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The Friday Three: Patience is a Virtue, Super Mario's Reign, Tony Allen's Troubles

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This week's Friday Three column focuses on the arrival of a formerly hated new Memphian, TA's turbulent start and why "Call Me at Christmas" should be everyone's perception of the team, good or bad.

The defensive impact of Allen & Gasol has not been consistent so far this season.
The defensive impact of Allen & Gasol has not been consistent so far this season.
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Seeing as how this is the final "Friday Three" before the big day this Thursday, let me (likely) be the first to wish you and yours a Happy Thanksgiving. I certainly have plenty to be thankful for this year, and one of those things is the opportunity Chris Faulkner and SB Nation has granted me in the three years or so that I have been writing at GBB about the Memphis Grizzlies. I appreciate all of the openings that "working" here has given me to do things I never thought I would. I am also thankful to you for consuming the material I/we produce, whether it be GBBLive, features, game coverage, or this weekly column.

Any website, product, service, business, etc. does not exist without people interested in the product being put out there. On behalf of all of us here at GBB, thank you for being interested in ours.

To the Friday Three-

Is Mario Chalmers Really Changing That Much for Memphis Long Term?

This is a question that sounds absurd to ask after recent events. But a recent statistical analysis sent to us here at GBB by a website called numberFire calls that very idea in to question. Here's a link to the article by Russell Peddle, but the chart used in the piece really demonstrates Chalmers' immediate impact quite nicely-

Period GP Point Diff. OffRtg DefRtg NetRtg 3P%
Pre Chalmers 9 -10.4 (29th) 93.4 (30th) 104.5 (21st) -11.1 (29th) 25.8% (30th)
Post Chalmers 3 5.7 (7th) 117.0 (1st) 110.5 (30th) 6.6 (7th) 54.0% (1st)

No denying his offensive output and the way it has improved Memphis scoring the ball at an effective clip. However, the stark drop in defensive rating, from 104.5 to 110.5, is certainly noteworthy.

The article by Peddle values Chalmers' contributions for similar reasons to most of us who cover/follow the Grizzlies: defensive (#intheory if you believe these numbers) upgrade, ability to play alongside Conley, etc. He is skeptical of how long this will last, though. From the article...

...The floor spacing is certainly nice, but the 80.3% True Shooting Percentage (weighted twos, threes, and free throws) that Chalmers has posted during his short tenure as a Grizzly is bound to regress to something resembling his 55.0% career mark before long. Believe it or not, his 39.8 Player Efficiency Rating and .469 rate of Win Shares Per 48 Minutes are likely to come back down near his 12.5 and .094 career marks respectively as well...

A fair assessment. Even the most optimistic fan would admit that scorched earth streak will not last. But then Peddle carries on to talk about Memphis' long-term prospects...

...The big concern going forward in Memphis, however, is going to be trying to figure out what exactly happened to the grit-and-grind defense that was once their calling card. Thanks to the huge drop-off on that end of the floor, the Grizzlies still only come in at 28th on our power rankings, despite the fact that they've dragged their record back up to .500 at 6-6.

Their playoff chances are dwindling, now down to 63.0% after starting the season at 82.5%. Their championship chances have plummeted as well, down from 4.9% in the preseason to a near-negligible 0.4% as of today. Their 23.4 nERD means they're playing like a team that would win 23.4% of its games. Over an 82-game season, that would equate to a 19-63 record...

Their nERD measurement that they use is based off of an "advanced algorithm" using "complex mathematical formulas" to, as they put it in their glossary for the term, "get a much clearer and more accurate sense of performance."

A whole lot of metric mumbo-jumbo? Not necessarily. Memphis' issues defensively were evident before the Chalmers acquisition, and they have been accentuated in recent games. It is fair to take notice of these numbers and store them for a future "sky is falling" day...

However. There are some factors that explain the slow defensive start that maybe go beyond the numbers and the Chalmers' addition. One would be that Marc Gasol has not quite been himself on that end of the floor, and neither has Tony Allen for whatever reason (more on that later.) That is unlikely to continue, considering that their some of their career defensive advanced stats are considerably better than their current numbers according to

Season Defensive Efficiency Career Defensive Efficiency Season Defensive +/- Career Defensive +/-
Marc Gasol 111 103 -.5 +3
Tony Allen 105 101 2.2 2.3

So It is fair to say that Allen & Gasol will return to form at some point. This is especially true for Gasol, who has never posted a defensive efficiency for an entire season higher than 108 and hasn't been worse than 103 the past five seasons. As those two get in to the groove defensively, the team will as well.

Another element? The fact that Memphis has played seven of their first twelve games of the 2015-2016 season against six of the top eleven offenses in the NBA, including two games against the offensive juggernaut that is the Golden State Warriors. The early massive losses will surely skew their statistics to a degree not just now, but throughout the season. They have faced multiple elite scoring teams already this season, and these numbers will calm down as they settle in against lesser competition.

So, should Grizzlies fans believe everything is fixed, fine & dandy? NO, do not be that naïve. There are still issues that should be addressed, like spacing and defensive lapses, and Mario Chalmers was never going to solve them completely. But is this Grizzlies team so bad that they would ever lose anywhere close to 57 of their next 70 games according to the nERD ratings?

Absolutely, definitively, not.

What's Eating Tony Allen?

As stated above, TA has not been his usual "defensive stopper" self lately. This was recently a topic of conversation on Twitter started by Peter Edmiston, friend of GBBLive and co-host of "Wolo and Peter" on Sports56 WHBQ in Memphis.

As Peter says here, and as I said above, at this point it more than likely is something that bears watching, and nothing more. There is no mistaking, however, that something is a bit off with TA. The "Tricks" seem to be outnumbering the "Treats" for far for the "Grindfather", and the numbers above echo that. More and more fast break lay-ups are becoming quagmires, and even on defense Mr. "First-Team" seems out of place sometimes.

Again, there are certainly possible explanations. Differences in scheme come to mind as potentially causing problems. As has been pointed out here and elsewhere, Allen is at his best defensively when given a specific assignment- guard Kevin Durant, guard Russell Westbrook, guard Chris Paul. No scheme, no communication-

Just turn the damn water off, right? Easy enough.

Allen is a tremendous man-to-man defender. But when scheme dictates adjustments, he and his teammates are sometimes slow to react and adapt.

Well, the usual scheme from Memphis involves aggressively playing the passing lanes and overloading the strong side of the court, forcing teams to pass the ball weak with a tough pass and create turnovers (and therefore extra offensive possessions.) As teams have adapted to this over the years, more and more passes are getting through to these weak side shooters, and they are making Memphis pay for their aggressive nature with hitting open shots with great consistency.

Enter in a scheme wrinkle that Dave Joerger seems to be using more this season- switching on screens/pick and rolls so that those shots are not as easy to come by. Acquiring players like JaMychal and Jeff Green, Matt Barnes, and Mario Chalmers makes this easier to do, since all of these players are capable of defending multiple spots on the floor. TA in theory is capable of this as well, and here have been times that he and Matt Barnes or another wing have switched fine. There have been other times where they have not looked quite as crisp.

This adjustment on defense may be an overall explanation of defensive issues, especially the recent uptick in open-lane drives to the rim that Dave Joerger has mentioned in the Memphis Commercial Appeal recently. A player all these potential changes can mess with in particular is Allen. This roster as a whole has shown an aversion to adjustments from the way things have always been in the past, and while that was (and is) on the offensive end initially the defense could also be suffering due to Dave Joergers' attempts to update the schemes of the team. It is surely an attempt to try to keep up with the evolving X's and O's and Jimmy's and Joe's of the NBA. It is almost certainly necessary change.

It will work out. These things take time.

When Can We Officially Start to Celebrate and/or Panic?

Grizzlies fans have been on quite the ride since the season began back in October. The team sucks, then they're great. Marc Gasol is out of shape, oh wait never mind he is awesome. Jeff Green sucks, he should feel bad, oh wait maybe he's OK, never mind he actually may kill basketball, oh OK he's good now.

It's enough to make you heave and ask off the ride.

The Memphis Grizzlies are now 6-6 heading in to tonight's contest with the Houston Rockets and is a mediocre basketball team in the hunt in the Western Conference who is off to an overall mediocre start outside of San Antonio and Golden State. Once they get through the horrible month of November, which does not feature another "cupcake" game until Philadelphia at the end of the month, the schedule lightens considerably and the Grizzlies should go on a bit of a run, as long as they are healthy.

Want a major trade? Should the Grizzlies stay put? Call me at Christmas, once a better idea of who this team is is established.

Because of this, and the fact that only 18 games will have been played through November (meaning 64 remain), I choose to subscribe to the "call me at Christmas" philosophy. They will have played 31 games by the time that they finish up December 23rd in Washington against the Wizards and head home to spend the holiday with family. This is a little more than a third of the season gone, with more games against lesser teams that will cancel out the "Murderer's Row" that Memphis saw to start the season making up the 2015-2016 sample size.

It will also allow for about 20 games to be run with Mario Chalmers, who was an exception to the "Christmas" rule because of the clarity of issues with Beno at that point. It will mean time with Brandan Wright, a key cog in the bench who has missed time due to knee issues. It will give Marc time to get in shape, for Tony and Matt Barnes to continue to get comfortable, for Jeff Green to get everyone to hate, then love, then hate him again.

It is a solid point in time if you are an NBA Front Office- "there is still a good bit of ball to be played, but we have an idea of what we are." This can translate in to...

  • Option A: Buying in a trade- upgrade and try to make a run, OR...
  • Option B: Selling in a trade- time to get assets and try to rebuild, OR...
  • Option C: Standing pat- Letting the team keep grinding along.
The Grizzlies the past couple of season have been an option A team. They may well be again. Or, they may think that Jeff Green is indeed not the answer and they may try to move him. Or perhaps the Grizz fall apart and they blow it up, starting with moving a Tony Allen or Zach Randolph. Maybe the Grizzlies stand pat, hoping health and continuity rule the day and get Memphis to the promised land.

A lot to think about/consider. Hence why it is a good idea to be as sure as you can be of what you are working with on your roster and/or coaching staff. Before you blow up the trade machines, let these guys get another 20 or so games under their belts. If they are sitting at 16-15 or so, a change may be needed.

Their record at the 31 game mark the past four non-lockout seasons speak to how your start does not always indicate your finish-

2014-2015 23-8
2013-2014 14-17
2012-2013 21-10
2010-2011 14-17

Two seasons of under-.500, two seasons of their win totals at least doubling up their losses. Sometimes this led to playoff runs, some times it led to first-round exits. Injuries, trades, hot streaks all play a role in decision making. The time will come to make a judgment on this roster overall and how much (or little) needs to be done, or can be done, to upgrade.

Until then? You just have to let things play out, be a little patient, and enjoy the ride.