Antawn Jamison Should Never Play Center

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In the beginning of the Lakers season, the back-up center for the team was Jordan Hill, who’s effort and energy off the bench provided a nice spark for the team when Dwight Howard needed to take a rest. He hustled for loose balls, rebounded at a high rate, and shot about 50% from the field. He was also a tenacious defender, who, despite being under-sized, was able to run around, cover his assignments, and “annoy” players on the other team with his pesky play. Although the team was struggling in the early months of the year, Jordan Hill was one of the few bright spots. On January 6, Kobe Bryant stepped on Hill’s foot, while Hill was running in another direction and Hill pulled his hip. The injury requited surgery and Hill was lost for the season.

The Lakers then turned to Pau Gasol, their veteran power forward who was struggling in the starting line-up and didn’t play well with Dwight Howard. He became to come off the bench and, although he still played with Dwight Howard at times, took all of the back-up center minutes. At this point, the Lakers had a back-up center who not only was a skilled offensive player in the post, could shoot from mid-range well and was an excellent passing big-man, but they also had a very underrated defender under the basket. Despite battling tendinitis in both knees as well as plantar fasciitis, Pau Gasol was able to post a very impressive post-up defense mark. In the time he played this season, he held opponents posting up on him to 0.74 points per possession. According to Synergy Sports Technology, that means he played better post defense than players like Tim Duncan or Serge Ibaka, both of whom are considered by some to be a defensive player of the year candidate Unfortunately, the plantar fasciitis that Gasol had been playing through tore on February 5, taking Gasol out for 6 to 8 weeks.

The Lakers were left with three options to fill the void left at the back-up center role. (1) Play Robert Sacre there, the rookie from Gonzaga that they drafted 60th overall last summer. (2) Play Antawn Jamison there and play with a small line-up for the dozen or so minutes each night that Howard needs to sit. (3) Acquire an adequate center from either the D-League or from another NBA team via trade.

Well, Robert Sacre has played 15 minutes since Gasol has gotten hurt, coming in three blowout games against Boston, the Clippers, and the Timberwolves. The Lakers let the trade deadline come and pass without making a single move, and there haven’t even been rumors from the team about possibly adding a free agent center or signing someone from the D-League to fix this problem. Yes, that means the Lakers have committed to having Antawn Jamison play center between about 8 and 15 minutes a night, for nearly the entire last month.

Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge just how well Antawn Jamison has been playing offensively for the past couple weeks. In the last 5 games he has an eFG% of 60% and a PER of 22.0. He’s really helping the offense off the bench and is making nice cuts to the basket so Nash or Kobe can feed him the ball for the easy basket. His versatility for a power forward is tough for defenses to deal with. He can shoot the three ball well and also has a solid, unorthodox game around the basket including lay-ups at every arm angle imaginable as well as a solid baby hook. I would be fine with all of this. IF HE ONLY PLAYED POWER FORWARD.

If you look at the Lakers defensive statistics, their inability to protect the rim with Jamison at the 5 is startling. According to nbawowy.com,  in 386 possessions this season (about four games worth, enough to dismiss “small sample size” in my opinion), opponents of a Jamison-anchored Lakers defense are scoring 1.228 points per possession. By comparison, the league-wide  average points per possession is 1.056 points per game. To put it in another perspective, the Jamison-led defense for the Lakers allows opponents to effectively shoot 58% from the field, compared with the league average of 49% eFG%. You be curious about a confounding variable in this analysis. Is it really Jamison’s defense, or is it poor perimeter defense that causes opponents to torch this lineup so badly? When Jamison is center, opponents shoot 70% from the restricted area under the basket. That’s WAY worse than league average, which is about 59% shooting from there. Even the Sacramento Kings, who are last in the league in defense at the rim, hold opponents to a stellar-by-comparison 65.0% shooting in the restricted area. Jamison is just too old, slow, and weak to be elite on the defensive end as a center. He’s never been a good defender throughout his entire career, playing at the less-important power forward position, but at center it’s just a train wreck.

Once I learned the extent of Jamison’s rim-protecting ineptitude, I tried to look into the situation and dissect it a bit. I found that the peak of Jamison’s horribleness on D was the game last Monday against the Denver Nuggets. With 2:59 in the first quarter, Dwight Howard subbed out of the game with the Lakers leading the game 25-23. At this time, Antawn Jamison moved over to center. Here are the next 12 Nuggets offensive possessions:

  1. Javale McGee two-point shot.
  2. Andre Miller lay-up
  3. Corey Brewer dunk
  4. Andre Miller lay-up
  5. Andre Iguodala draws foul, gets to the free throw line
  6. Javale McGee draws faul, gets to the free throw line
  7. Corey Brewer and-1 lay-up
  8. Andre Miller draws foul, gets to the free throw line
  9. Anthony Randolph lay-up
  10. Anthony Randolph dunk
  11. Corey Brewer missed lay-up, Anthony Randolph tip-in
  12. Corey Brewer lay-up

Remember the two-point Lakers lead they had when Howard exited the game? In the span of 4 minutes and 25 seconds, the Nuggets scored 22 points and scored points on 12 possessions in a row, ALL VIA PENETRATION, to turn the scoreboard into a 14-point lead in the Nuggets favor. The Lakers ended up losing the game by 11 points. Perhaps if they had an adequate free-agent defensive center who could have been playing the 5, the game would have been different. There are certainly options out there. Ben Wallace, Hassan Whiteside, Arinze Onuaku, Henry Sims and Tim Ohlbrecht. These are people that can play defense at an adequate level. They can sacrifice offense in that bench unit. They just need to find a way not to lose a lead like that. It isn’t necessarily Jamison’s fault, but he’s a POWER FORWARD and he should play POWER FORWARD and if Mitch Kupchek truly wants to make a real effort to get the team into the playoffs, he should fill this blatant hole in the bench unit, immediately.

You can follow Skyler Gilbert on twitter @SkylerJGilbert.

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The Damian Lillard Effect

Photo from Flickr by MikalanPHOTOgraphy

Photo from Flickr by MikalanPHOTOgraphy

This season, the Portland Trail Blazers are  vying for a playoff spot. With JJ Hickson, Nicolas Batum, Lamarcus Aldridge, Wes Mathews and Damian Lillard starting, they look like a good team. Then comes the bench. Yeah, they have an awful bench. I could go in to many details about how bad this bench is, but that’s not what I’m writing about today. Today, I’m writing about the massive effect that rookie point guard Damian Lillard has when he’s on the floor.

First, let’s look at shooting. When Lillard’s on the bench, the Blazers shoot 42.3% from the floor. When he’s on the court, they shoot 44%. Not a big difference, really. That’s the difference between the 29th best shooting team in the league and the 21st best. However, when it comes to shooting threes, there’s a huge difference. The Blazers are a lowly 26th in the NBA in three-point percentage, sitting at 33.7%. Without Damian Lillard on the court, they shoot 25% from beyond the arc. TWENTY-FIVE PERCENT. The worst 3-point shooting team in the NBA (Minnesota) shoots 30% from downtown. Without Lillard, Portland’s 5% worse at three-pointers than any other team in the league. Howver, when Lillard’s on the floor, the Blazers shoot 35.5%, which would be tied for 14th in the NBA. Not fantastic, but right in the middle. Yes, Damian Lillard being on the court makes the Blazers 10.5% better at shooting threes. Now, it’s a wonder how that only makes the team’s shooting percentage go up 1.7% with Lillard on the floor, right? Wrong. Although Lillard does help their three-game, when he’s on the court the team is slightly worse with mid-range jumpers and are significantly worse in the paint.

When Lillard's on the floor, the Blazers get way better from three and slightly worse in the paint and on mid-range jumpers.

When Lillard’s on the floor, the Blazers get way better from three and slightly worse in the paint and on mid-range jumpers.

Because of his ability to make the team be better at shooting treys, when he’s not on the court, the Blazers have the worst effective field goal percentage (eFG%) in the league at 45.5, but when he’s on the court the Blazers have the 11th best eFG% at 49.7. In terms of true shooting percentage (TS%), when he’s not on the court, Portland is tied for last at 49.7. When Lillard’s on the court, the Blazers’ TS% skyrockets to 53.4, which would be 13th in the NBA.

Also, when Lillard’s the team actually becomes better at rebounding. Their rebound percentage goes up from 47.9 to 50.3, but that doesn’t say as much, because looking at it closer, their defensive rebounding percentage only goes up .1%. I mean, Lillard doesn’t have much to do with defensive rebounding. The telling stat is that when Lillard’s on the floor, the Blazers’ offensive rebounding percentage increases by 3.7, which is a fairly large margin.

The most impressive Damian Lillard statistic to me, however, is this: The Portland Trail Blazers have a Net Rating of -2.1, 19th in the NBA. When Damian Lillard is not on the floor, the Blazers have a Net Rating of -10.7, which alone would put them behind the Bobcats for worst in the NBA. When Damian Lillard is on the floor, the Blazers have a Net Rating of 0.1, which would make them the 16th best in the league. That shows how much Damian Lillard means to the Blazers’ on both ends of the court. When he’s not on the floor, the Blazers are one of the worst teams in basketball. When he’s on the floor, they are close if not in the playoffs.

Oh, and he’s a rookie.

Bobcats Let Them Shoot

After reading a post on Queen City Hoops (a name eerily similar to ours) about the Bobcats letting the Pacers shoot threes, I went to check if the Bobcats let the Rockets do that to them today.

Oh, yes they did.

Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 5.40.18 PM Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 5.43.13 PM Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 5.43.41 PM Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 5.45.20 PM Screen Shot 2013-01-21 at 5.46.48 PM

These are all screenshots (thanks to NBA.com/Stats) of different looks the Rockets got. Look! I stopped screenshotting with 8 minutes still remaining in the first half! I already had got my point across.

ALL OF TEH OPEN THREES

The Royce White Saga Continues

A little over a month ago, I wrote a quick bit about why teams were smart to pass up on drafting Royce White. But I also noted, along with many others, that I wanted Royce to succeed. However, that hasn’t happened yet. In fact, the Rockets, with no playing time available for him or fellow rookie Donatas Motiejunas, planned to send both to the D-League (along with guard Scott Machado). Royce, apparently, hasn’t reacted well. From the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen:

With the Rockets planning to send White along with fellow rookies Scott Machado and Donatas Motiejunas to the NBA Development League, White skipped Monday’s game and Tuesday’s practice amid signs that he has not practiced for days.

Rockets acting coach Kelvin Sampson said he did not know why White did not attend Tuesday’s practice and did not speak with him on Monday when Motiejunas and Machado were told of the plans to send them to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.

Meanwhile, White refuted that the Rockets had no knowledge about his absence, via a statement he released (and via David Aldridge, who published highlights of it on his twitter account). White says the Rockets know exactly what’s going on, and they aren’t being helpful or forthcoming:

As you already know, White suffers from an anxiety disorder which prevents him from flying to most games. But his anxiety issues may also arise for other reasons. For instance, while not confirmed, anxiety troubles and straightening out his travel accommodations led to White missing much of training camp. Again: this is the “baggage” that comes with drafting a high risk/high reward player like White. What will happen is not simple.

But the real question is: why is Royce White going to the media for this? While Feigen speculated (and teammates confirmed) that Royce had been missing practices, they only offered supportive comments and advice. They noted what Houston media had suspected for a few days, but resisted throwing a teammate whose condition they likely have little understanding of under the bus. Again: what is the problem that prompted Royce to send out a statement defying his team?

The only person who denied knowing what had been going on with White was interim head coach Kelvin Sampson. Sampson, replacing Kevin McHale for the time being (who currently is attending to a serious family matter), mentioned he wasn’t sure what was going on with White. When reporters asked Daryl Morey, he issued a statement essentially saying they had no comment on his missing practice but are committed to White. White apparently disagrees with this notion. But why? Did the Rockets renege on their deal? Have they insulted him by sending him down to the D-League? By keeping the matter private, did they somehow offend him? Who knows. I certainly don’t, and I’m in no position to pass judgment.

No matter his rationale, Royce White’s approach to his NBA career so far won’t endear him to many. Much of that approach is out of his control. But today’s statement wasn’t. It was pointed at the Houston organization. It blamed them for not providing him a chance to have a successful start to his career, even though they’ve allowed him to miss practices and training camp without much fanfare and have made an agreement to arrange for alternative travel arrangements. White obviously needs concessions for his condition, but the Rockets have openly made efforts to assist him. The Rockets also drafted him and signed him to a multi-million dollar deal. From the outside, they have been nothing but supportive.

Moreover, White’s timing couldn’t have been worse. His team’s coach is on indefinite leave, as he spends time in Minnesota with his daughter who, according to Ernie Johnson, became very ill over the weekend. It comes as he receives a D-League demotion, with his teammates gladly accepting the changes. It comes when a fellow talented rookie who plays his position in Terrence Jones struggled to get more than a minute or two of playing time. But Jones played during all of training camp and hasn’t missed many practices, if any at all.

Everything here, then, makes me re-consider my position that Houston, despite the geographical challenges, was a nice place for him. The rapid roster change, the coaching situation, and the limited playing time certainly work against him. But I have to wonder whether there’s a team out there where does fit at this point, because so far the Royce White era in Houston has been a disaster.

Well, That Was Quick – Lakers Fire Mike Brown

Credit: Examiner.com

Following one middling year, five regular season games, and countless death threats, Mike Brown has been fired by the Los Angeles Lakers, according to reports originating from Sam Amick of USA Today.

According to other sources, Bernie Bickerstaff will serve as coach for tonight’s game.

The news comes just days into a season filled so far with unmet expectations. The Lakers started the season 1-4, losing to four decent or better teams and only beating the lowly Pistons. The Lakers struggled with integrating the Princeton offense and appropriately working on both ends of the floor. He brought in Eddie Jordan, among others, to initiate the new offense. While the numbers worked out okay, the Lakers clearly struggled with the intricacies the Princeton has. And their defense suffered, which is to be expected when the entire camp is spent learning the new offense.

Of course, firing a coach after just 5 games makes little sense in general, especially since the coach could have been relieved over the summer if he wasn’t the preferred choice. Moreover, five games clearly isn’t enough to really gauge what Brown could have done with the team. Dwight Howard missed most of camp. Steve Nash has missed the last three games. But if the players called for it and ownership approved, I can’t help but agree with the decision. Brown has been seen mostly as a bad fit as Phil Jackson’s replacement.

At this point, the Lakers seem primed to go after a big name coach. Jerry Sloan, Mike D’Antoni, and Brian Shaw seem to be the most likely candidates, although Stan Van Gundy and Phil Jackson will inevitably be approached about interest in the job, though not necessarily from the Lakers.

Among these candidates, I personally believe D’Antoni to be the best candidate. He led legendary offenses in Phoenix with Nash at the helm, has a past with Kobe based on their Italian backgrounds, and generally has the approval of his non-Melo players. Moreover, in New York his team had a top-10 defense with the backbone of Tyson Chandler before his firing. Dwight Howard, when healthy, is the best defensive player in the league, even better than Chandler. Sloan’s terse demeanor will wear off poorly on Dwight and probably everyone else too, while Shaw most likely will be trapped in his contract in Indiana (coaches for pseudo-contending teams rarely get let go midseason).

No matter who is hired, it will be a sexy name. And there will be more drama, because it’s the Lakers, and a good amount of success, also because it’s the Lakers.

Harden’s Stand Is Houston’s Gain

Credit: ESPN.com

You can call it a comeback.

The Houston Rockets finally scored their big fish, landing James Harden from the financially-prudent Oklahoma City Thunder, along with some backup quality talent, for Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two first-round picks (one essentially guaranteed in the lottery) and a second-round pick. Harden will likely get the max from Houston, which the Thunder refused to offer.

Harden brings a second perimeter force to the Rockets, one with much more of a track record than new teammate Jeremy Lin despite coming off the bench for all but 7 career games. He provides a devastating combination of offensive creation and efficiency matched by few others in the league – he finished fourth in the league in true shooting percentage last year, with two of the players ahead of him being Tyson Chandler and Steve Novak, two limited role players. He finished well over the all-star threshold in PER, with a 21.1 rating. And Harden led the Thunder in raw on-court/off-court numbers, according to 82games.com.

In other words: Harden was supremely valuable to the Thunder, and he should be to Houston as well. Oklahoma City’s low-balling of him – and that’s what it was, by the way, as his agent obviously knew teams would line up in a row to give him significantly more money than OKC offered – may have been partially forced by the CBA, but criticizing him for wanting millions of dollars more than he could have received elsewhere is absurd. That decision belongs to him and him alone. Moreover, OKC could have offered one more year and more guaranteed dollars, but they chose not to.

Suffice it to say, based on his production, I disagree with their business decision. While luxury tax issues are very concerning, they broke up a championship core one year earlier than they had to without significantly improving in any area. Martin, while renowned during his prime as an efficient scorer, never had a season as efficient as Harden’s last year. His skill-set seems redundant with Durant’s, but he’s worse and can’t defend anybody. I’m not sure he’s a good fit there. Lamb still has questions, though he could develop into a better offensive version of Thabo Sefolosha. And the two picks are very nice, but they likely won’t help this year, and they may not help matters down the line. There’s no question that this trade lowers OKC’s title chances this season, and possibly beyond.

So Daryl Morey took advantage, using his collection of assets to finally make the big move anticipated for years. While they *had* made one previously, it fell victim to the commissioner’s power of veto. While the Gasol trade would have made the team better, it’s not a coup on the level of Harden – Harden is significantly younger and can be kept under team control for at least the next 5 years. And the Rockets still have a ton of assets at their disposal – they can choose to let them develop and maybe compete in a few years or to swing another deal to make the team more competitive in the short-term.

Meanwhile, Harden and Lin form a dynamic offensive backcourt, with two players that can create for themselves and others equally well. Harden especially seems like an awesome fit in Kevin McHale’s offense, as the high pick-and-roll is the team’s go-to set. While Houston still needs a strong perimeter defender – Chandler Parsons may be that at some point – they have all the other pieces of a fantastic core for the next 3-4 years. While the Rockets may again just be a fringe playoff contender this season if they stand pat (they rarely do), the future now is significantly brighter.

San Antonio Spurs Season Preview: The Beautiful Game

Team Capsule

The Spurs are the most entertaining basketball team in the NBA. They have little competition for this title. But how?

The San Antonio Spurs used to represent the clunky, late 1990s/early 2000s style of basketball to a tee. They defended vigorously, played dirty at times, and ran a clunky offense based on hammering teams down low with arguably the best player in the NBA and perfectly placed shooters. Many fans hated the team because the clunky style of basketball combined with little drama made for a lack of interesting storylines.

Now? The Spurs play with the rhythm and flow of an soccer game: fluid moving, crisp passing, exaggerated flopping, and beautiful shot-making. It’s a scientific art, one that creates more offensive value than any in the league and also more aesthetically pleasing entertainment than any team provides. They run the floor, shoot tons of threes, dribble-drive better than nearly anyone else. They have awesome chemistry, rarely making mistakes with communication. And they all know their roles.

Manu Ginobili is the artist, or even a magician, Euro-stepping left and right and flying all over the place with no regard for his own health. He’s breathtaking when he explodes to the rim with reckless abandon, whether he’s scoring for himself or creating a shot for a teammate that nobody saw coming. He’s the ultimate combination of unpredictability, athleticism, quirkiness, and creativity.

Tim Duncan is the cornerstone, the rock the Spurs were built upon. While he might not play as much as he used to, when he does play he’s almost as sturdy. as ever.

Tony Parker is the general, one who knows what he does well and does it very, very often to great effect. He runs the pick-and-roll as well as any point guard. He also finishes around the rim as well as anyone his size has ever done. And while he has his weaknesses, with a little help and knowledge he can command the court.

Gregg Popovich is the scientist, designing schemes and plays that take ultimate advantage of the rules. He’s willing to experiment but ultimately knows what he can rely upon. His teams take more efficient shots than anyone else, either at the rim or in the corners for threes, because of his grand design. And he mixes the individual elements of team to create a potent formula for basketball success. But there’s a bit of an artist in him too – remember when he sat out Tim Duncan with a DNP – OLD? A scientist with a sense of humor, this one is.

With the pieces in place, The Spurs are a guaranteed source of entertainment this year, one that should be appreciated by all. Especially since we don’t know how much longer this show will go on as Ginobili and Duncan are well past their physical primes, and Tony Parker is getting there too. While they are still competitive, we need to appreciate them while we can.

Biggest Strength: Three point shooting

Wow are the Spurs good at shooting. They led the league in three point percentage last year while taking the 7th most attempts. Really only Golden State has the shooting to contend with them. The difference between the Spurs and Golden State is so massive in roughly all other areas, however.

Some of the players who shot astronomically high percentages last year might regress (I’m mainly looking at you, Danny Green), but they have so many shooters it might not matter.

Biggest Weakness: Time

Time is not on San Antonio’s side – with Parker, Duncan, and Ginobili all 30 or older, the Spurs’ core is slowly rotting. All still provide a ton of value on the court, but the problem comes when facing off with other teams who have multiple superstars. Reliability may also be an issue – Ginobili is oft-injured, Duncan can’t play more than 30 minutes on most nights, and Parker continues to get older and is still relied upon as the center of the offense. While the regular season, with all its kinks and idiosyncrasies, can be managed without all three, during the playoffs the Spurs just cannot rely on those three as much as they used to.

Player to Watch: Kawhi Leonard

Leonard is San Antonio’s next great hope. While he averaged only 24 minutes per game overall, by the end of the season the Spurs relied on him on both ends of the floor, maybe to their detriment in the end. Leonard has excellent defensive tools, with height, length, and quickness to boot. But he never quite put them together yet. But when he does, he should be an absolute force.

The Spurs will rely on Kawhi to improve defensively. Offensively, however, they don’t need him to be more than a role player. The team has enough offensive weapons to not rely on him anyway. But the Spurs are so good with player development and letting players grow in their roles that they might let him do more. I’ve always maintained the keys to player development are giving young players time on the court, letting them make mistakes, holding them accountable for effort, and puttng them in position to succeed.  Doing all of these puts young players in a position where they can test their strengths and bounds. The Spurs do this better than anyone, and Kawhi should benefit.

Coach: Gregg Popovich

2011-12 record: 50-16

Key Additions: Nando de Colo

Okay, so that’s not a key addition at all, but it’s the only addition. Nando struggled in the Olympics but could be good in time.

Key Subtractions: James Anderson

Again, not much. Anderson only played late last year in garbage time or whenever they needed someone to commit a foul on the perimeter. Many expected DeJuan Blair to be moved, but he’s still here.

Team Trajectory: Down

The Spurs will still be awesome to watch and a legitimate contender, but with Miami’s improvements and Oklahoma City’s development and LA’s new foundation, I can’t put the Spurs higher than fourth among the title contenders. Considering they were a bit better than this last year, the trajectory has to be going down, especially since Duncan and Ginobili are further past their primes. But this organization seems to find ways to figure things out, so all hope is not lost.

Projected Record: 55-27

Memphis Grizzlies Season Preview: Almost There

Team Capsule 

Last year, the Memphis Grizzlies lost to the L.A. Clippers in the first round of the playoffs in a series that went seven games. It seemed like another year that the Grizzlies, while a good team, just weren’t good enough. Picked often by many people as a dark horse title contender for the past two seasons, the Grizzlies have come up short both times. This year, Memphis gets the return of Zach Randolph from injury, who only played in 28 games last year (started only 8 of them), to combine with center Marc Gasol as one of the best PF-C duos in the league.

Rudy Gay is an interesting player. Year after year, he produces good scoring stats, around 19 ppg the last few years. However, he has been slightly inefficient while scoring. He has never had a season with a TS% above 54.8%, and last year finished only with a FG% of 45.5. Despite being well known for having a good mid-range jump shot , he only shot 34% from 16-23 feet last year, despite taking over four of them a game. A hopefully improved Rudy Gay will be key to this season’s Grizzlies team. It will be interesting to see if an improved Rudy Gay and getting Randolph back will vault the Grizzlies from championship hopeful’s to serious championship contenders.

Biggest Strength: Defense

The Grizzlies finished seventh in defensive efficiency (98.9), were first in the league in Opponent turnover rate (16.30), and were  seventh in the league in defensive rating (101.8). A large part of this defensive success is because of Tony Allen, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley. Tony Allen is a great defender at the wing position capable of shutting down the other teams best scoring options and being a general pest on defense. Marc Gasol, while not a great individual defender, is a huge man that clogs the lane for opposing players and blocks a lot of shots (fifth last year in number blocked shots). Finally, Mike Conley was a big part of why the Grizzlies forced a lot of turnovers last year as he was second in the league in number of steals at 136.

Biggest Weakness: Shooting

They were 24th in TS% last year at only 51.5% and 26th in three point shooting hitting only 32.6%. Just two players on last years Grizzlies team shot over 5o%, Hamed Haddadi and Dante Cunningham, neither of whom got much playing time. This team might have only one true three point threat with the loss of OJ Mayo this off season, Mike Conley. At the trade deadline or next years off season, it would be wise for them to sign a shooter to help bolster the great interior play of Z-Bo and Marc.

Player to Watch: Rudy Gay

As I mentioned above, an improved Rudy Gay would do wonders for this team. They already have a great interior presence with Randolph and Gasol, two good guards who both play good defense, Conley and Allen, so maybe a rise in efficiency in Rudy’s game would lift this team to serious title contenders.

Coach: Lionel Hollins

2011-12 record: 41-25

Key Additions: Jerryd Bayless and Tony Wroten

The Grizzlies largely stayed put this off season, only signing a young journeyman, Jerryd Bayless. Bayless is expected to backup Conley and play alongside him in stretches. He is a capable three point shooter, though he is very streaky. He has never lived up to his draft status, but perhaps can play well in Memphis. They also drafted 6’6″ point guard, Tony Wroten, out of Washington. While he won’t get that much playing time this year, he is a good defender and has been compared to Rajon Rondo. He should be a valuable player for the future.

Key Subtractions: O.J. Mayo

The Dallas Mavericks signed the disappointing shooting guard Mayo this off season. He looked like he could turn into a star after his first season in the league, but unfortunately his play has fallen off the past three years and he has regressed.

Team Trajectory: Flat 

Projected Record: 50-32

Utah Jazz Season Preview: Getting Ready for a Revolution

I’m going to drop a whole bunch of song references in this post, because Jazz. WARNING: It’s not jazz music, so don’t get your hopes up. You can find them fairly easily and guess the group I’d imagine, but it’s a nice little game I figured I’d play with the Jazz post.

Team Capsule

The Utah Jazz are in a transition phase. For most teams, that involves years of rebuilding and losing. But for the Jazz, their rebuild lasted all of, like, 6 months. The Jazz started with a solid (if flawed) frontline pairing of Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson. They acquired a third big in Derrick Favors in the Deron Williams trade. They previously drafted a solid project perimeter player in Gordon Hayward. And they had the third and twelfth picks in the 2011 draft. With that haul, and a patchwork supporting cast, the Jazz made a leap back into the playoffs a bit earlier than expected. The rebuild, while not complete, started off spectacularly.

But this year, though? This should be a transition year, with maybe a bit less progress in the W-L column than would be hoped. Derrick Favors and Gordon Hayward enter their third year in the league, on the verge of breaking out and becoming something memorable. Alec Burks and Enes Kanter enter their second year in the league, looking to seize solid rotation spots and maybe more. Jefferson and Millsap and some other vets’ time is running out, with free agency looming and replacements ready.

But I would advise that the Jazz fans take some caution. For all the praises I poured on their core 4, there’s one major glaring weakness in the core: the lack of a great offensive player, or so it seems. Alec Burks has a longshot at that, but that’s it. While those players often find their way to free agency, few sign in places like Utah. Their best hope may be to make a trade during this season with one of Jefferson or Millsap. New GM Dennis Lindsay, who comes from the Spurs, knows what the team needs to make a leap.

Until then, look for the Jazz to do what they do: beat you inside with their bigs and play physical basketball, especially when playing in front of the league’s best home crowds. At the least, they should easily be in playoff contention again. For now, that’s fine.

Biggest Strength: Rebounding

I tend to use per-36 numbers, despite their natural flaws, for comparative purposes because players can only do so much based on their playing time. Utah’s rebounding numbers are especially highlighted using them. The four main bigs – Jefferson, Millsap, Favors, and Kanter – all put up wonderful rebounding numbers, averaging at least 9.7 boards/36 each. The numbers really scream out because the 4 practically played with only each other on the court. Because rebounds have some amount of scarcity – that is, there’s a limited amount to go around – the numbers become even more impressive. They finished 3rd in the league in rebound differential and, with Kanter and Favors seemingly up for more time, look to improve that.

Biggest Weakness: Assisting

The Jazz have Mo Williams at the point, which is all fine and dandy given the construct of the current roster. Throw it into the post for Al Jefferson to take care of? Alrighty. Let Paul Millsap face up? Cool beans.

But when Favors takes over, which I believe will inevitably happen, one of those two main sources of offense goes away. Favors has some moves and a ton of finishing ability, but you can’t rely on him as a number one source of offense. It’s not going to happen. Someone else will be needed to create offense, preferably a point guard. I’m not sure Mo Williams or Randy Foye or Jamaal Tinsley is that guy. If they trade Jefferson, and not for a point guard? Well, there’s something to really think about. Where will the offense come from?

(note: Chris Barnewall pointed out how bad the Jazz are at shooting threes. With Foye and Mo in the fold, who are good shooters, I thought the lack of a good play-making point guard would be more pressing)

Player to Watch: Derrick Favors

Most of the talk since Favors was traded to Utah involved getting him playing time to develop despite backing up two talented bigs. Now, most acknowledge Favors breaking out into the starting lineup is only a matter of time. His defensive revelation kind of forces the hand of the Jazz – at some point, they’ll be forced to make room in the starting five for Favors. But would they rather have the productive, plodding black hole that is Al Jefferson or the versatile but undersized Paul Millsap? When the time comes to make things right, I think Jefferson will be gone.

Coach: Tyrone Corbin

2011-12 record: 36-30

Key Additions: Mo Williams, Marvin Williams, Randy Foye

The unrelated M. Williamses help the Jazz fill more roles around the young guys, though of course you’d like them to be a bit younger. Mo Williams, as mentioned above, is more of a shoot-first point guard who can spot-up when need be. He provides some floor spacing from the point guard position that the Jazz desperately needed. I actually think Marvin probably shouldn’t have been added to the team. While he gives the Jazz an above-average wing defender, he exacerbates their spacing issues. Foye, meanwhile, will provide yet another shooter who can play either guard spot, although not all that well other than the shooting thing.

Key Subtractions: Devin Harris, C.J. Miles, Josh Howard

The three could dissipate like snowflakes in the Great Salt Lake, and no one would notice. Harris never seemed to fit his role in Utah, for whatever reason. I guess that applies pretty much everywhere for Harris, however – he never was as great a defender as his athleticism indicated, and his offensive game just didn’t match what Utah needed from him. C.J. Miles and Josh Howard should help them more now that they’ve left town, considering how awful they each were last season.

Team Trajectory: Rising

The future is now in Utah. While major success looms in the future, future progress and change should be the theme for this season. Cap room awaits, unless they turn their expiring contracts into even more assets. The future is very, very bright, and the league should take notice of Utah’s Uprising.

Projected Record: 47-35