Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Thing Dave Joerger Said About Starting Jeff Green or Tony Allen

Posted By on Thu, Apr 2, 2015 at 7:41 AM

click to enlarge Dave Joerger says the Grizzlies' ceiling is higher with Jeff Green starting than Tony Allen. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Dave Joerger says the Grizzlies' ceiling is higher with Jeff Green starting than Tony Allen.

As you may have seen yesterday, Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger took to the airwaves on The Chris Vernon Show to talk about what's been going on with the Grizzlies lately, and what's coming up for them. Joe Mullinax had an excellent summary and analysis of his comments for Grizzly Bear Blues, but I did want to comment one particular thing that was discussed.

Joerger is known for his candor, especially in one-on-one situations. He calls it like he sees it, though usually not without consideration for how his words are going to be received. (The shining example of this was earlier in the season when he told a postgame press conference that slow and through the inside was how the Grizzlies needed to play and then admitted to Chris Herrington that during the Grizzlies' hot streak of December they were playing at a much faster pace than in the past.)

So given that he says what he means—except when he doesn't—I'm not sure whether to take this particular comment at face value or try to parse it and figure out who, exactly, he's targeting by saying it:

I'm not sure whether he really means that, but if he does, well, I'm not sure what to think about it.

It's clear that Green has struggled to fit in with the starters since coming to the Grizzlies in a January trade; that's to be expected. The Grizzlies' starting unit runs pretty controlled sets and is very dependent on guys being in the right place at the right time. If you don't know the plays and don't know the system, things are probably going to go badly—and let's be honest: especially if you're not the type of player who is known for being in the right place at the right time. With a full training camp under his belt, and a Tony Allen who actually buys in to coming off the bench (which, from all indications, has gone much better this year than it did last year), it's possible that Conley/Lee/Green/Randolph/Gasol could be a better lineup.

But.

The problem with Jeff Green, Grizzlies Starter, hasn't been specifically Jeff Green all by his lonesome; it's been when he starts next to Courtney Lee. Here's the thing that all this hand-wringing and Twitter arguing and coach commenting about whether Jeff Green or Tony Allen should start is missing: that's not necessarily the choice that has to be made.

Let's look at the net ratings (Offensive rating minus defensive rating) for three lineups. This is three different wing pairings (Lee/Allen, Lee/Green, and Allen/Green) playing with Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol—the three five-man units most likely to be Grizzlies starting lineups.

screenshot_2015-04-02_07.30.10.png
click to enlarge Tony Allen and Jeff Green actually have excellent numbers with Conley/Randolph/Gasol. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Tony Allen and Jeff Green actually have excellent numbers with Conley/Randolph/Gasol.

Obviously, the sample size is smaller for playing Green and Allen together with the big three of Conley/Randolph/Gasol, but it's not small enough to be insignificant, and despite what conventional wisdom says should be a crippling lack of outside shooting, that lineup is outscoring opponents by 26.6 points per 100 possessions, and has a higher offensive rating than the original Lee/Allen pairing.

So is the problem really whether Tony Allen or Jeff Green should start, or whether Courtney Lee makes any sense as the Grizzlies' starting shooting guard given his horrendous shooting slump over the last couple months?

Why are we pretending that Allen and Green can't possibly start together? Joerger is smarter than that—it took me about thirty seconds to look these numbers up on the NBA's media stats site. You don't think an actual NBA front office has access to this data and considers it regularly? The fan and media arguments have all been about Allen vs. Green. It's frustrating to hear Joerger talk about it that way too. I think that's a false dichotomy.

Of course, there's always the possibility that Joerger and everyone else with the team knows this, and they don't want to mess with Lee's mojo by even mentioning the possibility of moving him to the bench. Lee had a terrible March shooting-wise, and then suffered a hand injury towards the end of the month that made the struggles even worse. The lack of shooting and floor spacing from Lee is really what kills the Lee/Green combo; I'd love to take a time machine back to December and plug Jeff Green in alongside that Courtney Lee and see if the numbers still come out the way they do. Alas, that's not how it works.

click to enlarge Courtney Lee's slumping Spring has been a big issue for the Grizzlies. - LARRY KUZNIEWSKI
  • Larry Kuzniewski
  • Courtney Lee's slumping Spring has been a big issue for the Grizzlies.

There's also the issue of how it affects the rotation. Green is clearly playing a looser and more comfortable brand of basketball with the second unit; they're not as tightly coordinated as the starters and there's more room for him to operate—especially as he starts to log more minutes at the power forward spot with a Vince Carter who is still trying to get back on track at the 3. If you plug Lee into that second unit, is he still effective? We just don't know. He's been a starter almost all of his time with the Grizzlies, and the few times he's come off the bench, it hasn't gone well, but there's just not enough data and not enough comfort level for Lee playing with that unit to know whether it could work.

At any rate, I do think that for all of the arguing we've done (some of it here in these pages) about whether Allen or Green should start, the answer just might be "yes."

I have a feeling Joerger knows this, but doesn't want to throw Courtney Lee under the bus. And I totally understand and respect that. It's the coach's job to stand behind his guys, and shooting has so much to do with confidence that Joerger would be an idiot to start talking about Lee's struggles publicly before he gets that confidence back. But when he says publicly that Lee/Green has a higher ceiling than Lee/Allen, it makes me wonder if he's just being stubborn about that lineup even more than he already has been.

Of course, the Grizzlies don't know anything about having coaches who are stubborn about lineups, do they? They've certainly never had any playoff success with a guy like that on the sidelines...


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