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How Much Better Can the Bench Be? Ronnie Brewer Edition

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Just before the trade deadline, I was pretty confident that the Grizzlies were about to be completed. Darrell Arthur was set to return from injury, and management seemed dead-set on trading for a 6th man to replace Sam Young and a few million dollars in cap space saved by buyouts earlier in the season.

Darrell Arthur is back, and the Grizzlies have Ronnie Brewer on the roster. As we all know, though, that doesn't mean much right now. Arthur is still playing like he's injured and isn't offering much, though he seems to be sporting a more refined game, and Ronnie Brewer's hamstring is still being tied back up.

But Arthur should turn things around at some point, he definitely has the talent to be a role player, and the Memphis Commercial Appeal is reporting that Ronnie B. is almost back:

The 6-7 guard/forward sounds as if he is on pace to fully recover from a partially torn right hamstring three weeks from the day he was injured.

That means Brewer likely could resume full-contact basketball activities around March 12.

The question, then, is: What are the Grizzlies going to get from these two guys once they round back into shape in the upcoming weeks? In this first part of the series, I'm taking a look at what contribution we can expect from the injured Ronnie Brewer.

Here's the spit on Ronnie Brewer: he's not really the scorer that the Grizzlies were looking to get in a trade. Of course he can score, though. His efficiency is very high at 53% eFG%, which compares favorably to other 6th men and super-subs like Louis Williams (53%), Shannon Brown (50%), Jason Terry (50%). Statistically, you could make the argument that he probably should shoot even more.

Of course Sam Young scores fairly efficiently, too. He's got a 48% eFG%, which is definitely tolerable, and he's shooting from outside on about 6% more of his field goal attempts. That means he stretches the defense more, theoretically. But in reality neither is much of a threat to space the defense.

Young is shooting about 1 time every 2.6 minutes, while Brewer has shot 1 time every 3.8 minutes on his career. That might not seem like a big difference but it's a full 3.4 shots per 36 minutes, which would boost Brewer's shots per minute by a significant 32%.

That tells me that it's very possible that Brewer won't exactly plug right into Sam Young's role in the offense. In fact the biggest worry is that Brewer was assisted on 74% of his baskets last season. Those assists were coming from Deron Williams, who I hear is a decent passer. Whether Ronnie can get those looks in Memphis remains to be seen, and nobody wants to see him taking more jumpers.

I would venture to guess that Brewer's offensive success will vary greatly depending on what kind of units he sees time with. He'll probably shoot well with O.J. Mayo on the floor with him, and even better at small forward with both OJAM and Mike Conley spreading the floor and passing. In a unit with Marcus Williams, though, why wouldn't the defense just collapse on the two guards who shoot more like Dwight Howard than Ray Allen.

Overall it's really difficult to predict that Sam Young would outperform Brewer offensively. Sam Young's offensive efficiency is a terrible 103 (points per 100 possessions). Ronnie Brewer's has never been below 110 (this year) and is 116 on his career. I see him posting something like 108 on Memphis, for the reasons above, but it's possible that he adjusts.

To describe it for those that aren't big advanced stat-heads, that means Ronnie Brewer plays offense only a bit worse than O.J. Mayo, about the same as Rudy Gay (albeit with much, much lower usage), and a bit better than Mike Conley (with similar usage). So if he's primarily taking Sam Young's time and backing up Mike's minutes (moving O.J. to point), he's an upgrade. Yes, Grizzlies fans, we now have an actual boost off the bench.

The best part is that Brewer isn't even known as an offensive player. His real benefit is on the defensive side of the ball. Ronnie is an absolute ball-hawk, averaging 2 steals per 36 minutes over his career. Sam Young averages 1 steal per 36 minutes. That's doubling the Grizzlies steal opportunities. And his career defensive rating of 107 would be tied for the best of the Grizzlies who play major minutes (with Marc Gasol); Sam Young's 112 defensive rating is about as bad as it gets.

A defensive rating of 107 (allowing 107 points per 100 possessions) is exceptional for a shooting guard. Ray Allen has a career defensive rating of 109, Stephen Jackson's is also 107, Brandon Roy and Joe Johnson's are both 110. The only shooting guards I could find with better defensive ratings were Kobe Bryant (105), Dwyane Wade (104), and Andre Iguodala (106). When you compare him to other players, it's clear: Ronnie Brewer is a near-elite defender.

I suspect that having Brewer around as a defensive stopper is going to have a profound effect on the Grizzlies. The Grizz are currently 23rd in the league defensively, with a team defensive rating of 106.9 (this is not related to player defensive efficiency). If Brewer's playing around 28 minutes per game, the Grizzlies defensive efficiency could improve to something like 104 or 105.

If that happens the Grizzlies will have about even offensive and defensive efficiency. A team with slightly better than equal efficiencies and therefore a positive point differential is, understandably, right around the middle of the league. Sadly, it doesn't look to be enough to put the Grizzlies up and over the Portland Trailblazers, who's +3 differential has them stuck in the 8th seed.

Bringing Ronnie Brewer off the bench is, most likely, not going to pull the Grizzlies into the playoffs at this point. The gap between the Grizzlies, Houston, and New Orleans and the 7th-8th seed is fairly large, and will be difficult to close even with Ronnie Brewer providing his defensive skills. The situation isn't hopeless, but even with Brewer back, I'm not too hopeful either.