5 Ways John Hollinger's Arrival Will Take Memphis Grizzlies to the Top
The Memphis Grizzlies blasted toward the head of the class last Thursday by hiring ESPN writer and statistical guru John Hollinger as vice president of basketball operations. With this move, the Grizzlies gave themselves a truly smart front office.
This pickup significantly changes the dynamic of the Grizzlies’ player evaluation. As Hollinger brings in the statistical eye, two scouts are on their way out.
Apparently, Hollinger still isn’t the top basketball voice in the organization. According to ESPN, Chris Wallace retains his title as general manager. Still, Hollinger is expected to do more than just hand Wallace troves of numbers.
Thus, the relationship between Hollinger and Wallace will be more like Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer in the Chicago Cubs front office than Ben Cherington and Bill James in the Boston Red Sox suite. Like Epstein and Hoyer, the two basketball leaders of the Memphis organization will share some decision-making.
Like Epstein, Wallace will ultimately have the final say on important matters.
The innovator of the Player Efficiency Rating will be a breeze of new energy for an organization that some believe is about to grow stagnant with a few big contracts. The Grizz hang right on the border of the top tier of NBA squads.
Here’s a list of ways this newcomer will impact decision-making for Grizzlies and helping push them to the top.
Different Value Signings for Bench
Chris Wallace made four signings during the offseason. One, Marreese Speights, has done about as well as one might expect. Another, Jerryd Bayless, has performed below expectations. The first signing, Darrell Arthur, was bitten by the injury bug once again and has yet to emerge as a major bench player.
The final signing, Hamed Haddadi, has had little impact.
John Hollinger wasn’t a fan of Bayless. He said that Bayless’ three-point shooting last year was an outlier and that he would regress to his career average. Thus far, Hollinger has been right, as Bayless has hit just a third of his threes. He’s shooting 39.1 percent from the field while averaging 5.8 points per game.
Some Grizzlies fans might have liked to see the team go for another value signing with the midlevel exception to replace O.J. Mayo—or re-sign Mayo if that would have been possible.
Instead of dwelling on whom they could have picked up, fans of this small-market team could look forward to the type of high-efficiency guard Hollinger might push for.
A couple unrestricted free agents that he might take interest in if their 2012-13 track continues as expected are J.J. Redick and Randy Foye. Both are efficient offensive players who can hit three-pointers.
Weed out Losing Trade Matches for Star Players
The Memphis Grizzlies have seen trade rumors swirl around their two biggest and most expensive stars, Rudy Gay and Zach Randolph, but have resisted any urge to trade them. Partly, it's due to a resistance to breaking up the core. Also, it results from a lack of credible deals.
Hollinger's analysis will help color the evaluation of trade offers. As his PER has served as a slot machine determining which team has the upper hand in a trade in the ESPN Trade Machine, it could also determine whether the Grizzlies come out well in a deal.
While it wouldn't be a complete determinant for whether a trade would benefit the team, the rating would give some statistical support for whether a trade should be made.
For example, the Grizzlies could look at acquiring Paul Millsap from the Utah Jazz, which hope to trade him or Al Jefferson before the trade deadline, per ESPN. The Grizzlies could send either Gay or Randolph to the Jazz for Millsap, Raja Bell and Earl Watson. Bell and Watson are essentially throw-ins to make salaries match up.
In the ESPN Trade Machine view, the Grizzlies and Jazz would both have the same projected record in the deal involving Randolph, as the two power forwards have the same PER.
If Gay were to be moved to the Jazz, the Grizzlies would be projected by the ESPN Trade Machine to win one fewer game and the Jazz would be projected to win four fewer.
Indeed, trades don't happen in a vacuum. The trade machine can't take into account the impact that the loss of Randolph would have off the court or the impact that swapping either one for the sieve-like Millsap would have on the defense.
Hollinger could reason that since neither Gay nor Randolph is central to the defense that it won't hurt too much.
Remove Inefficiencies on Offense
John Hollinger just might find a little Billy Beane in him, nudging Lionel Hollins’ crew to get rid of inefficient aspects to its offense. He probably wouldn’t mind stepping on the coach’s toes in order to get the message across to the players.
Besides, he didn’t have any problem writing these thoughts.
Hollinger would address guys with already expressed critiques, including these uttered in his evaluation of Grizzlies players for ESPN (via Deadspin for my fellow non-subscribers to ESPN Insider).
He remarked that Rudy Gay’s jump shot wasn’t that great last season, noting how the Connecticut product struggled with long two-pointers and threes. While Gay has done better on long twos this season, he’s still shooting just 32.9 percent from three-point range.
Hollinger would probably suggest that Gay get to the rim more often.
In regards to Wayne Ellington, Hollinger said that “bad math is killing his career.” The scribe noted Ellington’s low 32.4 percent three-point mark from last year and said that he stepped inside the arc too much. Ellington has bounced up to 36 percent from long range. He’s also back to taking more than half his shots from behind the curved line.
The advice for Ellington would be to key in on those three-point shots and resist the urge to step up for shots.
Of Mike Conley, Hollinger said, “He has an extremely low usage rate for a key starter and often just spots up on the weak side while the post weapons go to work.”
The thing for Conley would be to create space for himself so that he can make more plays by playing off others.
Concerning Zach Randolph, Hollinger basically questioned whether last year was an indication of decline due to age.
One might wonder if this could lead to the new front-office man walking in on Randolph during a workout and warns him that he’s running out of possessions—similar to Beane walking in on David Justice in a batting cage in Moneyball to warn the slugger he’s running out of outs.
Scoring hasn’t been the easy part of the Grizzlies’ game. Taking in some new approaches based in statistical modeling could help players remove weak spots in their scoring.
What to Do with Tony Allen After 2012-13
The Grizzlies are approaching a turning point with Tony Allen. The defensive leader of the team will turn 31 in January and then see his contract expire at the end of the season. Chris Wallace and John Hollinger must decide whether to renew Allen's contract as he moves past the age of 30.
Allen has transformed the Grizzlies' defense and defined the team. He has averaged close to two steals per game the last three years and has stood out as one of the best defenders in the league. Last season, he earned a place on the All-NBA Defensive first team.
While he has been with the Grizzlies, Allen has led a defense that has been one of the most aggressive in the NBA. In 2010-11 and 2011-12, the "grit 'n' grind" led the league in steals and turnovers forced. This season, they're third in turnover rate, second in turnovers forced per game and second in steals per game.
Allen will likely see a bit of decline next season. Besides, he had knee surgery in the offseason and sometimes needs to rest due to soreness.
But he could retain a great deal of effectiveness. His body will still allow him to grind it out on defense fairly well for another year. He'll still have the wits to battle one-on-one.
Hollinger could look at his age and discourage re-signing Allen, but he'd more likely push for a one-year deal to ensure the championship window stays open with this supreme defender.
A Slight Shift in Defensive Focus
As Tony Allen grows a bit older, John Hollinger could use it as a chance to shift the focus on defense a bit.
He could work with Chris Wallace to find players who play hard like Allen on defense and try to do all that he does—force turnovers, play help defense, cut off passing lanes—but doesn't take as many risks.
Allen may be an amazing defender, but even the most passionate apologist of his can't deny that he sometimes overpursues.
Hollinger could advise that the Grizzlies go for someone who is generally more efficient and allows fewer points per 100 possessions by staying disciplined.
This would ensure the health of Memphis' championship window beyond the Allen era.