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Every year around this time 3 Shades of Blue turnsto our favorite statistical mastermind,Professor DavidBerri of Southern Utah University and author of the successful book Wages of Wins: Taking Measure of Many Myths in Modern Sports, to discuss the Grizzlies season and why – if at all – the team’s fans should be optimistic about the future.

This past summer Prof. Berri along with Martin B. Schmidt releaseda 2nd book, Stumbling onWins, to great critical acclaim. The book expanded on many of the theories brought forth in the first book. Prof. Berri has been a passionate Detroit Lions fan for years so he can empathize with the plight of the Grizzlies faithful.

Without further ado here’s David.

Berri: Before I get to your questions, here is where the Memphis Grizzlies stand after 35 games (this is a website that can show you the team’s ranking after every game). The teams record is only 16-19. But when we turn to offensive and defensive efficiency, we see this team is better than their record suggests.

Currently the team is scoring 101.7 points per 100 possessions while only allowing 101.3. So the teams efficiency differential, or offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency, is 0.4. Such a mark is consistent with a team that will win 42 games across an 82 game season. When we move from efficiency differential to Wins Produced (HERE is a guide to calculating this measure and HERE are some answers to frequently asked questions), we can see that virtually all of these wins as the following table illustrates — can be linked to the play of Zach Randolph, Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, and Marc Gasol. Of this quartet, three are offering more than they did last season. These changes will be discussed below.

Grizzlies Posit’n Min. WP48**
in Wins
Z. Randolph 4.27 1129 0.213 11.7 0.285 15.7 4.0
R Gay 3.16 1327 0.065 4.2 0.166 10.7 6.5
M Conley 1.00 1263 0.055 3.4 0.150 9.3 5.9
M Gasol 5.00 1138 0.178 9.9 0.114 6.3 -3.5
O.J. Mayo 2.00 996 0.081 3.9 0.044 2.1 -1.8
T Allen 1.21 442 0.143 3.1 0.079 1.7 -1.4
Dl Arthur 4.00 673 -0.020 -0.7 0.034 1.1 1.8
S Young 3.00 349 -0.013 -0.2 0.029 0.5 0.7
H Haddadi 5.00 27 -0.102 -0.1 0.344 0.5 0.6
D Carroll 3.00 20 -0.001 0.0 0.266 0.3 0.3
G Vasquez 2.00 349 -0.013* -0.2 -0.013 -0.2 0.0
A Law 1.00 94 0.068 0.3 -0.176 -0.8 -1.1
H Thabeet 5.00 230 0.084 0.9 -0.206 -2.3 -3.3
X Henry 2.46 487 -0.108* -2.6 -0.108 -2.6 0.0
TOTALS 33.7 42.3 8.6

* – Rookie in 2010-11, so numbers from 2009-10 are the same as what we see in 2010-11**-WP48 in 2009-10 is calculated with per-minute performance in 2009-10 and position played in 2010-11*** – Projected Wins Produced is calculated by multiplying a players current WP by 82/35

3SOB: My first question has to do with the Miracle Mike Conley transformation. Here is a player who has been below average among his peers his entire career but is now well above average so far this season. The numbers speak for themselves in regards to his transformation but how common is it for a 4th year player to make this type of transformation?

Berri: Not sure I agree with the notion that Mike Conley has been below average his entire career. Certainly if you look at his rookie season and what he did last year, Conley was below average. But as the following table indicates, Conley was above average with respect to Win Score (the simplified version of Wins Produced) in 2008-09. In fact, his overall production this season is quite similar to what we saw two years ago. When we look the individual statistics, we do see that Conley has improved relative to 2008-09 — with respect to assists, steals, and getting to the free throw line. He is doing worse with respect to turnovers, rebounds, and shooting efficiency. Overall, though, he is about equal to what we saw two years ago. And that means he is an above average point guard who can get you some assists and steals; plus shoots efficiently without being overly prone to turnovers. He doesnt score much, but he certainly helps his team win.

Evaluating Mike Conley (after 34 games this season) Below Average Numbers in Red Numbers are per 48 minutesPoints-per-shot = [PTS-FTM]/FGAAdjusted Field Goal Percentage = PPS/2Net Possessions = Rebounds + Steals TurnoversWin Score (the simplified version of Wins Produced= PTS + REB + STL + *BLK + *AST FGA *FTA TO *PF

Statistic Avg
Points per shot 0.95 1.01 0.99 0.98
Adjusted Field Goal % 47.4% 50.3% 49.4% 49.1%
Free Throw % 0.79 0.82 0.74 0.75
Field Goal Attempts 15.8 14.0 15.5 15.2
Free Throw Attempts 4.3 3.8 3.5 4.5
Points Scored 18.4 17.1 17.9 18.3
Rebounds 4.7 5.3 3.6 4.2
Steals 2.0 1.7 2.0 2.6
Turnovers 3.4 2.7 3.2 3.4
Net Possessions 3.3 4.3 2.4 3.4
Blocked Shots 0.3 0.2 0.2 0.2
Assists 8.6 6.8 7.9 9.4
Personal Fouls 3.6 2.8 3.3 3.1
Win Score 6.3 7.6 5.5 7.5

3SOB: Conley signed a contract for $40 million over the next 5 years. Would you consider his wages justifiable based on this seasons play?
The NBA currently pays about $1.7 million per win. Memphis being a smaller market would prefer to pay a bit less than this amount. Conley, though, appears to be a bargain. Currently he is on pace to produce 9.7 wins this season. If Memphis was paying $1.7 million per win, Conley would be earning more than $16 million. The most his current contract calls for him to be paid is $9.7 million in 2015-16. So the Conley contract appears to make sense for the Grizzlies.

3SOB: Rudy Gay has improved his play dramatically as well after signing his new contract including two sensational last second shots. How justified is his new deal for the play he is exhibiting so far this season?
Berri: Lets first talk about Gays improvement. Here is what Gay has done across the past four seasons.

Evaluating Rudy Gay (after 34 games this season) Below Average Numbers in Red Numbers are per 48 minutesPoints-per-shot = [PTS-FTM]/FGAAdjusted Field Goal Percentage = PPS/2Net Possessions = Rebounds + Steals – TurnoversWin Score (the simplified version of Wins Produced= PTS + REB + STL + *BLK + *AST FGA *FTA TO *PF

Statistic Avg
Points per shot 0.96 1.02 0.97 0.98 1.04
Adjusted Field Goal % 48.2% 51.1% 48.7% 49.1% 51.9%
Free Throw % 0.76 0.78 0.77 0.75 0.84
Field Goal Attempts 16.7 21.7 20.6 19.5 20.0
Free Throw Attempts 5.0 5.1 5.6 6.0 5.0
Points Scored 19.9 26.1 24.3 23.7 25.0
Rebounds 7.6 8.0 7.1 7.1 7.3
Steals 1.6 1.8 1.6 1.8 2.2
Turnovers 2.8 3.0 3.3 2.6 3.1
Net Possessions 6.5 6.7 5.4 6.4 6.4
Blocked Shots 0.8 1.3 1.0 1.0 1.5
Assists 3.6 2.5 2.2 2.3 3.2
Personal Fouls 4.2 3.7 3.6 3.0 3.0
Win Score 7.3 8.7 6.2 7.7 9.7

Relative to the average small forward, Gay was above average in 2007-08, below average the past two seasons, and producing at his highest level of his career this season. When we compare 2007-08 to this season, we see improvement with respect to shooting efficiency from the field and the free throw line, more steals, more assists, more blocked shots, and fewer personal fouls.

All of these improvements fully offset his decline in rebounds. One issue for Gay in the past was the substantial time he spent at power forward. Relative to 2007-08 it appears Gay is spending less time at the power forward position. So his production of wins which depends on position played is even higher this season. Entering this season, Gay had only produced 10.2 wins for his career. So the contract he signed seemed hard to justify. But Gay is on pace to produce 10.7 wins this season. If he can maintain this production until 2014-15, then Gay despite what he did across his first four seasons will be just about worth this contract. For Gay to be worth this money, he must continue to produce. And since about 60% of his improvement since last year can be linked to his improved shooting from the three point line and from the free throw line (he is virtually the same from two-point range), that means Gay must continue to hit his shots.

Can he do this? Given his past performance, I am surprised he has played so well in 2010-11. We should note that players tend to peak in their mid-20s, and Gay turns 25 next August. So maybe Gay is just realizing his potential. If he can maintain that peak, then Gays contract wont look so bad. But Gay has to keep hitting his shots for this to be true.

3SOB: Zach Randolph was always considered a cancer on teams he played on prior to coming to Memphis. He was called a black hole on offense and a lousy defensive player but according to your numbers he was a productive player in regards to team wins with a WP48 usually well in excess of .100. Have the fans been wrong about Zach all these years?
Berri: Prior to coming to Memphis in 2009, Randolph had generally been an above average NBA player. But he was somewhat less consistent than what we see from a typical NBA player. He was well below average in 2005-06 and above average in 2002-03, 2006-07, and 2008-09.

He was never as productive, though, as he has been for the Grizzlies. The following table details the difference. Relative to his career numbers after the 2008-09 season, Randolph as a member of the Grizzlies is a more efficient scorer from the field, a better rebounder, less prone to turnovers, and less likely to commit a personal foul. As a consequence, Randolph is producing more wins.

Evaluating Zach Randolph (after 34 games this season) Below Average Numbers in Red Numbers are per 48 minutesPoints-per-shot = [PTS-FTM]/FGAAdjusted Field Goal Percentage = PPS/2Net Possessions = Rebounds + Steals TurnoversWin Score (the simplified version of Wins Produced= PTS + REB + STL + *BLK + *AST FGA *FTA TO *PF

Statistic Avg
( as of
Points per shot 0.97 0.94 0.99 0.98
Adjusted Field Goal % 48.4% 47.2% 49.4% 49.2%
Free Throw % 0.71 0.77 0.78 0.71
Field Goal Attempts 15.8 22.7 21.0 20.8
Free Throw Attempts 5.6 6.9 7.3 6.4
Points Scored 19.3 26.8 26.4 25.0
Rebounds 11.4 13.3 14.9 16.6
Steals 1.4 1.1 1.3 0.9
Turnovers 2.8 3.5 2.7 2.4
Net Possessions 10.0 10.9 13.5 15.1
Blocked Shots 1.3 0.4 0.5 0.4
Assists 2.9 2.6 2.3 2.2
Personal Fouls 4.9 3.8 3.6 2.8
Win Score 10.3 11.1 14.9 16.0

From 2001-02 to 2008-09, Randolph produced about 32 wins as an NBA player. In 2009-10, though, Randolph produced 14.3 wins. And this year he is on pace to produce 15.7 wins.

In sum, if Randolph continues to produce, his production in 2009-10 and 2010-11 as a member of the Grizzlies will nearly match his career production prior to coming to Memphis. So have the fans been wrong about Randolph? I don’t think so. He was clearly capable of producing as an NBA player. But until he showed up in Memphis, Randolph did not consistently produce. And therefore, fans had a reason to be skeptical.

3SOB: Randolph is a free agent this summer. The rumor is he wants a Pau Gasol type of contract. Is he worth that?
Gasol is schedule to receive about $75 million from 2010-11 to 2013-14. Again, NBA teams tend to pay about $1.7 million per win. So for Randoph to be worth this kind of money, he would need to produce about 12 wins per season for the next four years. This year he is on pace to produce 15.7 wins and last year he produced 14.3 wins. So if he maintained what we saw last season and what we are seeing this year, then Randolph is probably worth this kind of money.

There are two concerns. First, Randolph will turn 30 next July. NBA players tend to age like milk, and players after the age of 30 tend to decline. Secondly, as noted, Randolph has had a problem with motivation in the past. Both issues would have to give the Grizzlies second thoughts about giving Randolph a significant contract.

3SOB: O J Mayo has struggled this season, possibly because of his failed experiment playing PG this summer, but your numbers have always suggested that Mayo wasnt that productive of a player anyway. Do you think his move to the 6th man role on the Grizzlies is a positive move by the team?
Berri: The Grizzlies acquired O.J. Mayo on draft night in 2008 in exchange for Kevin Love and Mike Miller. At the time I thought this wasnt a great move. I think Memphis would be thrilled to reverse this trade today. That is not going to happen, though. Mayo produced 8.5 wins in 6,233 minutes across his first two seasons. When we consider WP48 or Wins Produced per 48 minutes we see a mark of 0.065. Average WP48 is 0.100, so across his first two seasons Mayo was below average. This season, Mayos WP48 mark is 0.044. So again, he is below par.

Meanwhile, Love has already produced more than ten wins in 2010-11 and has a WP48 mark beyond 0.400. Yes, Love is very good (and it would take more than Mayo to pry Love away from the Timberwolves). Okay, the Grizzlies cant go back and do this deal differently.

But should Mayo come off the bench? If we look at each players production, we see that Mayo is the most productive shooting guard on the roster. Both Xavier Henry and Greivis Vasquez the teams draft picks in 2010 are producing in the negative range. So if the team was trying to start their very best players, Mayo would be starting. As Red Auerbach discovered a long time ago, though, sometime it is a good idea to keep a productive player on the bench. So maybe playing Mayo with the second-unit isnt a bad idea.

3SOB: If Tony Allen was considered a SG in your analysis, and he is starting at SG right now, does that change your view that Mayo should be the starter as the best player available?
Berri: I was thinking that Tony Allen was the primary backing up at PG. If Allen is an option at Shooting Guard, then he is a somewhat better option than Mayo. And apparently a better fighter (or did Mayo when that fight?).

3SOB: You mentioned that Red Auerbach believed that sometimes it is a good idea to keep a productive player on the bench. Do you agree with him?
Berri: Auerbach is credited with creating the 6th man position. There is diminishing returns in the NBA. In other words, the productivity of a player’s teammates can diminish the productivity of the player. It is not a large effect, but it is real. So by keeping a productive player with the second unit, the player not only benefits from playing lesser competition, but he also can offer more because his teammates are not reducing his output. So from that perspective, bringing Mayo off the bench might be helpful.

3SOB: Marc Gasol has always scored high in your system and despite rather tepid numbers (11.5 ppg, 7.6 rpg) hes a huge fan favorite and a player most people believe accounts for more wins to the team than his numbers imply. Hes also a free agent this summer. Is he worth a max deal to keep him assuming the CBA contract keeps the contract value limits in place?
Paus brother arrived in Memphis in 2008. Across his first two seasons, Marc produced 14 wins and posted a 0.135 WP48. So he was above average, but not quite as good as his brother (Pau produced 31 wins across his past two seasons, and produced 65 wins in seven seasons as a member of the Grizzlies). This season Marc is on pace to 6.3 wins with a 0.114 WP48. So again, he is above average. But again, he is not as productive as his brother. If Marc, though, can produce about seven wins each season and each win is worth $1.7 million to an NBA team then Marc is worth about $12 million. This is not maximum money. But it is pretty good.

3SOB: Darrell Arthur is getting high praise for his play this year. Has he really improved according to your statistics or is just another example of scoring more being misinterpreted to mean playing better?
As a rookie, Arthur played 1,464 minutes and produced 1.0 wins. So his WP48 was 0.032. This season he has posted a WP48 of 0.034. Relative to his rookie season, Arthur is a more efficient scorer. But he is grabbing fewer rebounds, getting fewer blocks, and committing more turnovers. Overall, he is slightly better. But he is still below average.

3SOB: One last question, given the way the team is playing this season in relation to other teams in the Western Conference, what is the likelihood, in your opinion, of the team making the playoffs this season?
Berri: John Hollinger and I tend to agree on how to evaluate team (we disagree with respect to players) and Hollinger has the odds of Memphis making the playoffs at around 50%. That sounds right to me.

3 Shades of Blue wants to thank Prof. Berri for his time in answering these questions. You can read Prof. Berri’s and other writers thougths at his blog titled “the Wages of Win Journal.”

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