Yogi Berra knew something about "Deep Depth."
Throughout his time in Pinstripes he played on many talented New York Yankee teams. Names like Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Ford, Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris appeared by his on the lineup cards during his own Hall-of-Fame career. It wasn't just his skills that were Hall-of-Fame caliber though; he had "Deep Thoughts" before Saturday Night Live ever did. Here's another Yogi-ism that connects to the Memphis Grizzlies-
We made too many wrong mistakes.
Even over the course of a successful season, which by most accounts the Bears of Beale Street enjoyed in 2013-2014 considering the adversity they faced, mistakes were made. Fans could point to a number of things that could potentially be interpreted as mistakes along the way; starting Tayshaun Prince, not starting Tony Allen and the lack of playing time for Ed Davis and James Johnson come to mind for example. Rigid lineups and a lack of time for athletically gifted players made GrizzNation want to punch a wall from time to time. Potential for mistakes outweighed proven mediocrity, or worse, at many times last season.
When it comes to the Grizzlies Front Court in particular, there are "right" and "wrong" mistakes to make. Coach Dave Joerger would be wise as he heads into year two of his time as the Head Coach in Memphis to be smart enough to correct the wrong mistakes while being brave enough to make the right ones when it comes to getting the most out of an imperfect roster.
Quincy Pondexter, Vince Carter, Tayshaun Prince
To many, starting Tayshaun Prince would be an example of a "wrong" mistake heading into the 2014-2015 campaign. The Memphis Grizzlies have started Prince in 112 of the last 113 regular season games they have played since the Rudy Gay trade and Prince has been less than productive, especially this past season. Shooting 41% in general from the field, 29% from three point land and losing a defensive step or so does not bode well for a player's role regardless of Prince's championship pedigree. His shot chart is painful to view, even when in the cool new Nylon Calculus design...
There's hope at the rim, but aside from that? Way too much blue.
Despite all of this, Prince has been included in various discussions as a player who could compete for time at the Small Forward position. This has to do, more than likely, with the fact that Prince is the only true Small Forward on the roster. Carter and Pondexter are capable of playing the 3 position, but ideally would be playing minutes at the shooting guard spot. Considering the log jam there as the team is presently constructed (which was detailed in yesterday's part one) it is unlikely, but not impossible, that Vince or Quincy see any extended time at the 2 guard.
Q-Pon and Vinsanity are easily better players at this point in their careers than Tayshaun Prince, and Coach Joerger would be wise to make some "right mistakes" figuring out who these two "Smaller Forwards" play best with.
How to Take Advantage of "Deep Depth"
Divide and Conquer
This philosophy applies to not just the Small Forward position, but Shooting Guard as well. There are 96 minutes available between the two positions on the wings, and here is how the season averages fit the lead Grizzly wings last season.
Courtney Lee- 30 Minutes Per Game
Tayshaun Prince- 25.6 Minutes Per Game
Tony Allen- 23.2 Minutes Per Game
Mike Miller- 20.8 Minutes Per Game
This adds up to 99.8 minutes per game, so remove 3.8 minutes from someone (Tayshaun Prince, who we will discuss more in depth later) and you have a template. Replace Miller with Carter and add Pondexter and it feels even more crowded that last year. What about this possibility though, assuming Jordan Adams spends most of next season in Iowa with the Energy alongside Jamaal Franklin and Jarnell Stokes?
Lee-25 minutes per game: Addition of Carter likely cuts into some of his end-of-game minutes.
Carter- 25 minutes per game: The 37 year old, while maybe the best player of the bunch, must be maintained for May and (hopefully) June.
Allen- 22 minutes per game: Keeps TA healthy, effective, able to give max effort in minutes.
Pondexter- 20 minutes per game: Can earn more time as the season goes on and get spot starts for Carter/TA.
Prince- 4 minutes per game: Will play if he is on the roster. Will get his minutes elsewhere (more on this later.)
There's your 96 minutes. Fresh legs will be valuable to a veteran team such as the Grizzlies, especially among the elder statesmen Allen and Carter. If a trade is executed as the season goes on, Adams comes up when he is ready and can take on minutes. Tayshaun Prince, while he is the one true Small Forward on the team, is clearly not the best option there any longer. Until a better solution is found in one way or another, the strength in numbers approach would at least make health and sustained energy at the position easier to achieve.
How can you piece these guys around the other spots on the roster?
All five players have the capability of hurting you in a variety of ways on the offensive end of the court. Four of the five (excluding Randolph) are average or better defenders who can hold their own, especially in Coach Joerger's scheme. Carter/Gasol pick-and-rolls with Conley and Lee on the wings and Randolph on the block would give any defensive coach nightmares. This line-up makes opponents wrong regardless of scheme and in this writer's opinion would be the best starting unit the Grizzlies could trot out come opening night.
If the first lineup was the starters, than this grouping would be a solid bench crew to start the season. Beno Udrih, Quincy Pondexter and Jon Leuer provide three players who can score the basketball from range, with Koufos prepared to set screens and picks and Allen able to use the space to cut and run through and around the lane. This sets up a unique opportunity for the lane being open more for the wings to penetrate than for a big to go to work. Koufos can score on the block, but isn't dominant there. Drive and dish opportunities would be better uses of the openings in the paint.
If Tayshaun Prince is going to play any minutes on the wing, it would be wise to surround him with as much spacing and defensive help as possible. Marc Gasol makes everyone right on defense more often than not near the rim, and on offense the four players around Prince are able to provide range shooting. A positive to Prince on the wing is it will more than likely result in a mismatch if Tayshaun takes his player on the block, a mismatch that can't be executed as well with a post-heavy player like Zach Randolph on the roster. Add Z-Bo to the list of players that hopefully will not play too much with Tay moving forward.
Power Forward- Zach Randolph, Jon Leuer, Jarnell Stokes
Center- Marc Gasol, Kosta Koufos
If there was an area on the Memphis Grizzlies where "deep depth" is not as apparent, it would be the bigs. Jon Leuer has shown the ability to score in flashes but his defense is suspect. Jarnell Stokes, who has been compared to Paul Millsap, Zach Randolph and Reggie Evans, is a rookie who may benefit from plying his trade in the D-League for a season before applying his unique skill set to an NBA roster.
Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are a dominant force in the NBA when at their peaks, and Kosta Koufos is a more than capable back-up. Behind that? Some questions arise. Is Jon Leuer ready to step up his minutes and role? Can Jarnell Stokes take his rebounding ability and carve out a nice niche to start his career? Or would it be best to get creative at the big position?
How to Take Advantage of a Lack of "Deep Depth?"
Tayshaun "The Matrix Reloaded" Prince
On a team with so many wings, finding minutes for them is going to be a real challenge for Dave Joerger and company. Early on it won't be as difficult; if Jarnell Stokes and Jamaal Franklin start out the season in Iowa with the Grizzlies' D-League affiliate the Energy it will mean Jordan Adams can start the season with the main roster and Jon Leuer can stay on the 12-man active group.
However, once Calathes enters the picture after game 13 it gets a bit dicey. It will likely become a battle between Adams, Leuer and Beno Udrih for who stays active and who does not. Adams can go to Iowa if he is not ready to produce (don't forget about the wing logjam in front of him) but Memphis may well want to keep Adams up with the big club. Beno will have had 13 games as the primary back-up to Mike Conley to showcase his worth as well. Coach Joerger will have to make a tough call then; Leuer or Beno?
The answer to that question may lie within another question; can Tayshaun play power forward a la Shawn Marion, a hybrid defensive wing with length? That length and post game are valuable on the block, and he can use leverage to make up for a lack of size in the post. It also could be a matter of dollars and cents; Jon Leuer will make half the money salary wise that Beno Udrih will next season, and having a 3rd point guard may be more valuable than a 4th big, especially with a player the caliber of Kosta Koufos on the roster.
Let's play the minutes game again. Here are the minutes per game for the top 3 returning bigs last season for Memphis.
Zach Randolph- 34.2 Minutes Per Game
Marc Gasol- 33.4 Minutes Per Game
Kosta Koufos- 16.9 Minutes Per Game
It would be shocking if Koufos was that low this coming season. He has shown the ability to play alongside Marc Gasol and as the back-up Center will see time with Randolph. The following split would not be surprising this season-
Randolph- 33 minutes per game- Not as much time, but still big minutes.
Gasol- 33 minutes per game- A guy you have to save from himself in some ways. He needs to stick around this number.
Koufos- 24 minutes per game- Increased time with Ed Davis and James Johnson off the roster, can spot start to rest Gasol or Randolph.
This leaves 6 minutes per game. If Prince can fill those minutes at the 4, it would make Leuer the odd man out and allow for a 3rd point guard to lighten the load for Mike Conley and make the offense more explosive and capable of playmaking. It all depends on the match-up, and it depends on if Tayshaun can play Power Forward for those 6 minutes or so a game. Let's hope he can...
In this example Kosta Koufos becomes a pick-and-roller exclusively. He can be very effective in this role.
One of the major weaknesses of the Koufos/Z-Bo combination last season was a lack of space in the paint, as they both are fantastic offensive rebounders (the two of them combined had almost half of the Grizzlies' offensive rebounds per game last season.) Allowing Z-Bo to roam the lane free will hopefully make him more efficient, while Conley, Allen and Carter can all play off of Koufos screens and picks in a variety of ways. Koufos rolls opposite of Z-Bo, and spacing is restored.
Tayshaun at the Power Forward position hinges on spacing, as was discussed briefly in part one. Getting him room to wok on the block is paramount to making him effective. Any combination of players not including Tony Allen and Zach Randolph should allow for Prince to have the space required to be most effective...well, as effective as he can be. This particular grouping provides shooting, playmaking and sound defense with Gasol calling the shots. Tayshaun can fill in the gaps of time in the front court.
Length on the wing, Conley as an off-the-ball scorer, two seven footers protecting the rim, pick-and-roll/pop possibilities means a lot of options for Memphis. Koufos can clean the glass unimpeded by Marc Gasol, while Gasol can give Koufos the paint room needed to showcase his own post game. Marc Gasol on the elbow in this lineup would be especially effective, given the shooting capabilities of Conley and Carter and the slashing and dribble penetration skill set of Nick Calathes. Versatility reigns supreme, and this lineup can give that.
In fact, all twelve of the lineup arrangements discussed in this two-part series are versatile and provide a ton of options on both ends of the court for the Grizzlies. On paper they can sound effective, but until they are attempted in training camp and the preseason/early part of the regular season they are only sound in theory. So often it is said that Memphis should try to "copy" the Spurs; that may be impossible considering the hall-of-famers on the Spurs roster. The Grizzlies could be more like the Spurs in terms of using the roster's depth to rest players and maximize efficiency depending on matchups.
It will be on Coach Joerger and his staff to believe in the ability to make the right mistakes, to experiment with and utilize depth to keep this team fresh and healthy while staying competitive in a difficult Western Conference. The pieces are there, and as long as this team stays as-is depth can mean a deep run toward that goal of a Championship Parade on Beale Street
A deep run based off of depth? Yogi Berra and Jack Handey would be proud.