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Thinking outside the box [score]

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Do the Grizzlies pass the eye-test?

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

One modern debate that resurfaces season after season pits statistics against the “eye test.” While the rules of a proper debate would have a person take a side and argue it to death, basketball fans can probably all agree that the two working in conjunction are the best recipe for accurate analysis. But how? How in the world can someone make a valid basketball point without tossing data into the conversation?

The things coaches, players and fans see with their own eyes in the live games, replays and captured video fill in the blanks that the box score simply cannot provide. Let’s talk about some of the things – the intangibles, if you will – that paint a richer picture of an on-the-court product.

The first thing that a box score fully cannot capture is effort. Fans saw a lot of effort in Saturday night’s game against the Lakers. Sure, the box score reflects much of that effort; however it simply cannot depict what fans saw on Saturday night – player after player giving everything he had to keep that game competitive until the final buzzer. Fans should all agree that there is a distinct difference between a loss where the team appeared to have given up and a loss that comes from putting it all on the line.

No one can deny that, on paper, the Lakers are the more talented squad. On the flip-side, no one who watched that game can deny that the Grizzlies brought an effort that mitigated the discrepancies in talent.

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

While this concept is certainly similar to effort, the box score does not always measure hustle either. Hustle is a concept important enough for the Grizzlies to name their G-League team after it. Each time a player dives for a rebound, runs down the court to get back on defense or catch a pass, it is the result of hustling. Hustle requires effort, but it is not the only measure of effort.

If someone were to ask “who hustles the most for the Memphis Grizzlies?” the first instinct is not to check the box score. Instead, you think back to actual plays where a player or two seemed to be everywhere - covering up his man, getting swipes at the ball, rushing to grab the rebound, or tipping in a missed shot. The box score will tally the rebounds and points, but the box score cannot tell you the how, and the how is very important.

The concept for this post was inspired by watching Kyle Anderson Saturday night. The box score reports that Anderson had 11 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists in 25 minutes of play. While that is a decent game by any measure, watching him play provided a distinct calming confidence. Anderson’s name may not come to mind when the word “hustle” pops up, but no one can deny his effort or talent.

Before the regular season, this Grizzly Bear Blues article predicted his value would be in the intangibles, and fans are watching that unfold game-after-game. It is counter-intuitive that a player whose nickname is “Slow-Mo” could be effective in this modern, fast-paced NBA, but his pace and deliberation have been an asset thus far. The box score was never going to tell you a story about Anderson’s pace or deliberation.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The casual fan who misses games but checks the box score to get an update may come to an entirely different conclusion about the current state of the Memphis Grizzlies than a person who is watching each game with any level of attention. The how will help you understand proper expectation. The how will inform your enthusiasm. The how is the only way a fan can see a team sitting at a 5-10 and nonetheless feel encouraged.

By all means, let’s continue to crunch the data. It is an absolute necessity, but do not ignore the what your eyes can tell you. Just as the beauty of Ja Morant is in watching him earn his box score, the beauty of this year’s Memphis Grizzlies team is in watching the rebuild unfold.

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