Deep Dive: Does a Quick Fix Exist for the Grizzlies Rotation?

March 06, 2017 - 09:03 am
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By: Jeffrey Wright
Email: JWright@ESPN929FM.com
 
The return to the floor following the All-Star break has undoubtedly left a poor taste with both Memphis Grizzlies players and fans. Following a road split that also featured uninspired play, the Grizzlies returned home to rout the Phoenix Suns before heading to Texas to drop games against the Mavericks and Rockets on back-to-back nights.
 
If each loss is examined individually in a vacuum, one can understand the result. The Mavericks roster has greatly improved since the Grizzlies won easily in November. They’ve added Nerlens Noel, and Seth Curry has emerged a legitimate scoring threat. Teams with athletic big men that can exploit the Grizzlies defense with pick-and-roll offense have given them problems all season. Therefore, the result wasn’t inexplicable or even inexcusable.
 
A loss in Houston to the team with the National Basketball Association’s third-best record isn’t inexcusable either if not expected ever. However, the cause for frustration has largely been eye test for the Grizzlies. They simply look out of sorts currently. The Grizzlies are struggling to determine just which lineup and rotations give them their best chance to win games, and given the log jam between the fourth and seventh spots in the Western Conference, the Grizzlies need to win games to avoid the sixth and seventh seed in the playoffs in order to have more than a puncher’s chance at winning a playoff series.
 
Further while current atmosphere surrounding the Grizzlies is negative to an extent, a 2-3 record during a stretch where the Grizzlies had four road games shouldn’t have come as a complete shock to fans, especially considering four-of-the-five games were against either teams currently projected to make the playoff (Indiana, Denver, and Houston) or against a surging Dallas team that is now just two games outside the eighth spot in the West. Also, the Grizzlies will finish the regular season with a four-game home stand.
 
Losses are inherently frustrating, but much of the cause of frustration for the Grizzlies has focuses either fairly or unfairly on the shoulders of Chandler Parsons, who by his own admission “sucks” at the moment. The question for the Grizzlies though is the poor play a result of injury or is it a mental question that plagues many who return from serious knee surgery.
 
During the five games since the All-Star break, Parsons has played in all five games and is averaging 21.3 minutes per game. He has a net efficiency rating of -17.5 per game. However, Tony Allen and Marc Gasol haven’t fared much better averaging net efficiency ratings of -14.4 and -13.0 respectively though it should be noted that Gasol and Allen have significantly higher player impact estimates than Parsons. Gasol and Allen have the fourth and sixth-highest impact estimates while Parsons has the lowest of all Grizzlies that have averaged more than 10 minutes on the floor.
 
Every Grizzlies starter currently averages a negative number in the net efficiency category, so the obvious question arises are the Grizzlies starter simply not playing well as a unit, or are they not playing well as a unit because Parsons is included in the unit.
 
While the presence of Parsons could certainly create doubt in the minds of the Grizzlies starters, something that would inevitably lead to poor play, Parsons isn’t the primary reason that the Grizzlies starters are turning the ball over. Every Grizzlies starter with the exception of Mike Conley has a double-digit turnover ratio during the five-game stretch, most of all Parsons and Allen.
 
Since the return Allen has averaged 18.7 turnovers per 100 plays while Parsons has average 16.4. Further, Conley has averaged 5.2 more turnovers per 100 plays in losses (6.9 per) than wins (1.7 per). Also, Conley’s net rating is 22.2 in the two wins but plummets to -16.9 during the three losses. Marc Gasol’s net efficiency rating is also 16.5 percent worse in losses than wins.
 
Please don’t be mistaken that I’m attempting to blame Conley and Gasol for the current struggles because that isn’t the point I’m making. I’m simply stating that Parsons isn’t the sole reason for the Grizzlies struggles.
 
If one does want to make a case to remove Parsons from the starting rotation, the best case for a replacement is Troy Daniels. Daniels has been one of the Grizzlies most efficient players since the return on a consistent basis. Daniels has a net efficiency rate of 24.4 during the wins and is the only Grizzly to have a positive efficiency rate during the losses at 14.9. However, if you simply replace Parsons with Daniels, the Grizzlies would be greatly undersized on the perimeter as both Daniels and Allen are only 6’4”, and one would be forced to guard the small forward. The Grizzlies would face a similar rotation dilemma as they faced when trying to play Courtney Lee and Allen together.
 
In conclusion, the Grizzlies are a flawed team, but this fact shouldn’t come as a surprise as they’ve been a flawed team since the start. The Grizzlies haven’t had the return that fans hoped would occur, but the truth is that they haven’t lost much ground in the west since the return. They are only 1.5 games from the No. 5 seed and are still currently a full game ahead of No. 7 Oklahoma City, roughly the same place at which that they started the return.
 
My biggest question is would emotions be as high as they are currently if the Grizzlies had won in Dallas on Friday night. I think the answer is no. If the Grizzlies had found a way to hit a couple of more shots in the final 90 seconds or converted a basket instead of having a crucial turnover during the final minute, the loss at Indiana wouldn’t sting as much and the loss at Houston would have been nothing more than a failed “free shot” if you will.
 
The Grizzlies have lineup and rotation issues, but this statement isn’t news to the coaching staff, which by its own admission, is searching for the answers. However, as one can clearly see, a simple, quick fix doesn’t exist, and since one doesn’t exist, I can understand holding on to hope that Parsons finds his game because ideally that situation is the answer.
 
Nonetheless, hope for the sake of hope can be destructive because if you’re simply hoping for an outcome that will never be, Parsons returns to form this season, inevitably you’re risking too much for an outcome that will never be. Hope can be the best of human emotion but also can be the worst. It inspires some of the greatest stories in human record, but often we don’t bother telling the cautionary tales of hope.
 
My name is Jeffrey Wright, and these are my thoughts.