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Point Blank: Comparing Andrew Harrison and Toney Douglas

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Toney Douglas has been a steadying presence in his short time with the Grizzlies. How has the offense looked with him on the floor, and should the Grizzlies bring him on for the rest of the season?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Quantifying the Difference: Toney Douglas vs. Andrew Harrison

Earlier in the season, building on a piece by Peter Edmiston, I compared the scoring efficiency numbers for Grizzlies players based on whether Andrew Harrison or Wade Baldwin was running the offense, the point of which was to measure which of the two rookies allowed the offense to function more efficiently.

If we want to figure out what value Douglas really brings to the Grizzlies, we can do a similar comparison for Harrison and Douglas. Using NBA Wowy (a really handy tool), I’ve pulled shooting numbers for the Grizzlies based on who was primarily initiating the offense.

First, I excluded any minutes during which Mike Conley was on the floor, which is necessary to isolate the minutes during which each player was acting as the primary initiator of the offense (Tony Allen was not considered a PG for the sake of this exercise because, dude, be serious). I also had to make Harrison and Douglas mutually exclusive; in other words, for Harrison, I excluded all minutes he played with Douglas also on the floor, and vice-versa. Like I said, it’s a bit messy, but it’s also the only way to keep there from being any “noise” related to other point guards.

The charts below compare four key stats (points per shot, points per possession, effective FG%, and true shooting %) of the four non-PG starters with Harrison or Douglas on the floor. (Note: I used these four players because they generally had the highest amount of minutes with both point guards, which was necessary due to the limited minutes Douglas has logged with the team.)

Note: Of course, we have to slap a SMALL SAMPLE SIZE warning label onto Douglas’ numbers. Toney has been with the team for just 11 games, joining first due to an injury exception before latching on with a pair of 10-day contracts more recently. As such, it’s hard to say that any of these numbers are conclusive. But hey, it’s all we’ve got to work with right now, so it’ll have to do.

Observations:

  • Of the four players charted, it’s Tony Allen and Marc Gasol who appear to benefit the most from Douglas’ time on the court, and if you go back to Mark’s comments in the video, it makes sense. Over the course of the season, Harrison has improved in bringing the ball up the court and getting the team into the offense. It’s when the initial play breaks down that Harrison struggles, and that’s where Douglas’ veteran savvy comes in handy. If the first play breaks down, Douglas is more likely to be able to get the ball to Marc (or Tony) in better position to score. And while some of this discrepancy might be due to sample size, TA and Marc’s offensive numbers are anywhere from 17% to 30% higher with Douglas on the floor, and that’s too big an improvement to ignore, even when acknowledging other factors that might be in play.
  • Z-Bo’s numbers vary the least from Harrison to Douglas. It appears it hardly matters who’s running the backup point guard spot for Zach. His shooting numbers are slightly higher with Harrison on the floor, but he’s a tiny bit more efficient per possession with Douglas. Given the small sample size with Toney and the fact that Zach has been effective isolating against backup bigs, it’s likely those differences are negligible, nothing to waste worry over.
  • JaMychal’s numbers have the widest variance, and based on the evidence, as limited as it is, it appears that Green is more efficient with Harrison. The reason behind that is a lot less clear. The discrepancy could be due to noise unrelated to Harrison or Douglas; it could just be a blip due to sample size that will correct over time; or maybe there’s some mystical force keeping Toney and JaMychal from playing well together. I honestly have no answer other than to say that it’s a situation to watch moving forward if Douglas ends up sticking past his second 10-day.

A few offensive numbers from less than a handful of players likely doesn’t tell the whole story, though. It’s also worth comparing the on/off numbers for Harrison and Douglas. After all, even when Harrison was struggling at the start of the season with the offense, he still managed to show enough defensive acumen to keep him on the floor.

The ORtg with Douglas on the floor is 112.3 compared to 106.8 off, a difference of 5.5. With Douglas on the court on the defensive end, Memphis has a DRtg of 100.3. When he’s off? That number goes up to 105.8. In other words, Douglas is a +11 in terms of net rating.

For Harrison, the ORtg drops from a 109.5 to 104.2 when he comes onto the floor, while the defense improves modestly (105.8 to 104.9). In other words, Harrison is a net -4.5 per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor, meaning his defensive improvement just isn’t enough to make up for the damage he does to the offense.

Of course, the on/off numbers are useful, but it may also be worth seasoning them with a good pinch of sodium chloride. During his time with the team, Douglas has faced: New Orleans, Philadelphia, Portland, Golden State, Cleveland twice (once without Lebron, Kyrie, and Kevin Love), Phoenix twice, Denver, Minnesota, and a Spurs team without Kawhi. That’s hardly a murderer’s row of competition. Harrison, on the other hand, has played major minutes in a good portion of the team’s games to this point.


Looking at the numbers, it appears that they bear out what we’ve seen. Douglas has allowed the Grizzlies’ offense to function more efficiently without sacrificing on the defensive end. And while Harrison has shown the potential to eventually be a competent rotation player, he isn’t quite where Douglas is.

This means that if the Grizzlies, who still think they can be competitive this season, can’t improve the roster by making a deal before the deadline, Douglas might be worth the price of admission.

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