Yogi Berra was a wise man.
The legendary New York Yankee made up for short stature (5'7", 185 pounds) with tall Hall-of-Fame statistics and legendary phrases. Take this gem...
You got to be careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there.
Jack Handey would be proud. Here's another example of, well, a Yogi-ism.
It was impossible to get a conversation going, everybody was talking too much.
Who hasn't been a part of that kind of conversation? This final quote is my personal Yogi favorite.
We have deep depth.
Even for an existential thinker the likes of Yogi Berra, this one is a doozy. As it pertains to the Memphis Grizzlies, it is also quite fitting. A team that last season was billed by many as the deepest in Grizzlies' history just got, well, deeper. Out with the Mike Millers, James Johnsons and Ed Davis' of the world, and in with Jordan Adams, Jarnell Stokes and Vince Carter. The right mix of youthful energy and veteran experience, offensive versatility and defensive acumen can make any team more dangerous.
The question is, how dangerous is this Grizzlies roster as presently constructed? Outside of a trade, the Grizzlies' have their team that will go through the 2014-2015 campaign together. Where are the strengths and weaknesses, and how can Memphis nullify some of those concerns in house? How can the Memphis Grizzlies take advantage of their "deep depth?" Part one of this two part series will look at the backcourt of the Grizzlies. Part two will showcase the front court.
Mike Conley, Nick Calathes, Beno Udrih
The signing of Beno Udrih to a 2 year deal at the league's bi-annual exception caught some by surprise. What did this mean for Nick Calathes, a player who had success after a slow start and was a rookie of the month this past season? Despite his growth Calathes was suspended for 20 games before the playoff series against the Oklahoma City Thunder due to a failed drug test. There are 13 games left on that suspension heading into the 2014-2015 season and this, in addition to rumors of European teams pursuing Calathes with big money offers, led to thoughts of Calathes perhaps being traded or released by the Grizzlies.
Calathes is still a member of the Grizzlies though, after the deadline to release him and his non-guaranteed contract passed last week. This is good for a team that has had issues in the past with depth at the point guard position. The work of the Grizzlies' Front Office shines through in the Point Guard position; Memphis is legitimately 3 deep at this spot, with Mike Conley as a potential All-Star and two back-ups who have different skill sets in Udrih and Calathes. Conley has grown every season as a scorer, defender and leader; there is little to no reason to believe that will not continue heading into next season.
Behind Conley, the Grizzlies have two players who bring different skill sets to the table. Beno is a more capable scorer than Calathes especially from range as a career 36% three point shooter and from the free throw line as a career 83% shooter. Both Udrih and Calathes are great facilitators of the offense, each averaging 3 assists per 15-16 minutes of playing time last season. Where Calathes separates from Udrih a bit is as a defender and in terms of natural ability; at 6'6", Calathes can defend multiple wing positions and suffocate point guards with his length. Two different players who create mismatches in a variety of ways for Memphis.
How to Take Advantage of "Deep Depth"
Playing Conley off the ball
Mike Conley's offensive significance has grown in the time since Rudy Gay left Memphis via trade. As the Grizzlies continue to develop a more efficient offensive identity, having Conley play off the ball more often can create chaos. Memphis desperately needs multiple ball handlers, and a two point guard look can provide that. Here's a great example from last season.
Playing Conley off the ball with another point guard can be especially dangerous in transition, where Mike's ability to hit the three or penetrate and finish at the rim/get to the free throw line can be best executed. Calathes is defending Ray Allen, a shooting guard, in this sequence, and doing it very well.
As far as Conley the facilitator, you don't lose much with Udrih or Calathes in; per 36 minutes Udrih and Calathes have similar assist totals to Mike, so the capacity to facilitate is still there. This can allow for the better scorer of the three Point Guards to take a more aggressive role in the offense. There are certainly different ways to get there. For example...
Still defensively sound with multiple wing defenders plus the "Twin Towers" look protecting the rim. This lineup allows for Calathes to guard the opposing team's shooting guard, making the fact that Conley is Memphis' de facto shooting guard not as potentially damaging for the Grizzlies. Conley can come off picks and screens, meaning Calathes can create for Conley as well as off the pick and roll game with either Koufos or Gasol. Add in a slashing/corner three nailing Quincy Pondexter, and you have an efficient offense and dangerous defense.
If you subscribe to the "if Tayshaun Prince plays please be as a small-ball Power Forward sparingly" philosophy, this is a fun possibility. Post defense is suspect at best, although Prince's length will be valuable on the block Against a team who plays small-ball consistently this lineup could work. Vince Carter is one of the best wings in the NBA at playing off the pick-and-roll, and Udrih and Conley are not shabby in those sets either. The three of them and Jon Leuer are all floor spacers, enabling...Tayshaun Prince...to work on the block and be as effective as possible at this stage in his career. Not an all the time option, but depending on the match-up a possibility.
Ah yes, the potential "three point guard" lineup. Say the Phoenix Suns re-sign Eric Bledsoe and hold on to Goran Dragic. Wouldn't it be nice to fight fire with fire, but up the ante a bit? Calathes could defend a smaller Small Forward and now there are 3 (!!!) ball handlers on the court who can play off of Gasol pick-and-rolls. Again, specific situations dictate the use of this kind of lineup. However, the offensive ramifications of a three point guard set could offset some defensive shortcomings.
Take into account all that this group of players can do, and then consider that the three of them combined are making roughly the same or less this season in salary than individuals like Tyreke Evans, Rajon Rondo and Deron Williams? A great collection of pieces who can bring a variety of skill sets to the table.
Courtney Lee, Tony Allen, Jordan Adams, Jamaal Franklin
Another off-season move that shocked members of GrizzNation was the drafting of Jordan Adams out of UCLA in the first round of this year's NBA Draft. Further research into the young man's analytic impact and ability to score the basketball make the selection less surprising, and there is no denying the impact he could potentially make for the Grizzlies. He showed flashes of that in the Summer League, including this game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Coach Jason March of the Memphis Grizzlies compared Jordan Adams' versatile offensive game to James Harden on last week's GBBLive (which you can listen to here) which is lofty praise. If he becomes 75% of that level of player, he will be worthy of the 22nd pick where he was taken.
This does not negate the fact that there are two shooting guards on the roster who started games for the Grizzlies last season in Courtney Lee and Tony Allen. Lee is a capable two-way player who shines in the pull-up mid-range game, while Allen when on is a top defender in the NBA. Plus, there is Jamaal Franklin, the Grizzlies' draft pick from last season, who Memphis is said to be high on despite an underwhelming Summer League performance. Adams' addition solves some problems, but amplifies others. Memphis lacks height on the wing except for Tayshaun Prince, who will hopefully see more minutes at the power forward spot next season than the small forward as discussed above. Memphis needs a longer body...don't they?
Not necessarily, at least not right away. The need for scoring outweighed that of the need for a longer, taller frame to put at the 3 position in the eyes of the front office. Jordan Adams was at the top of their board, and they pulled the trigger on who they viewed as the best player available. It is hard to fault them for that. Franklin and Adams could well see more minutes in Des Moines with the Energy than they do with the Grizzlies this season anyway, and that would be OK. Development is key for a small-market team like Memphis.
How to Take Advantage of "Deep Depth"
Can a "2" be a "3"?
Adams has been seen as a potential starting shooting guard as early as January in some circles, as was stated on the latest episode of "3SOB Radio". Sounds like a guy who could be in the picture as a 12 man roster player for a good portion of the season. If this is the case, creative lineups will be required. Players such as Jamaal Franklin, Beno Udrih, Jon Leuer and Jarnell Stokes will have to float between active and inactive, and in the case of Stokes, Adams and Franklin between Iowa and Memphis, depending on the game. These wings will have to be flexible and willing to have their minutes be varied as Coach Dave Joerger figures out rotations and who fits best on the roster as is.
Is a trade possible? Absolutely. Depending on who you ask it is probable. If things stay this way, however, there are ways to keep everyone happy, in particular playing guys at small forward or elsewhere. For example...
Talk about small-ball. If Kevin Durant or Lebron James tries to play the power forward position, Tony Allen has shown he can defend those players and defend them well. What difference does it make if it is at the 3 or the 4? Conley, Lee and Adams have all shown the capability to score the ball from range, Allen is at his best as a cutter and Marc Gasol would have the entire paint to work with. If rebounds are a concern, sub Zach Randolph or Kosta Koufos and the four wings can play off of the bigs' strengths. Sound in specific situations.
An intriguing option. Calathes can pick-and-roll with Koufos and pick-and-pop with Leuer while Allen slashes and cuts. Adams can patrol the perimeter and attack off the dribble to get to the free throw line, which is a strength of his game. Defensively only Leuer is a real concern; Adams is adept at playing passing lanes and Calathes will pressure point guards with his length. As bench units go, this one can be effective in a variety of ways.
This is a lineup that many in GrizzNation wish Coach Joerger would have implemented during the playoffs and potentially hope will start the season opener in late October or early November. Tony Allen showed when defending Kevin Durant in the playoffs that when he is given a specific assignment he can be a shutdown defender despite a lack of height. Many believe he can do this on a consistent basis, while others (myself included) are not so sure he can play this role consistently.
While there are plenty of YouTube clips of Kevin Durant having his water shut off in one-on-one defense...
...there are examples of poor Tony Allen team defense, like this one.
One of the major questions of the coming season is whether or not Tony Allen can consistently play the SF position. Is it best to keep him in one spot, where he can be most effective, or have him learn multiple positions within scheme? Time will tell, and it will surely be a topic of debate moving forward in the off-season.
Of course, there are options at the Small Forward position outside of Shooting Guards. Those will be discussed in part two of Deep Depth, coming soon.