Why the Memphis Grizzlies will not win the championship

David Friedman Columnist

By David Friedman, David Friedman is a Roar Expert

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    Can the Memphis Grizzlies bounce back in Game 2 of their NBA playoffs series against the San Antonio Spurs? (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

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    The Memphis Grizzlies own the second-best record in the tough Western Conference. They have the league’s top ranked defence (giving up just 95.7 ppg) and their methodical, low post-oriented offense seems ideally suited for the slow style of play often featured in the postseason.

    However, the Grizzlies will not make it to the NBA Finals and, if they catch the wrong match-up, they could fall in the first round for the second year in a row.

    The Grizzlies have a fatal flaw that has ended their recent postseason trips and will ultimately send them home without the championship trophy yet again in 2015.

    The name of the game is basketball – literally, put the ball in the basket – and the Grizzlies are not proficient enough at this most basic skill.

    The Grizzlies’ shooting outside of the paint is particularly deficient and in a seven game series a smart team is going to force Memphis’ worst shooters to take a lot of shots outside of the paint.

    Under the guidance of Coach Lionel Hollins, the Grizzlies quickly improved from being a lottery team in 2010 to being a legitimate contender. Then, new team owners/executives emphasized “advanced basketball statistics,” made some personnel moves based on those numbers and also began offering unwanted advice to Hollins about how to coach the team.

    The Grizzlies declined to offer Hollins a new contract in the summer of 2013, letting him go after the best regular season (56-26) and best playoff run (an appearance in the Western Conference Finals) in franchise history.

    Last season, with Hollins’ replacement Dave Joerger at the helm, the Grizzlies slipped to 50-32 as starting center Marc Gasol missed 23 games. Gasol returned in time for the playoffs and many people described Memphis as a team that nobody wanted to face.

    Oklahoma City did not mind facing Memphis. The Thunder double-teamed the Grizzlies’ big guys and hounded Memphis into .417 field goal shooting. Memphis’ two dominant post players – Gasol and Zach Randolph – shot .405 and .404 from the field after shooting .473 and .467 during the regular season.

    Gasol and Randolph struggled to get open looks because the Thunder crowded them and dared anyone else to make a shot. In 2013-14, the Grizzlies ranked 19th out of 30 teams in three point field goal percentage (.353). That number plummeted to .290 versus the Thunder in the first round.

    The Thunder held the Grizzlies below 90 points in three games while eliminating Memphis. In a game four loss at home, the Grizzlies failed to score 90 points even after a five minute overtime period!

    Nothing has changed this season. The Grizzlies rank 25th in three point field goal percentage (.333).

    Why does this not hurt the Grizzlies in the regular season? It does hurt but the pain can be masked because of the differences between regular season play and postseason play.

    Not only does the competition become tougher in the postseason but the regular season features long road trips, teams play four games in five nights, players battle fatigue and a particular opponent may be hot or cold on a given night.

    In the postseason, there are no long, extended road trips and no back-to-back games, so teams lock in on each other’s weaknesses and attack them mercilessly until the weaker team folds.

    When Randolph fights for position in the paint in the postseason, he will have a big guy behind him and a smaller guy “digging” for the ball. Randolph will either shoot under duress or else pass the ball back to a teammate who did not shoot well from the outside during the regular season and who is not likely to become a pinpoint marksman in the crucible of playoff pressure with the shot clock running down.

    The Grizzlies have their formula. They fired a good coach to stick with that formula and they are not likely to change their ways. The numbers may convince them that they are on a championship path but the eye test – and even some rather basic but essential numbers regarding shooting – reveal the Grizzlies’ fatal flaw.

    David Friedman
    David Friedman

    David Friedman has covered the NBA for more than a decade, and in doing so, has interviewed nearly two dozen members of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players List. You can find his work at 20SecondTimeout.

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    The Crowd Says (48)

    • Roar Guru

      March 16th 2015 @ 8:57am
      Tony Loedi said | March 16th 2015 @ 8:57am | ! Report

      I think this grizzlies team is different from a year ago, additions of Carter and Green have certainly helped while the extra year under Joerger also makes a difference. I think they’re also top ten in offensive rating and field goal % and don’t turn the ball over. Anything can happen in the loaded Western conference but I wouldn’t be writing off the Griz

      • Columnist

        March 16th 2015 @ 3:46pm
        David Friedman said | March 16th 2015 @ 3:46pm | ! Report

        Tony:

        Carter is shooting .343 from the field overall, including .280 from three point range.

        Green is a solid addition offensively but he is not great defensively.

        A low turnover rate ultimately only matters if a team uses those extra possessions effectively, which will be hard for Memphis to do in the playoffs for the reasons described in the article.

    • March 16th 2015 @ 12:17pm
      Eugene said | March 16th 2015 @ 12:17pm | ! Report

      The 2014 series that OKC “didn’t mind playing” went to game 7. This salient fact is somehow not mentioned while the minute shooting percentages were.

      If one picks any team in the west against the field, and “predict” they will not make the finals, he has at least 80% chance to be correct. This is stacking the odds, only pretending to be insightful.

      • Columnist

        March 16th 2015 @ 3:53pm
        David Friedman said | March 16th 2015 @ 3:53pm | ! Report

        Eugene:

        The “minute” shooting percentages were the key factor in the series, as I predicted before the series. The Grizzlies had the good fortune of squeezing out some overtime wins but they lost by at least 10 points in three other games, including the winner take all game seven. OKC established a clear superiority in the series.

        Do you really think that all eight entrants into the Western Conference playoffs have an equal, 1/8 chance of winning? I am predicting that the current second seed, a team which many commentators believe is well positioned to make a championship run, will not make it to the Finals. I may be right, I may be wrong, but I am hardly stacking the odds. If I were saying that New Orleans or Phoenix or some team that might not even make the playoffs is a long shot to make the Finals then your criticism would be valid.

        • March 17th 2015 @ 3:24am
          Eugene said | March 17th 2015 @ 3:24am | ! Report

          Yes you are stacking the odds. Nobody says the eight teams are equal. The eight teams don’t have to have equal odds for your “prediction” to be farcical. You are beating a strawman.

          The Grizzlies are closer to the seventh seed than the first right this moment. To say they won’t win the west is the safe pick every way you slice it. To think it is insightful takes a very big head of hot air.

          You showed your bias for not even mentioning the length of the series.

          Randolf and Gasol were shut down yet their team beat OKC three out of the first six games. You really think OKC won’t mind playing these guys over and over again? OKC won but the way you put down Memphis is just to suit your narrative

          • Columnist

            March 17th 2015 @ 4:06am
            David Friedman said | March 17th 2015 @ 4:06am | ! Report

            Eugene:

            By your way of reasoning, any article that attempts to analyze the strengths/weaknesses of a given playoff team is “farcical.”

            What is your “non-biased” prediction for the West playoffs?

            The Grizzlies did some things well and that is why they did not get swept but they had to work very hard to win the games that they won and they got blown out in several of the games that they lost. It is hard to win four games in a playoff series when you are often struggling to score just 90 points. If you watched the series you could see that OKC was the superior team and OKC proved this in the final game.

            Yes, I think that OKC would much prefer to face a Memphis team that cannot shoot than, say, a Spurs team with championship pedigree and no major weaknesses or a Golden State team that can both score and defend. Not all eight West playoff teams are built equally. If all the teams are equal and any attempt to analyze their strengths/weaknesses is pointless then why should anyone write anything about the NBA? More to the point, if that is how you feel then why do you read articles about the NBA? You give the impression of someone who just likes to throw insults for the sake of throwing insults without adding any insight to the conversation. How do you think that Memphis can overcome the lack of outside shooting that ultimately has hurt them in the playoffs in recent years? It is one thing to say that I am “beating a strawman” but quite a different thing to actually come up with logic to support your harsh words.

            • March 17th 2015 @ 10:07am
              Eugene said | March 17th 2015 @ 10:07am | ! Report

              No, I am calling your prediction farcical, because it is inherited stacked and you act like it isn’t. Every thing else, you are putting words in my mouth.

              This is the third time in this page you are accusing people of considering eight playoffs teams are equal when your stacked arguments are challenged, despite it logically just does not follow. Why you must go down that tangent all the time is interesting.

              • Columnist

                March 17th 2015 @ 10:27am
                David Friedman said | March 17th 2015 @ 10:27am | ! Report

                Eugene:

                Do you mean “inherently” stacked? I didn’t “inherit” my prediction.

                You said that any pick against one particular team has at least an 80% chance of being right. There are eight playoff teams in the West and eight in the East. If you think that no team has a better than 20% chance of winning (which is just the logical implication of your statement) then you think that the winning probabilities of each of the teams are distributed between 0 and 20%. So, you did not directly say that the winning probabilities are all equal but you did say that they are distributed in a small range.

                I think that the conventional wisdom that the Grizzlies are well built for the playoffs is mistaken and I provided logical reasons for taking this position. Since you disagree so vehemently, it would be interesting to see you make a cogent counterargument that consists of something more than ad hominem remarks.

              • March 17th 2015 @ 11:08am
                Eugene said | March 17th 2015 @ 11:08am | ! Report

                You have changed your argument again. Would you now admit that your accusation of me saying eight teams are equal is incorrect?

                I disagree that predicting Memphis won’t win the west is an insightful argument that requires anything other than a modicum of common sense. No prize for saying they are not the 96 Bulls. You jump up and down when this obvious, obvious fact is pointed out. It is more than a little strange.

                I also disagree in the way you mischaracterise a seven game first round series as an easy one OKC won’t mind playing in order to substantiate your argument. That is weak and dishonest.

                This is not ad hominem.

              • Roar Guru

                March 17th 2015 @ 11:44am
                Tony Loedi said | March 17th 2015 @ 11:44am | ! Report

                On a side note I’m really enjoying this.

              • Columnist

                March 17th 2015 @ 12:09pm
                David Friedman said | March 17th 2015 @ 12:09pm | ! Report

                What argument did I change?

                According to you, no team has a better than 20% chance of winning, so any article explaining why one particular team will not win is “farcical.”

                I think that my view goes against conventional wisdom and will be proven correct.

              • Roar Guru

                March 17th 2015 @ 12:29pm
                Tony Loedi said | March 17th 2015 @ 12:29pm | ! Report

                Current betting odds Cavs and Warriors $4.50, Hawks and Spurs $8, Grizzlies and Thunder $10, Clippers and Rockets $19. Juicy odds for LAC

              • March 17th 2015 @ 4:12pm
                Eugene said | March 17th 2015 @ 4:12pm | ! Report

                No I am saying it is farcical to predict something that has 80% chance of happening anyway as something insightful.

                Your ability to read is deficient. Or your shamelessness to twist words is endless.

              • Columnist

                March 17th 2015 @ 3:19pm
                David Friedman said | March 17th 2015 @ 3:19pm | ! Report

                Tony:

                Thanks for posting those odds.

                Since the oddsmakers have Memphis as one of the top six teams, it would seem like an article discussing the Grizzlies’ main flaw might be of some interest to basketball fans 🙂

                I just have to thank Eugene for the dual comic relief of misused words (“inherited stacked”) and mystifying numbers (including the gem that since no team has a better than 20% chance of winning it is foolish to write about the strengths and weaknesses of any team or make any predictions about how any team might fare). Entertaining stuff!

              • March 17th 2015 @ 4:16pm
                Eugene said | March 17th 2015 @ 4:16pm | ! Report

                Well, damn you autocorrect, but whatever.

                You love to set predictions with bar so low then congratulates yourself, I guess that’s how you roll. That is pretty sad.

              • Columnist

                March 19th 2015 @ 12:15pm
                David Friedman said | March 19th 2015 @ 12:15pm | ! Report

                Eugene:

                I am just glad that you found a six year old who helped you fix that pesky “auto correct” issue that only seemed to affect your device.

                It is good to know that an article explaining why the second seed in the West will not win the title is “farcical” but also that a hypothetical article explaining why the first seed in the East will beat the eighth seed would be “boring.” So, basically, no matter what is posted here you know that you won’t like it.

                Please keep commenting, because every court needs a jester 🙂

              • March 21st 2015 @ 2:36pm
                Eugene said | March 21st 2015 @ 2:36pm | ! Report

                Hahaha talk about ad hominen.

                Funny that two stories cover “no matter what is posted here”. Your imagination really only stretch so far. I am not surprised.

                Keep the name calling coming dude. This pot and kettle thing amuses me too.

            • Columnist

              March 17th 2015 @ 11:28pm
              David Friedman said | March 17th 2015 @ 11:28pm | ! Report

              Eugene:

              “Farcical,” “shameless” and “deficient” ability to read! Wow!

              I am surprised that my little article inspired such a passionate response from you but I do appreciate the humor in such an over the top reaction.

              I cannot wait to hear your response to my playoff preview article. I suspect that it will be along the lines of, “It is pointless to predict the outcome of a series because, no matter what you say, half of the teams will win and half of the teams will lose. You actually think that it is insightful to predict such outcomes. That is sad.”

              • March 18th 2015 @ 1:23am
                Eugene said | March 18th 2015 @ 1:23am | ! Report

                Your playoffs previews are boring. You are going to tell the world why the 1st seed in the east will beat the 8th seed, no? Who needs that?

                Rather I cannot wait for your essay when you explain to the unenlightened why the LA Lakers will not win a game in the 2015 playoffs. That is going be a doozy.

    • March 16th 2015 @ 12:52pm
      astro said | March 16th 2015 @ 12:52pm | ! Report

      Joerger has introduced a new system, which the Grizz were adjusting to last year, and which seems to be working well now. Their ball movement is much better, Gasol’s scoring is up, as is Conley’s, and the team’s defence is best in the league in points allowed.

      Like every team, they have weaknesses, and in their case, 3pt shooting is it. But I’m not sure that reason alone is enough to rule them out of the championship race…for example, Milwaukee has the 3rd highest 3pt %, but they’re hardly a threat.

      For me, the Grizz have as good a chance as any to win it all this year. As you say, its all about catching the right or wrong match up. Who plays who in the West will likely decide who wins this year.

      They have an interesting 5 game stretch coming up including the Cavs, Warriors, Spurs and OKC, so will have to keep an eye on them!

      • Columnist

        March 16th 2015 @ 3:56pm
        David Friedman said | March 16th 2015 @ 3:56pm | ! Report

        Astro:

        Milwaukee is sixth in the East and barely has a plus-.500 record. Their strong three point shooting is obviously not enough to compensate for other weaknesses.

        In contrast, Memphis is the second seed in the West and would seem to be well positioned to contend for the title but I think that, for the reasons described in the article, their poor perimeter shooting will be their downfall. This weakness has been repeatedly exploited by Memphis’ opponents in the past few postseasons.

    • March 16th 2015 @ 1:53pm
      joe said | March 16th 2015 @ 1:53pm | ! Report

      The chances of Memphis just winning the West,forget the NBA championship,are slim.
      And you can say the exact same thing for every team in the Western Conference.
      Memphis has just as legit a shot as anyone in the West to make it to the Finals.
      But even Memphis only has approximately a 12 to 15% chance of winning the West.So writing an article claiming they cant win the West is basically stating something thats already obvious both mathematically & from a common sense standpoint.
      Because theres no team in the West that has better than a 20% chance of winning the conference,that means there’s an 80% chance of failure even for the supposed best team (whoever that may be?)
      Whoever comes out of the West has to win 3 series vs competition thats close to equal in talent (or better) as they are over the course of approx 6 weeks.
      I don’t care who it is,be it Memphis,GS,OKC,etc,thats a huge task.Factor in a possible injury,a bad call that costs a team a game,theres so many hurdles to overcome that I can make a legit argument against every team winning West & I’d be right in 7 of 8 cases because only 1 can make it.

    • Columnist

      March 16th 2015 @ 4:07pm
      David Friedman said | March 16th 2015 @ 4:07pm | ! Report

      Joe:

      If you think that every team in the West (or East) has exactly the same 1/8 chance of winning a championship then I am sure that there are some Las Vegas bookies who would love to speak with you and help part you from your money.

      It is true that no one team likely has a better than 50% chance of winning the title–but some teams have a better chance than others and it is interesting to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each team in advance to try to figure out which teams have the best chance and why.

      While you might be able to make a legit argument against each team in the West, I am not sure that you can make a legit argument for every team in the West. Do you see the distinction? Some of these teams have more factors in their favor and are more likely to win. A healthy Spurs team has arguably the best coach, plus three former Finals MVPs and a well rounded roster with no glaring weaknesses (other than, perhaps, age at some positions). A healthy OKC team has arguably two of the five best players in the league. Golden State has an explosive offense and an underrated, mobile defense. In contrast, it is more difficult to see teams like Houston, the Clippers and the Mavericks winning three series in the West. Houston has no track record of getting out of the first round, the Clippers seem to wear down in the postseason and the Mavs have some chemistry issues.

      I don’t think that all of these teams are as evenly matched as some people think and I believe that Memphis’ lack of outside shooting is going to be a problem against several of the teams that will finish below the Grizzlies in the standings.

      • March 17th 2015 @ 4:15pm
        joe said | March 17th 2015 @ 4:15pm | ! Report

        Actually David,I regularly talk to the Vegas sportsbook managers & oddsmakers.
        Jay Kornegay at the Hilton (now Westgate),Jimmy Vaccaro over at SouthPoint,I was at the Golden Nugget today & chatted with Tony Miller & Aaron Kessler who are ahead of the curve with college hoops & college football in particular.
        Look ’em up
        Ive lived in Las Vegas since 2003 & worked as oddsmaker for LV Sports Consultants from 2003 till 2012,focusing primarily on college football & NBA oddsmaking,doing the opening numbers on every game for the majority of casinos in town during that period.
        So give it a rest with your smart ass comments about casinos happy to take my money.I’d gladly bet my knowledge of oddsmaking & the math & intangibles behind the betting odds (whether it be a single game or a future odds wager) would far outweigh anything you know.

        • Columnist

          March 18th 2015 @ 12:36am
          David Friedman said | March 18th 2015 @ 12:36am | ! Report

          Joe:

          It will be interesting to compare my playoff series predictions with yours when that time comes. Since you are an expert in the field your predictions should be far more accurate than mine.

      • March 17th 2015 @ 4:29pm
        joe said | March 17th 2015 @ 4:29pm | ! Report

        I also didn’t say every team in the East has a legit chance.Most dont.Maybe 3 teams could win the East,im not even sure theres 3 teams who are legit ..an 8 seed in East isnt the same as an 8 seed in the West & so it goes with 4 seed vs 4 seed,etc.The West is that good that any team has a legit shot.I dont think the Clippers are the real deal,but with a few breaks they COULD win the West & id be surprised but I wouldn’t say its an unbelievable occurrence.They do have talent.
        However in the East if a team like the Bucks or Raptors or Heat were to make the Finals,id be stunned.
        The point im making is the West is that good any team could win.All things being equal on injury front I still think San Antonio is the favorite no matter what seed they are.But of course not everything is,or will be, equal.
        Theres gonna be a lot of luck involved with matchups,injuries,some bad calls by a referee (Joey Crawford),& things of that nature

        • Columnist

          March 18th 2015 @ 12:46am
          David Friedman said | March 18th 2015 @ 12:46am | ! Report

          Joe:

          I respectfully disagree that any team in the West could win. Yes, injuries can be a factor, so I suppose from that standpoint if you take out the best players on seven of the teams then the remaining team will probably win but if the playoff teams are reasonably healthy (meaning that they don’t suffer significant injuries beyond the ones that have already happened) I would take a combo platter of Golden State-San Antonio-Oklahoma City (not necessarily in that order but those three teams) over, say, a combo platter of Memphis-Houston-Dallas. Golden State has been the best team over the course of the entire regular season, which is not everything but which also should not be completely dismissed. The Spurs are the defending champions and a proven postseason performer. Oklahoma City is a wild card team that may not even make the cut (though I think that OKC will grab the eighth spot) but has two of the best five players in the league. Memphis will struggle to score 90 points at times, Harden is an unreliable playoff performer and Dallas is still figuring out how to incorporate Rondo.

          I understand how odds work and that any given team has way less than a 50% chance of winning but my job is to analyze what happens on the court and figure out what makes each team/player tick. I have heard/read a lot about how Memphis is supposedly built for the postseason but I disagree with that contention and this article was just about explaining why I disagree with that contention. That seems pretty straightforward but for some reason there seems to be some misunderstanding about what I intended to do with this article.

    • March 18th 2015 @ 12:31am
      Horseplay said | March 18th 2015 @ 12:31am | ! Report

      Well, thanks to your article, I won’t be putting my money on the Grizzlies anytime soon.

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