When Coach David Fizdale was fired, reactions around the league took off. Mostly it was mixed emotions with many questions for the reasoning behind the Grizzlies front office decision. General Manager Chris Wallace defended his decision by saying the following-
...we are an organization of high expectations for our team, so a change had to be made.
No matter your reaction to the firing, the business of coaching is a cold world. Now, the team has made the choice to move on under J.B. Bickerstaff.
Let’s take a look at the team numbers, first from before and after Fizdale was fired and compare the performances through the first 28 games. Shout out to Peter Edmiston of Sports56 WHBQ in Memphis and the Commercial Appeal, who recently tweeted out Pre/Post Fizdale split numbers that gave me the idea to expand those numbers into a column.
In 19 games with Fizdale as the coach the team went 7-12. The team’s offensive rating was 102.0 and the defensive rating was 103.1 for a net rating of -1.1. That net rating would currently rank 19th in the league. The pace, which is a measure of the amount of possession per 48 minutes, through these games was at 97.36, ranking 27th currently in the league.
For Bickerstaff, the numbers are much more negative than Fiz. Through his 9 games, Bickerstaff has gone 1-8. The team offensive rating through those games is 100.2 and the defensive rating is an appalling 110.9, which makes his net rating of -10.7. In the time span Bickerstaff has been the coach, the Grizzlies own the worst net rating in the league…. by 4 points. Portland’s net rating of -6.7 ranks 29th in the league in this same time span. As for the pace in the Bickerstaff era, Memphis has only 92.09 possessions which would also come in as dead last in the league.
So, this is far from ideal. Bickerstaff came in having coached in the league before. He was not completely clueless, and he presented himself as having an offensive first, quick style mindset. Through his first nine games, we have seen nothing of the sort. Giving up 110 points in 100 possessions is flat out embarrassing, especially to the old Grit and Grind Grizzlies of the past.
However, before we throw all the blame on him, there may be one more section of games to look on to prove it doesn’t matter who coaches this roster without The Captain, Mike Conley.
In the Fizdale games without Mike Conley, the Grizzlies went 0-6. They had an offensive rating of 97.9 and a defensive rating of 105.9 which comes out to a net rating of -8.0. And this now completes the picture.
While the team under Bickerstaff may have suspect numbers across the board, these two ratings come out to show that neither Fizdale nor Bickerstaff can succeed without Conley playing. It points to how crucial Conley is to this team, while also suggesting how bad the total roster is around him.
One interesting thing under Bickerstaff is the higher offensive production without Conely. Players seem to be playing harder under his system than under Fizdale, but that also may be accredited to more opportunity since injuries have set the team back.
This higher offensive rating has happened with many statistics that normally do not support a Bickerstaff style team. Three-pointers per game are actually down in his system (24.9) compared to Fizdale with and without Conley (28.3/27.8). The difference could come from Marc Gasol’s lack of three-point input. Over the past few weeks, he has shot far fewer threes than he has earlier in the season. This all will be something to look for in the future since Bickerstaff’s Houston team averaged the most threes attempted in the league when he was in charge.
The most important statistical change that causes the most concern between the coaches is the points in the paint. This stat has been a staple for Memphis teams for many years, and it is a quality gauge of how they will fare in games. Through these past 9 games, the Grizzlies have only averaged 36.7 points in the paint per game. This total is 29th in the league behind only the Miami Heat. Under Fizdale, the team averaged 45.4 PITP.
The production is not solely a Conley problem, like the total offense seems to be. This problem is schematic with how plays are drawn up for the best shot selection. With less three-point attempts a game, Bickerstaff has got to emphasize to his guys that the ball needs to finish in the paint, especially with JaMychal Green and Marc Gasol.
The statistics Pre/Post Fizdale Era paint a very telling picture. Without Conley, no matter who the coach is, this roster construction is not expected to win games. It is unfortunate, but also just the hard truth. Bickerstaff can do things to improve his chances such as defensive adjustments and more of a focus on points in the paint, but this team’s underlying statistics tell the same story with Fizdale and Bickerstaff.
Chris Wallace’s grand idea of high expectations is what Memphis should strive for. However, the way to go about that may include his own introspection. The roster is the problem, not who is coaching. Once Wallace can figure out his own decisions, then the team can turn in a positive direction. So, hopefully, Bickerstaff can have more success with Conley back than Fizdale did. It would be best for the team who is struggling tremendously. Yet, right now there does not seem to be much of a difference pre-Fizdale without Conley and post-Fizdale.
All Stats provided by NBA.com