Grizzlies’ GM says better offense is key to team’s goals

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The Memphis Grizzlies were a defensive force last season — they had the second best defense in the NBA during the regular season (giving up 97.4 points per 100 possessions) and a still strong 101.4 in the playoffs, which helped propel them to the Western Conference Finals.

However, their offense was pedestrian. The Grizzlies slowed it down, pounded it inside and for the season scored 101.7 points per 100 possessions, 18th best in the league. That improved some after the All-Star break — essentially after the team traded away Rudy Gay and ran the offense more efficiently through Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph — up to 103.5 points per 100, but that was still just 16th in the NBA for the final stretch of the season. If you have a strange avoidance of advanced stats, know that for the season the Grizzlies were 21st in field goal percentage.

If a team’s goal is a title, it needs a Top 10 offense and defense (the Heat and Spurs did that last season). Finding a way to do that in Memphis falls to new coach Dave Joerger, who will have largely the same roster as last season to work with (Memphis added Kosta Kufos for depth up front and Mike Miller for shooting… if he can stay healthy). Joerger has talked about playing more up-tempo.

Memphis GM Chris Wallace told the Boston Globe don’t expect big changes, but the offense has to come around.

“I think an awful lot will look the same, there will be a tremendous emphasis on the defensive end,” Wallace said. “If we can get the offense to rise up to the statistical rankings in the league, the way we have the defensive side of the ball, we’re going to be a hell of a team. That’s the final piece, an offense that is a top-10 offense. If you look at a team that has a chance to make a run at a title, you usually have a top-10 offense and top-10 defense.”

Speeding up the Grizzlies tempo (they were second slowest in the league last season) might help some — they are not going to a D’Antoni-style team but if they can get in their sets earlier they can run through more offensive progressions and get better looks. Outside shooting will be another key — teams packed it in against Memphis and didn’t pay a price, can Miller really change that?

The West is going to be tough this year with the Thunder, Spurs, Clippers, Warriors, Rockets and Grizzlies likely all playoff locks. Those are all teams that see themselves as contenders if things break right. Memphis is going to have to find some more offense to break out of that pack and repeat or improve upon last season’s results.

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.