On Monday 3 Shades of Blue interviewed Patrick Minton whose excellent website The NBA Geek has the ability to track how each player on the Grizzlies team has performed this season using Dave Berri’s Wages of Wins methodology.
After running the story and thinking about his answers to my questions I realized that while accurate over the entire year, the stats didn’t tell the whole story about what is happening now. I needed to find someone to break down the numbers to determine who’s been playing the best during the recent stretch of wins compared to who played individually well when the team was struggling. Are the same players performing well? Are different players becoming leaders? Have some former leaders actually declined during the hot streak?
In short, what is going on here and who’s should get the credit?
The Grizzlies are 12-2 since the February 6th loss to the Spurs here in Memphis (the Grizzlies were 12-13 after the loss). If you asked people in Memphis what players have done the most to account for this rally the names most likely mentioned would be Marc Gasol, O J Mayo and Rudy Gay. They are the most prominent players on the team and have been the leaders in many respects.
And none of those names would be grossly off the mark either. Outside of O J Mayo who has played hot and cold during the stretch, the other players mentioned all have been performing above average among NBA players. However, None of these players is leading the team.
To get to the true leaders you need to use some statistical analysis. We have used David Berri’s Wages of Wins for many years to get a statistical view of the team. We do this for two reasons. First, it’s free. Second, Dave Berri, Patrick Minton and Dre Alvarez , some of the writers from the site, will talk to us on the record from time to time.
I’m just being honest here.
Dre in particular has a program that is extremely helpful in this situation. His website (Nerd Numbers) allows you to pick specific dates to see how the team’s players performed. We have thrown out a few outliers on players who rarely have played over the time frame.
So looking at the first 24 games you discover that the Grizzlies top players were Tony Allen (0.216), Mike Conley (0.182) and Marc Gasol (0.178). I am sure no one is surprised who followed the team during that early part of the season. It is also not surprising to see that Rudy Gay performed rather poorly over that time frame.
However since February 6th the Grizzlies leaders have been led by Mike Conley (0.214), Dante Cunningham (0.192) and Quincy Pondexter (0.198) followed by Rudy Gay (0.164) and Tony Allen (0.158) with every one of the players significantly out playing the average NBA player. What’s more Marreese Speights (0.143 vs. -0.027) has improved his play significantly as well.
So while the stars have continued to produce – including Marc Gasol (0.119) although Marc’s play has decreased from his previous level of production – it has been the new faces integrating themselves into the Grizzlies system that has resulted in the superior play by the team as a whole.
Pre-season many people projected the Grizzlies to be competing for one of the top 4 spots in the Western Conference. Those same people considered the team a big disappointment at the end of January. However that disappointment may have been premature. The team was viewed in the pre-season under the assumption that the team was coming back with very little change to the roster. That hasn’t been the case. Leon Powe and Shane Battier didn’t return to the team, Darrell Arthur was lost for the season, Zach Randolph was injured during the 4th game and has yet to return to the court, Greivis Vasquez and Xavier Henry were traded to New Orleans.
With the old faces injured or gone there were new names added to the team, more than anyone expected as well. Josh Selby was drafted in the 2nd round, Jeremy Pargo and Dante Cunningham were signed as a free agents, Marreese Speights and Quincy Pondexter were brought in via trades. Only Pargo and Selby were actually in the lockout shortened training camp.
That’s a lot of turnover for a team not expected to have many new faces.
Those new faces are starting to understand the Grizzlies way of doing things. Sure Lionel Hollins has to jump on them from time to time to remind them just what it is he expects of them but these players seem to have the mental toughness to handle the screaming and come out of a timeout ready to perform. Not every player can do that. More importantly, not every coach understands just how hard he can push a player before he breaks. Hollins has shown that ability this season.
Now the nay-sayers will talk about how the schedule is easier and that’s why the team is winning. They’ll point out that in close games the bench still has a short leash. They will state that the substitutions are getting better now so that it is rare for all five starters to be out of the game at the same time now. And they’d be right. The starters still play big minutes in close games. The bench still has a short leash although it is getting longer. The team does try to keep at least one starter on the court at all times. But that is true of every team. The fact that players like Dante Cunningham, Quincy Pondexter and Marreese Speights have all contributed much more here in Memphis than with their previous teams is encouraging by itself.
And with the Grizzlies are in 3rd place in the Western Conference playoff race, perhaps it is time to start mentioning Lionel Hollins in the Coach of the Year category and Chris Wallace as Executive of the Year as well.