After a lot of television talking heads though the Grizzlies ended their title chances by trading away Rudy Gay, they have simply been a better team. Memphis has gone 16-6 since the deal, and while some of that is they hit a soft patch in the schedule, a lot of it is they are playing better.
Especially on offense. Since the trade the Grizzlies weak offense has stepped up and averaged 104.1 points per 100 possessions, which would have them on the edge of the NBA’s top 10 for the entire season. Combine that with a very good defense and they become a dangerous team to meet in the playoffs.
Why is the offense better? Marc Gasol and his versatility from the elbow is a lot of it, something Zach Lowe talked about at Grantland and was added to by Dan Devine at Yahoo’s Ball Don’t Lie. Gasol can shoot from the elbow, pass to cutters or Zach Randolph down low, the Grizzlies run a sweet handoff play to their guards, or he can just take a few steps out and set a big screen for the pick-and-roll with Mike Conley.
What has really happened in Memphis is that Gay is not there soaking up shots in his inefficient, 40 percent shooting style, Devine says.
Gay’s absence has meant a greater distribution of touches, opportunities and responsibility for other Grizzlies, too. While Gasol’s “usage rate” — the share of Memphis possessions that end with him attempting a field goal, getting free throws or turning the ball over — is up (as is his field-goal percentage and as are his per-game scoring, rebounding and assist numbers; he’s averaging just under five dimes a game after the trade, which is nuts for a center), the same is true for Conley, who is also “using” more Grizzlies trips, assisting on teammates’ buckets more often, turning it over less frequently, and shooting a higher percentage from the floor and the foul line…..
All of these ploys — Gasol at the elbow, Conley in the high screen-and-roll or on off-ball cuts, even a slightly-less-potent-than-before Z-Bo on the block — are far more effective offensive options than Gay’s volume-shooting, not-especially-accurate brand of inefficiency. Plus, it’s not like the Grizz have been missing Gay defensively — they were tied with the Chicago Bulls for second in the league in defensive efficiency (how many points your defense gives up per 100 possessions) before the deal, allowing 97.5 points-per-100, and they’ve been second (and actually a tick better) since the deal, too, holding opponents to 97-per-100. (Gasol’s a pretty big reason for that, too, literally and figuratively.)
For all the hyperbole around advanced stats in the NBA, what you see in Memphis is the goal. Be smart by finding efficent players then putting said players in possitions to succeed. It’s not to be dazzled by the raw numbers (he scored 40 points) and look at how it happened (he took 45 shots).
The rise in the NBA’s “advanced” efficiency stats is trouble for volume shooters — teams are less interested in guys like Gay who need a lot of shots to score, they want guys who take fewer shots but make them from their spots on the floor. Teams like the Grizzlies will give up the old-school scorer like Gay to get the ball to guys who make a higher percentage of their shots. Then they run the plays that get those players the ball where they are effective. The hope with the new SpurtsVU cameras in arenas is for teams to gather data that can take all of that to the next level.
It’s not an accident Memphis is better now after the trade. It’s about being smart, Memphis’ front office was that and saved money in the process. It’s a model a lot of smaller market teams will gravitate toward.