
2) Marc Gasol is also playing better. Relative to last year, his scoring, rebounding, assists, and blocks are better (per 48 minutes), as is his ability to get to the line. This improvement has made up for some of the loss of Randolph.
3) Dante Cunningham has been surprisingly above average. Relative to his career, he’s rebounding better and shooting better. He’s also shooting less, which is a good thing since he isn’t very good at shooting. His very low turnover rate and his decent offensive rebounding is what has made him decent this year. This has mitigated *some* of the pain of Randolph’s loss.
4) We should remember that Rudy Gay was playing very well last year when he was injured, much higher than his usual level of production. If Gay had remained healthy last year, they might likely have won more than 46 games. Since Gay is healthy now (and although he’s not as good as last year, he’s still doing better than he did before 2010), we aren’t really comparing apples-to-apples by saying that this team is on the same pace as last years’ team.
3SOB) Assuming Randolph returns to career average type of production, how far can the Grizzlies go (assuming they make the playoffs) with the current roster?
PM: Given that there won’t be a lot of games left when Randolph returns, it’s hard to see Randolph’s return making more than a game or two of difference. Remember that Randolph, while very good, will have to take away the minutes of other players who are playing decent ball, so it’s an incremental upgrade, not a monumental one. But in my experience this is not a very safe assumption to make. Players at Randolph’s age who return from injuries as severe as his very rarely return quickly to their former level of production. Sure, it presumably helps that Randolph’s production has always relied more on strength and craftiness than quickness and athleticism, but I think it’s very risky to assume that Randolph will return to his 2010-11 levels, which were already something of a career year for him, which is very unusual for his age. Basketball players age like milk, not wine, and not being able to do one’s complete daily regimen thanks to injuries probably does not help the aging process at all!
3SOB) This summer the Grizzlies have the dreaded combination of free agents without cap space. Which one of their free agents (O J Mayo, Marreese Speights, Darrell Arthur, Sam Young) should the Grizzlies make the strongest attempt to resign and why?
PM: This is probably the answer that is likely to make all Grizzlies fans flip out, but my answer would be “none of them”. Especially not OJ Mayo.
OJ Mayo has never been an average-level performer in the NBA, but he’s overvalued because he scores a lot. Which he does because he shoots a lot. Which, it turns out, most shooting guards in the NBA can do (score a lot when they shoot a lot). This year, Mayo is scoring 21.9 points per 48, shooting 19.8 FGA per 48 minutes and getting to the line 3.9 times. The average SG’s numbers are 21.0/17.3/4.6. This means that the average SG gets .7 more free throws per 48 minutes despite shooting more than 4 fewer shots! Mayo is the classic “You’re-gonna-pay-way-too-much” trap: a mediocre scorer who looks better than he is thanks to his sweet-looking stroke who turns the ball over too much and doesn’t really excel in any other area of the game. Teams habitually pay lots of money for these guys when in reality they are a dime-a-dozen in the NBA. In addition, his situation is likely complicated because management traded the rights to Kevin Love and Mike Miller for him, which was a *really bad* trade, and by letting Mayo go, management would essentially be admitting this. The management may value him highly because they gave up so much to get him, but in reality that’s just a sunk cost fallacy.
If I were consulting for the Griz, I’d tell them not to try to make up for the Love/Mayo trade by throwing good money after bad.
As for Arthur, Speights and Young, Arthur and Speights have never been close to average, and Speights is a center — someone is likely to overpay for him. It shouldn’t be the Grizzlies. Arthur is a rookie who simply did not pan out. Potential is, again, a dime-a-dozen since the draft comes around every year, and there is no reason to pay mid-level money for it. Young had an average season in 10-11 and might be worth signing, but not if he demands anything close to the mid-level, and to be honest, the coaches are unlikely to ever give him many minutes as long as Gay is around and healthy, so why pay money over the cap to keep him?
From a cap perspective, the Grizzlies’ biggest problem is that they overpaid a lot for Rudy Gay, and this contract is going to limit their flexibility for years to come. He’d be precisely the kind of player I would try to trade while he still has the perception of being “a star”, but somehow I doubt that Grizzlies’ management will agree with my assessment.
3 Shades of Blue thanks Patrick for his contributions and look forward to following up with him as the season winds down and the summer activities start heating up.