It was hard to watch the Grizzlies’ loss on Monday night without trying to place blame on someone. It was a poor performance from all parts of the team. However, this article is not meant to be in reaction to the Brooklyn game. Instead, this article is focused on taking a step back and analyzing Coach Fizdale’s role as head coach of the Grizzlies.
This past offseason, the Memphis Grizzlies made the move firing Coach Dave Joerger after three seasons and hiring first-time head coach David Fizdale. Joerger had mild success with the team during his tenure. Each year was a bit of the same. The league quickened, Joerger tried for a quick pace at the beginning of the season, but his core starters didn’t work well in that system. He then went back to the more natural “Grit and Grind” style of play which was respectable, nevertheless, it was not a style that ever got him to the next level for championship success.
This season, incoming coach David Fizdale took a new approach with this starting lineup. He understood that the league averages for pace, points per game, and field goals attempts per game have all increased each season over the past three years. The new NBA was centered around an up-tempo style of basketball. His first move to achieve this was having Zach Randolph come off the bench this season. Z-Bo, even as the franchise cornerstone that he is, is very limited in this pace-and-space era. Randolph is striving in this role with a 19.6 Player Efficiency Rating per Basketball Reference. His career average PER is 19.5, so the fewer minutes is helping him get back to his usual efficiency.
Fizdale told CBS Sports at the beginning of the season, “If we think we’re going to play in the 80s and win anything, we’re sadly mistaken. And they understand that and I think we’re going to have a committed group to playing at a faster tempo.” Fizdale took this mindset and did something no other coach had really done before. He unleashed Marc Gasol into a new age center in today’s game. He already has phenomenal passing, but Fizdale gave him the green light to shoot from anywhere. This cleared the paint and spaced the floor for others to drive in or kick back out to Gasol creating a faster pace system.
And the stats do not lie. According to NBA.com, the Grizzlies are shooting 26.1 three-pointers a game this year; this is a huge difference compared to the from last year with the team only shooting 18.5 threes a game. Fizdale gave the green light on threes across the team. This increased Memphis’s points per game from 99.1 last season to 101.4 PPG this season. It is the most since the 09-10 season.
In addition, the offense rating has gotten better this year as a result as well. Fiz has gotten the team to increase their Offense Rating to 104.8 which is the highest for Memphis in 10 years. Also, the Grizzlies have a better defensive rating (shocking from these last few games, I know) than last year. The new style has brought a boost to many key statistical categories.
Coach Fiz main goal this season was to keep up with the rest of the NBA. Three is more than two, so if a player has a quality look at a three-pointer, take it. Going into a little bit of a deeper dive, this statistic describes all you need to know: This season the Grizzlies shoot 68.9% of two-pointers and 31.1% of three-points. That is compared to last season where they shot 77.8% of 2’s and 22.2% 3’s. This shot distribution between the two years is a testament to the changing of times with the Grizzlies and the league in general.
The style of pace-and-space has finally worked for the Grizzlies and they must move forward with it. Grit N’ Grind may be on its way out because it just doesn’t work with today’s league. That is not to say to forget to play defense, but it is a new format of playing small and focusing around the arc. Good defense turns into better offense. Coach Fizdale will keep the pace up with keying in on good defense on the other side of the court.
Fizdale made some questionable coaching decisions in the biggest loss of the year when he got fancy with the starting lineup. His decisions on the distribution of minutes were put under a microscope, so he must prove himself going forward. But his season as a whole has still been a successful one, considering he is in his first year at the helm.
In Monday’s post-game comments, Coach Fizdale said the team was at the lowest point of the season. In other words, he is at the lowest point of his head coaching career. He has found success with his coaching style much of the season and has the tools to knock the team out of this slump.
All eyes are on him now in how the rest of the season will unfold. This becomes his first real coaching test and may help to define his legacy with the Memphis Grizzlies heading into the future.