Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Griz Finalize Roster — Plus, a Few Thoughts on What a Three-Point Specialist Looks Like

Posted By on Tue, Jul 31, 2012 at 10:12 PM

Hamed Haddadi: Master of the Finger Roll
The Grizzlies apparently completed their offseason with a couple of minor moves in the past week that I haven't had time to acknowledge yet.

Trading unwanted point guard Jeremy Pargo, along with cash money and a second-round draft pick, to Cleveland for swingman D.J. Kennedy was an accounting maneuver more than a conventional trade. The Grizzlies had no place for Pargo, but buying him out would have cost them double — in addition to the $1 million on his contract, they would have owed an additional million in luxury tax (that or it would have been an unmovable million that would have made any attempt to get under the tax more difficult). Even with paying the Cavaliers to take Pargo off their books, the Grizzlies will end up saving money on the deal. It's unfortunate to have to part with assets (not just cash, but the pick) to fix a mistake (as was the case with including a future first round pick in the Hasheem Thabeet-Shane Battier deal), but given the situation the Grizzlies found themselves in with their roster and their payroll, it had to be done. As for Kennedy, he's a non-guaranteed contract. He might be in training camp, but even then he'd be a long shot to make the roster.

Jettisoning Pargo dropped the Grizzlies back down to 12 players, requiring at least one more signing, and that came in the form of Hamed Haddadi, who returns again on a minimum-type contract that, as I understand it, is fully guaranteed for this season and partially guaranteed for next season. While severely limited, Haddadi has long been more useful than his sporadic playing time suggested. He'll return in an ideal role: As a fifth big man providing spot minutes when match-ups demand more size off the bench. He's serviceable in that role, with the bonus of being someone who gets his teammates and the home crowd really hyped up whenever he plays well.

What a Three-Point Specialist Looks Like

I wasn't really surprised to be, apparently, the only person who covers the Grizzlies who didn't much like the Dante Cunningham-Wayne Ellington trade. Cunningham was rendered less useful when the team retained both Darrell Arthur and Marreese Speights, and three-point shooting remained a significant need. It made sense in theory, and may well work out okay in practice. But I was struck by the gap between the way people who liked the trade described Ellington and the way he's actually played in three NBA seasons. The Grizzlies needed a three-point shooter and Ellington, regardless of his other weaknesses, was a specialist who would fill that need — that's how it went. Which got me thinking about what being a “three-point specialist” really means.

I'm not interested in arguing the pluses or minuses of the trade anymore. It's done. But with Ellington now on the roster, it's worth considering what kind of player he's been and what kind of player the Grizzlies need him to be.

The “three-point specialist” designation itself implies limitations. Ray Allen, for instance, isn't a three-point specialist. He's a great three-point shooter whose value extends well beyond that one skill. A three-point specialist is someone whose value is based primarily on that skill: They may be limited defensively and may have trouble creating shots inside the arc or finishing shots at the rim, but their shooting ability makes up for that. In theory, this sounds like Ellington. But how has he stacked up against other players with a similar blend of strengths (three-point shooting) and weaknesses (average to below average in most other areas)? Here's Ellington's career production in the context of nine other three-point specialists:

Three-point percentage:

Steve Novak: 44%
Anthony Morrow: 43%
Daniel Gibson: 42%
Kyle Korver: 41%
Brandon Rush: 41%
J.J. Redick: 40%
Marco Belinelli: 39%
Wayne Ellington: 38%
Jodie Meeks: 37%
Daequan Cook: 37%

Three-pointers as percentage of field-goal attempts:

Steve Novak: 74%
Daequan Cook: 60%
Jodie Meeks: 57%
Kyle Korver: 54%
Daniel Gibson: 53%
J.J. Redick: 49%
Marco Belinelli: 44%
Brandon Rush: 42%
Anthony Morrow: 42%
Wayne Ellington: 34%

Three-point shot frequency (one attempt every X minutes):

Steve Novak: 4.1
Daequan Cook 4.9
Kyle Korver: 5.9
Jodie Meeks: 6.0
J.J. Redick: 6.1
Marco Belinelli: 6.5
Daniel Gibson: 6.6
Anthony Morrow: 6.7
Brandon Rush: 8.2
Wayne Ellington: 8.9

True Shooting Percentage:

Steve Novak: 63%
Kyle Korver: 58%
J.J. Redick 58%
Anthony Morrow 57%
Jodie Meeks 56%
Daniel Gibson 55%
Brandon Rush 54%
Marco Belinelli 54%
Wayne Ellington: 50%
Daequan Cook 50%
(Other than Cook, this is probably the most glaring category. Of note: Cook was under 50% as a rookie but has been above 50% in three of the past four seasons. Ellington has been below 50% in each of the past two seasons after just topping it as a rookie.)

So, while Ellington might have the skill set of a three-point specialist, he hasn't, to this point, played like one. Ellington is a good three-point shooter, but he hasn't been a productive one. He only takes about a third of his attempts from beyond the arc despite struggling inside it and doesn't contribute enough in other areas to warrant spending so much time on the floor between three-point attempts.

The Grizzlies need Ellington to find his inner three-point specialist. Ellington will likely never be Morrow or Korver, but he seems to have it in him to be a Jodie Meeks or Daequan Cook. If he can shape his game into something more akin to those players — not only get his three-point percentage back up into the high 30s (at least) after last season's slippage, but emphasize the shot much more — Ellington can be a good role player for the Grizzlies. And there's reason to hope that can happen. The raw shooting skill seems to be there. And playing on a team with two elite post players could provide more opportunity. Finally, for whatever reason, there's a recent pattern of veteran players becoming more than they'd previously been in Memphis (Tony Allen, Marreese Speights, Zach Randolph). So there's potential for Ellington to be the player the Grizzlies need him to be. But, contrary to what seems to be widespread belief, he has not yet been that player.

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