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The Friday Three: Less is Z-Mo?, Is JaMychal Green a Small Forward?, Potential BIG Trade Targets

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In this week's holiday installment of the Friday Three, Memphis' performance during the absence of Zach Randolph and who the Grizzlies could acquire via trade next are discussed.

JaMychal Green- "Small Forward"?
JaMychal Green- "Small Forward"?
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Ah yes, the glorious day after Thanksgiving. The day in which we all are recovering from a variety of hangovers (food, alcohol, football, etc.) and some are sadly back at work while others are shopping for all the latest and greatest sales. Wherever you are today, I hope you had a good holiday and are ready for a big weekend of Memphis Grizzlies' basketball.

On to the Friday Three-

Are the Grizzlies Better Without Zach Randolph?

Another question that sounds kind of crazy to ask starts off this week's column. Any one who has followed this team the past five seasons knows how important Zach Randolph has been to Memphis as both a basketball and civic hero. He carried the Grizzlies in the 2011 NBA Playoffs, and when Marc Gasol got injured in 2013 he again led the way for the Bears of Beale Street. He helped them stay afloat in their best and worst times, and he has made the Bluff City a better place. None of that can be questioned.

However...recent results would argue that the very question in question may not be as far-fetched as originally thought. Here are some numbers for the Grizzlies with and without Zach so far this season (stats provided by NBA.com/stats)...

With Z-Bo Without Z-Bo
Record 6-6 3-1
Shooting % 41.6 44.3
Points Per Game 95.8 97.5
Rebounds Per Game 40.2 41.3
Offensive Efficiency 99.3 99.2
Defensive Efficiency 106 91.7
Net Rating -7.7 7.5
True Shooting % 51.20% 53.1

So using these criteria, it would appear (in a smaller sample size) the team is performing better without Zach. There are ways to explain this away to be sure; Memphis played Golden State twice and Cleveland during that 12-game stretch with Zach, arguably the two best teams in the NBA. The guys around Randolph were struggling just as much if not more than him during this stretch as well; Zach was actually 2nd in the team in net rating before his injury with a -3.3.

The counter to this, though, is the Grizzlies have played a struggling but supposedly good Houston team twice as well as an over-achieving Dallas Mavericks team and the San Antonio Spurs in this four-game stretch. The schedule has lightened, but it is not like Memphis is lining up against cupcakes. And several players have stepped up in Randolph's absence. Here are some examples of guys playing better in terms of net rating since Zach had a seat due to injury-

Net Rating With Z-Bo (12 Games) Net Rating Without Z-Bo (4 Games) Rating Change
Tony Allen -2.9 9.2 12.1
Courtney Lee -4.9 5.7 10.6
Marc Gasol -3.6 10.1 13.7
Mike Conley -7.4 6.9 14.3
Mario Chalmers 13.7 (in three games) 9.8 -3.9
JaMychal Green -5.1 5.6 10.7
Jeff Green -6.3 -0.5 5.8
Matt Barnes -18.1 9.4 27.5

The jump is staggering, but again, numbers alone do not do Zach justice here. The sample size is not large enough to warrant anything damning with regard to Randolph and his impact on the roster. But beyond the numbers is the fact that the defense and offense seem to flow better at the moment with Zach on the sidelines. Folks smarter than I are noticing this...

...and Kevin Lipe leaves out in this blurb the fact that recent starting lineups like that of Conley/Allen/Barnes/Green/Gasol allow for defensive adjustments like switches that simply cannot be executed with Zach on the floor, at least not as effectively. Aggressively playing passing lanes and having an extra body to run in transition leads to more opportunities to score the basketball with these kinds of lineups. As Kevin does mention, Memphis' ball movement is more crisp, their tempo is up (96.4 PACE in 12 games with Zach, 98.9 without him), and opportunity for guys like the Greens (Jeff and JaMychal) to get more run at the 4 than they normally would makes for an interesting new look for these Grizzlies, a different type of mismatch that can create issues for opponents.

For the record, I am in agreement with Lipe here. Zach, as stated above, was one of Memphis' best players during their early struggles. He still can play, and to jettison him without a larger understanding of what this team is without Z-Bo would be a massive mistake. He is, however, a potential trade piece with value, and if the Grizzlies continue to evolve toward the "modern NBA" style of play and flourish, the end of an era may arrive faster than anyone could have predicted.

We're a long way away from that still. More evidence is needed to reach such a place. But early returns in both stats and the eye test are enough to at least acknowledge that there may be something to this. And as Matt Moore states, that conversation is going to suck whenever it gets here.

Is JaMychal Green a Small Forward?

Head Coach Dave Joerger can be a bit confusing sometimes.

He seems to believe, for example, that JaMychal Green is a Small Forward. Our buddy from above Mr. Lipe states as much here-

This is despite the fact that JaM Green is listed as a Power Forward on ESPN.com...

JaM ESPN

...and on Yahoo's Rivals.com when JaM was in high school and had committed to the University of Alabama...

JaM yahoo

...And it goes on and on and on. His size, his skill set, his general existence all seem to point to JaMychal being a "Power Forward".

So, why does Dave Joerger do these things? Well for one, in terms of size he isn't entirely wrong. Much like Zach Randolph and Jarnell Stokes (the man he beat out for that "fourth big" spot here in Memphis) JaMychal does not have the ideal larger size for that 4 spot, much less the 5 where he has spent recent minutes due to injury. That does not instantly mean that he has the athleticism and speed to play of the wing, of course, but Joerger perhaps wants more size at this position (more on that later).

What kind of size does he have? Not necessarily that of a "Power" or "Small" Forward, but of those coveted "combo" forwards that teams are using more nowadays. But does he have the necessary skills to play the position, as well as the size? Here is how JaMychal's size, three point shooting % this season and perimeter defensive numbers compared with that of some of the best "combo" wings in the NBA as defined by sportsnaut.com. I also added Memphis' resident "combo" forward in Jeff Green, who not shockingly did not make that list.

JaMychal Green Jeff Green Tobias Harris Khris Middleton Harrison Barnes Draymond Green
Height 6'9" 6'9" 6'9" 6'8" 6'8" 6'7"
Weight 227 235 235 234 225 230
Offensive Efficiency 97.9 98.7 99.4 105.7 115.5 115
Defensive Efficiency 100.1 103.2 103.1 106.4 97.9 94.7
Net Rating -2.2 -4.5 -3.6 -0.7 17.6 20.3
15-16 3 Point Shooting % 60 32.3 31.6 45.3 39.6 43.5
15-16 Defense % on Shots Greater that 15 feet (difference) 37.8 (-2.4) 43.3 (7.1) 33.3 (-3.7) 39.8 (3.5) 36 (1.5) 36.8 (-1.3)
15-16 3 Point Shots Attempted 10 31 38 64 53 62

Some takeaways from the chart-

  • Jeff Green is the worst of the bunch using these criteria (yes, yes, I know.)
  • The Golden State Warriors are playing on a completely different level right now.
  • The difference in defensive percentages on shots greater than 15 feet is surprising (JaMychal compares nicely to these guys in that measurement). That means that players shoot that percentage worse (or better, in Jeff Green and Khris Middleton's cases) when they are defended by that player.
  • All six of these players are within two inches and ten pounds of each other (all measurements and stats are from NBA.com/stats
  • It is important to keep in mind that most stats on the Grizzlies will be skewed all season to an extent due to the nature of Memphis' early blow-out losses.
JaMychal could very possibly become one of these "combo" forwards like the guys he is compared to above, but he needs a larger sample size and more opportunity in that role. For example, he has shot considerably less from three than his counterparts in the chart. Of course minutes played has something to do with that; the guys in the chart with JaMychal are all starters at this point in the season. But even using per-36 stats from Basketball-Reference.com, JaM is only taking 1.3 shots from range per-36. Draymond Green, for example, takes 4.2 shots from three in 36 minutes, and he is considered the best combo forward in the NBA at this point as he is putting together an All-NBA season early in the campaign. JaMychal needs to take more threes, and defend on the perimeter more consistently, to know for sure what his ceiling is as this kind of player.

Is JaMychal a Small Forward? No, but he is a Forward who brings much needed versatility to this roster, and numbers and the eye test suggest he should continue to get opportunity, even as the roster gets healthier.

What Bigs Could Memphis Target In a Trade?

Tis' the season to do some shopping, and apparently according to Chris Vernon of 92.9 ESPN Memphis the Grizzlies are not just interested in buying new back-up Point Guards. He recently stated that he feels that Memphis will acquire a back-up big by this coming Monday because Dave Joerger is frustrated by the lack of (healthy) size on the roster. Even when the roster has been healthy, there have been stretches where the Grizzlies have played Zach Randolph as a back-up Center. While that has had some success, between Z-Bo at Center and JaM Green playing both Center and Power Forward while Joerger (wrongly, as discussed above) sees him as a Small Forward, his frustration is understandable.

So, if this does indeed happen and the Grizzlies look to acquire a big man, who could they be in the market for?

  • Spencer Hawes, Charlotte Hornets- This name isn't the most likely one, due to the fact that Hawes is not the best defender and Joerger seems to want another big more like Kosta Koufos than a shooter like Hawes. Hawes is a career 34.9% three-point shooter, however, and offensively could add to the spacing movement that Memphis seems to be in the beginnings of. Plus, he could possibly be had for cheap to save Charlotte some money and open up more minutes for their prized rookie Frank Kaminsky. Vince Carter and a 2nd for Hawes may work...heck, Carter for Hawes straight up may work (Hornets owner Michael Jordan may want the legendary former Tar Heel), and it would balance the roster some depending on the health of Jordan Adams...who could also be on the trading block for the right price..
  • Taj Gibson/Joakim Noah, Chicago Bulls- A deal for one of these two guys would almost certainly mean the end of Jeff Green or Courtney Lee in Memphis, so this is a larger (and probably less likely) scenario. Both Gibson and Noah make more money than Hawes and are better players all-around who are both taking minutes away from Nikola Mirotic in Chicago. Both are tremendous rebounders historically and great post defenders who would fit in nicely with Memphis' back court. If Memphis is really concerned about Brandan Wright and/or Zach Randolph, acquiring one of these guys could be a nice (and potentially inexpensive) insurance policy. Gibson has one more year left on a cap-friendly deal, and Noah is a free agent after this season. Green for Gibson works straight up, as does Noah and E'Twaun Moore for Green and Lee or Carter.
  • Miles Plumlee/John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks- Talk about potential bargains. Milwaukee already runs a system with a lot of combo forwards (Jabari Parker, Giannis Antetokouompo, Khris Middleton) and Greg Monroe plays a lot of Center in those lineups. Because of this, Plumlee especially has fallen out of the rotation in Milwaukee, only averaging 6.8 minutes per game so far this season. This is a guy who started 79 games for the Phoenix Suns in the 2013-2014 season and averaged 7.8 rebounds (2.5 of them offensive) and a block in 24.6 minutes per game. Henson is used a bit more (14 minutes per game this season), and because of his length and athleticism may be valued more by Milwaukee, so Plumlee may be a more realistic target. Either one could likely be had without losing a top-9 rotation player, however. Carter and/or Russ Smith for one of these guys, with a 2nd round pick, may get the job done, especially in the case of Plumlee.
While I am still of the mind to wait until Christmas time to make a major move, if Vernon is correct (and he often is) a move of some sort for a big man is on the horizon. Some are more likely on that list above than others. There are also other names not listed above who could be on Memphis' radar (J.J. Hickson in Denver, Dewayne Dedmon in Orlando). Dedmon especially could be had for cheap, potentially, and would be another big body to bring off the bench and give the Grizzlies' more of the size that Dave Joerger seems to think Memphis needs.