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Looking at why the Grizzlies offense is better without Gay

Mar 19, 2013, 9:49 PM EDT

Marc Gasol AP

After a lot of television talking heads though the Grizzlies ended their title chances by trading away Rudy Gay, they have simply been a better team. Memphis has gone 16-6 since the deal, and while some of that is they hit a soft patch in the schedule, a lot of it is they are playing better.

Especially on offense. Since the trade the Grizzlies weak offense has stepped up and averaged 104.1 points per 100 possessions, which would have them on the edge of the NBA’s top 10 for the entire season. Combine that with a very good defense and they become a dangerous team to meet in the playoffs.

Why is the offense better? Marc Gasol and his versatility from the elbow is a lot of it, something Zach Lowe talked about at Grantland and was added to by Dan Devine at Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie. Gasol can shoot from the elbow, pass to cutters or Zach Randolph down low, the Grizzlies run a sweet handoff play to their guards, or he can just take a few steps out and set a big screen for the pick-and-roll with Mike Conley.

What has really happened in Memphis is that Gay is not there soaking up shots in his inefficient, 40 percent shooting style, Devine says.

Gay’s absence has meant a greater distribution of touches, opportunities and responsibility for other Grizzlies, too. While Gasol’s “usage rate” — the share of Memphis possessions that end with him attempting a field goal, getting free throws or turning the ball over — is up (as is his field-goal percentage and as are his per-game scoring, rebounding and assist numbers; he’s averaging just under five dimes a game after the trade, which is nuts for a center), the same is true for Conley, who is also “using” more Grizzlies trips, assisting on teammates’ buckets more often, turning it over less frequently, and shooting a higher percentage from the floor and the foul line…..

All of these ploys — Gasol at the elbow, Conley in the high screen-and-roll or on off-ball cuts, even a slightly-less-potent-than-before Z-Bo on the block — are far more effective offensive options than Gay’s volume-shooting, not-especially-accurate brand of inefficiency. Plus, it’s not like the Grizz have been missing Gay defensively — they were tied with the Chicago Bulls for second in the league in defensive efficiency (how many points your defense gives up per 100 possessions) before the deal, allowing 97.5 points-per-100, and they’ve been second (and actually a tick better) since the deal, too, holding opponents to 97-per-100. (Gasol’s a pretty big reason for that, too, literally and figuratively.)

For all the hyperbole around advanced stats in the NBA, what you see in Memphis is the goal. Be smart by finding efficent players then putting said players in possitions to succeed. It’s not to be dazzled by the raw numbers (he scored 40 points) and look at how it happened (he took 45 shots).

The rise in the NBA’s “advanced” efficiency stats is trouble for volume shooters — teams are less interested in guys like Gay who need a lot of shots to score, they want guys who take fewer shots but make them from their spots on the floor. Teams like the Grizzlies will give up the old-school scorer like Gay to get the ball to guys who make a higher percentage of their shots. Then they run the plays that get those players the ball where they are effective. The hope with the new SpurtsVU cameras in arenas is for teams to gather data that can take all of that to the next level.

It’s not an accident Memphis is better now after the trade. It’s about being smart, Memphis’ front office was that and saved money in the process. It’s a model a lot of smaller market teams will gravitate toward.

  1. stayhigh_247 - Mar 19, 2013 at 10:38 PM

    “advanced, efficiency stats” what is this Money Ball? All I’m saying is come playoffs when defense is intensified and teams lock in on their bigs I would rather have Rudy Gay (a man that can create for himself) than Tayshun Prince, and I like Tayshun, just saying… btw, same goes for OKC minus The Beard….

  2. savvybynature - Mar 19, 2013 at 10:38 PM

    Memphis’ success since the Rudy Gay trade certainly seems like a huge succes for sabermetrics so far, but it’s interesting to note that Toronto has been one of the organizations at the forefront of stats-based decision making.
    While I agree with your assertion that volume shooters are looking like a soon-to-be trend of the past, I wonder what the Raptors see in Gay that would make them consider offering a max extension at the end of the season as this site reported?

  3. eventhorizon04 - Mar 19, 2013 at 10:52 PM

    Basically, it all comes down to Gay’s jump-shot being broken.

    He’s been shooting 28.6% from 3 (below average), and he was shooting well below average on mid-range jumpers as well (league-average is around 40%).

    In effect, Gay was a poor scorer everywhere except in the low-post and at the rim, but the Grizzlies have Gasol and Randolph to provide scoring in the post.

    They needed a wing player who who can defend and help space the floor. Gay is a good defender, but so is Tayshaun Prince, and Prince (who is shooting 40.8% from 3 this season) fills the role of floor spacer much better than Gay.

    Even without turning to very advanced metrics, the conclusion is clear – Until Gay fixes his jump-shot, he’s going to be an inefficient scorer.

  4. money2long - Mar 19, 2013 at 11:15 PM

    2 words: john hollinger

    • cmehustle - Mar 20, 2013 at 4:58 PM

      I wonder sometimes why guys like him and Chris Sheridan didnt get looks at NBA executives. I agree with you totally.

      • conjecture101 - Mar 20, 2013 at 11:10 PM

        you will see why come playoff time

  5. memphistigers311 - Mar 19, 2013 at 11:50 PM

    John was an excellent hire, but this move was coming regardless if he was around or not. Memphis in no way could afford all those salaries. Without Marquee teams coming to town Memphis unfortunately has serious issues putting butts in the seats for some unknown reason. I will concede I guess on this defensive stat Kurt throws around for defense and points-per-possession. But Memphis has the lowest allowed ppg in the NBA and if you watch Grizz games; I’m telling you folks, nobody can lock down a team as quickly or as effectively as the Grizz.

    Good article though and pretty much on point.

  6. mungman69 - Mar 20, 2013 at 1:21 AM

    Denver & Memphis in the West finals. Somehow.

  7. nbascreed - Mar 20, 2013 at 6:35 AM

    “Since the trade the Grizzlies weak offense has stepped up and averaged 104.1 points per 100 possessions, which would have them on the edge of the NBA’s top 10 for the entire season.”

    What a lovely piece of false equivalence…just dashing. Let me try. Since Monday, Jeff Green has averaged 43 ppg. This would have him among the league leaders for the entire season. Nailed it!

    • grizz2202 - Mar 20, 2013 at 6:03 PM

      So you’re saying that any stat less than a full season of 82 games is null and void? Ok let me try.

      Last season never happened (66 games). Nailed it!

      I think you’re failing to incorporate perspective, understanding of analogy, and common sense into your analysis nbascreed.

      So let me break it down for our more mouth-breathing readers: “If the Grizzlies were to continue on their current pace, and you extrapolate (that means expand!) that out over an entire season, their 104.1 points per 100 possession would rank them near the top 10 for the entire season. This is, of course, not indicitive of what has actually happened for the entire season, and is merely an illustration of their recent trend.”

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