Dave Joerger is working through a hefty ordeal as he begins his head coaching career for the Memphis Grizzlies. The Grizzlies' rusty start portends a tough trial for Joerger, who rocked minor-league basketball before joining Memphis' staff in 2007.
The Grizz have struggled in various ways thus far. Their defense has been far from the expectations of the "grit 'n' grind." The offense has been dysfunctional. While the core players and Mike Miller have been up to par, others haven't posted satisfying offensive numbers.
In order for the Grizzlies to build on their best season in franchise history, Joerger must sort out numerous cards. Here are a few areas that need tweaking.
Enforce discipline on defense
Memphis hasn't defended like the terrifying group that had four of the top 15 players in defensive rating and neutralized Kevin Durant in the conference semifinals last season. Their early defensive figures are subpar, including a 51.2 percent effective field-goal rate and 105.1 points allowed per 100 possessions.
The Grizz haven't strung together two laudable defensive outings in a row.
Most players aren't putting forth good individual efforts. Besides Tony Allen, no one wearing the three shades of blue is allowing fewer than 104 points per 100 possessions.
Too often, opponents are finding easy scoring. Three of the first four games saw teams drop 99 points or more on the Grizzlies. On Nov. 1, the Detroit Pistons forced overtime by scoring 54 points in the second half.
The Commercial Appeal's Peter Edmiston pointed to (subscription required) issues with the small forward position and transition defense. Before holding the Golden State Warriors to 14 fast-break points on Saturday, Memphis stood last in the category with 19 allowed per game.
With Tayshaun Prince playing less than usual, the Grizz are settling for lesser defense at the 3 spot from Miller and Quincy Pondexter. With the fourth-year player on the floor, Memphis allows 27.2 more points per 100 possessions, according to NBA.com.
For three seasons, a ferocious defense carried the Grizzlies. Joerger should push players to lock down better at all positions and forcing difficult possessions.
Find offensive rhythm
Control is lacking in the Grizz offense. While variations in pace may be acceptable early in Joerger's first campaign, unsteady flow isn't.
They're turning the ball over frequently. The Grizz hold a 16.4 percent turnover rate and have coughed it up more than 15 times in five straight games. Zach Randolph's three turnovers per game signal a difficult moment for someone who generally handles the ball well.
Corralling Tony Allen is a test for Joerger. Allen isn't shooting too much, but he's taking too many touches. The use of this unwieldy player is costing Memphis. He has a 21 percent turnover rate. Against the Celtics, he balanced his four steals with four turnovers.
Keeping Allen from putting the ball on the floor would be ideal.
The Memphis Flyer's Kevin Lipe asserted that the Grizzlies' offensive woes boil down to "a comfort-level thing." He said, "These Grizzlies are still playing completely inside their heads and haven't progressed to the point where they don't have to think about every move they're making on the court yet."
Perhaps this somewhat faster style is a bicycle that the Grizz are still learning to manage without falling off. Nonetheless, Joerger must push them to reach that stage.
Striking a balance in dividing playing time was among Joerger's goals before the season started. According to The Commercial Appeal (subscription required), he said he planned to play the starters less.
Meanwhile, Prince, who is averaging 21.8 per game, 9.9 less than his Memphis stint last year, has spent an inordinate amount of time on the bench.
While he doesn't post remarkable stats, Prince's status as a glue guy merits him more than one 30-minute appearance in the early games.
Miller has seen a startling amount of floor time to this point. Miller is averaging 25.2 minutes per game, and has two games with 28 minutes or more.
His five 20-minute appearances put him on track to blow past the 24 he had last year.
This is alarming for a player who played sparingly and dealt with injuries in recent seasons. He played 19.3 and 15.3 minutes per game in 2011-12 and 2012-13, respectively. He's missed more than 20 games in each of the past four years.
Last year, Miller was plagued with back problems, among other ailments, according to the USA Today.
Hence, Lipe was reasonably exasperated when he tweeted his frustration with Miller's 24-minute run on Wednesday.
Establish a predictable tone
The rookie head coach had a difficult task in moving from the assistant coach spot to the head coaching role. As The Commercial Appeal's Ron Tillery noted (subscription required), he was "fun and easygoing." That's a stark contrast to the taskmaster approach of Lionel Hollins.
Some might feel that characters like Allen and Randolph need a tough presence like Hollins'.
Joerger suddenly showed that side on Thursday, a day after the loss to the Pelicans. While dressing his team down for executing poorly, he was quoted by The Commercial Appeal (subscription required) as saying of scrimmages, "We could do drills for three hours. That's not fun. You'd rather play."
For someone who had been friendly to players for several years before stepping into his current role, those words may sound as surprising as they are unsettling. A commander can start tough, but his men recognize that he'll tone down the rhetoric as time passes.
Grizzlies players know Joerger's medium level. Thus, they can expect him to be harsh for only a short time. The best approach will be that he strike a middle ground where he's amiable, yet holds players accountable. He must hold them to the expectations of being effective on both ends of the floor.
All stats are current through Nov. 10. Unless otherwise noted, advanced metrics come from basketball-reference.com.
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