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VOL. 128 | NO. 13 | Friday, January 18, 2013
Don Wade

Don Wade

Pre-Grizz Comments Show Change is Coming

By Don Wade

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Deadspin.com has been getting a lot of publicity for breaking the story about the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax. But the site also compiled a list that is of far more relevance to local NBA fans:

“Mean things John Hollinger wrote about the Grizzlies less than three months before they hired him.”

Hollinger, of course, left his job as ESPN’s “analytics guru” to join the Grizzlies’ front office. One of the true believers in what Hollinger does, most notably the Player Efficiency Rating (PER) he developed (more on that in a moment), is new Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien.

Make no mistake, bringing in Hollinger is a paradigm shift for the franchise.

In shorthand, PER measures a player’s per-minute productivity. It’s not PERfect because anything a player does that is not captured in a statistic – be it positive or negative – falls outside the equation. But as the team stands at a crossroads with three straight losses by 20 or more points, trade rumors swirling overhead and coach Lionel Hollins on record as less than bought-in on these new-fangled analytics, it’s time to look at some of those “mean” things Hollinger wrote and to check out where some of the Grizzlies players currently rate.

Hollinger on Rudy Gay: “… guilty of dribble blindness, and while he’s improved from a few years ago, he still ranked among the bottom 10 small forwards in pure point rating. Defensively, he’s had a hard time converting elite athleticism into decent results.”

That passage strikes me as incredibly fair.

Hollinger on Zach Randolph: “…at 31, the fear lingers that he’s entering his decline phase.”

Also a fair point, but Z-Bo’s machine-like double-doubles output this season goes against that grain. Through the team’s first 37 games Randolph had the highest PER on the team at 19.72, good for 36th in the league.

Now, for more perspective, any player with a rating of 30 or above is considered a slam-dunk MVP choice. The top three right now: LeBron James, 29.85, Kevin Durant, 28.89, Chris Paul, 26.61.

A player would need a rating of at least 20 to be considered a borderline All-Star. Z-Bo is right there and Marc Gasol checks in at 18.98, 44th in the league. But Gay is at 14.95, 140th out of 330 rated players. More telling, it puts him in the 13-15 “rotation player” category.

Yikes.

Hollinger also once wrote that Mike Conley is “more of a caretaker point guard in some ways” and his 16.61 rating (92nd) is just above the average NBA player PER of 15. Another fair assessment.

In his farewell column for ESPN, Hollinger said that eight years ago any NBA team that had an interest in analytics wouldn’t admit it publicly. Now?

“Not only is it now acceptable to mention things like true shooting percentage in polite conversation,” Hollinger said, “but there’s also been a real quantum shift in front offices like the one I’m about to join.”

Can PER fully measure the Tony Allen intensity factor and “grit ‘n’ grind?” No, but then lately the Grizzlies’ defense-first mentality has been as non-existent as Lennay Kekua. Who, even as an imaginary person not in the NBA, has a PER above those of Jerryd Bayless and Wayne Ellington.

Change is coming, lots of it.

Don Wade’s column appears weekly in The Daily News and The Memphis News. He and Jon Albright host the “Jon & Don Show” on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays.

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