That’s not to say thatadvanced metricsaren’t an improvement over what most fans had to go by before. John Hollinger was one of the first major media figures topredict the Grizzlies would make the playoffsafter all. His work seemed to predict the Grizzlies potential in this off-season long before the rest of the nation saw it.
When the Grizzlies were out of playoff position heading into the last few months of the season the common belief was that the Grizzlies would fade down the stretch just like the previous season. That’s when Hollinger stepped up with his power rankings to say that the Grizzlies would most likely make the playoffs. It was shocking to most NBAfolowers and encouraging to Grizzlies fans but Hollinger used his advanced metrics to determine the Grizzlies not only could but would make the playoffs and be a tough team to play once there.
Dave Berri, the college professor made famous with his blog and book Wages of Wins felt the Grizzlies had the players who could produce with enough efficiency to make the playoffs too. His system showednot only did the Grizzlies have the efficiency to win enough games to make the playoffs but also that Rudy Gay’s loss wouldn’t slow down the Grizzlies.Many other experts jumped on the bandwagon as the season wound down but few, even amongthe early proponents, saw the Grizzlies sitting2-2 in the second round of the playoffs against Oklahoma City.
Why? Because history, statistics and even seeing the team in person once or twice can’treveal the incredible amount of heart the Grizzlies have left on the court this season. Most of the experts keep expecting the Grizzlies to succumb to the situation they find themselves in. Too often experts rely on human nature instead of the numbers in their face.
InESPN’s Stat Geek Smackdown poll, some of the best NBA minds have missed this run entirely. Early proponent John Hollinger’s prediction for the 2nd round has already left him on the sidelines after picking the Thunder to win the series in 5 games after predicting the Spurs in 6 games for the first round. The creator of thePER System of ranking playerssaw the Grizzlies as a legitimate playoff team during the season but bailed out when it came time to predict them in the playoffs. It’s human nature after all and sometimes that conflicts with even the person’s own statistical analysis.
Most NBA teams are simply a collection of the talent and skill of the players comprising the team. In Memphis this belief is not holding true however as the team appears to be greater than the collection of individual talent comprising the team.
In many ways the Grizzlies seem more like a college team than an NBA team.
The Grizzlies don’t have highly respected players at every position. Their starting point guard received a middle of the road contract for a young starting PGat thestart the season and the franchise was roundly criticized for overpaying him. Marc Gasol and Sam Young, two starters on the Grizzlies, were second round draft picks. Tony Allen had never been able to break into the starting lineup in all his years in Boston and Zach Randolph was considered a team cancer who could only lead a team to disaster. They traded this season’sMost Improved Player in the league (Kevin Love) for a player that was benched after 13 games this season (OJ Mayo)and traded away the highest draft pick in Memphis history (Hasheem Thabeet) for a 32 year old free agent to be(Shane Battier).
How has this team reached a position of being within two victories of the Western Conference finals?
PerhapsAndres Alvarez saw it coming. His breakdown of the San Antonio series showed statistically why the Grizzlies won in incredible statistical detail but his conclusion (the Grizzlies won because they were hot and the Spurs were cold) didn’t leave one with the impression that it would continue although he did predict an exciting series against Oklahoma City. The way things look now that is prettyaccurate. Charles Barkley predicted the Grizzlies would beat the Spurs even with ahealthy Ginobili but I doubt he used much statistical analysis to quantify that impression.
I believe the real answer to the Grizzlies playoff success comes from something that stats have a hard time uncovering and human have a hard time believing even when the stats show it to be the case. The Grizzlies have played with more effort and heart than their more respected opponents. It is the team’s collective effort that has helped them overcome the top seeded Spurs andkeep the series even against Oklahoma City not the contribution of individual players. It washeart, grit and grindas Tony Allen called it to overcome a late 10 pt deficit and an early 7 point deficit in overtime to stretch what appeared to be a loss in regulation into a triple overtime heart-stopper. How do statisticspredictthe will of a player to win no matter how far behind they are in the game?
In the end the Thunder’s superior talent outlasted the Grizzlies heart in Game 4. As Lionel Hollins said after game 4 “we just ran out of bullets.” That may end up being the story of the series as superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook seem too much for the Grizzlies to overcome on paper.
Except the game isn’t played on paper as many people have discovered. One thing that the fans of the Grizzlies have learned to accept, you never give up on the Grizzlies until the last second ticks off the clock. When the statisticians figure out how to factor that more completely then they really will have something.
Of course if the Grizzlies lose in 6 or 7 games then I retract everything I wrote sincea largemajority of the experts in ESPN’s poll did predict that outcome in the 2nd round.