Coach’s Notebook: Memphis’ Odd Couple
/* Style Definitions */
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”;
Each week, HOOPSWORLD NBA analyst and coach Anthony Macri opens his notebook and offers an assortment of observations on games, players, and teams from throughout the league. Coach Macri serves as a player development consultant for the Pro Training Center and Coach David Thorpe, working with a variety of NBA players on their skills and game understanding. The Coach’s Notebook appears on HOOPSWORLD every Thursday.
Memphis’ Odd Couple
The Memphis Grizzlies have managed to make this year’s San Antonio Spurs team, which looked like the best squad in the league for a large chunk of the season, appear to be more similar to last year’s Spurs (old, tired, and only marginally competitive). While their defense does (and should) get a sizable amount of credit for the way they have held San Antonio in check (the Spurs do not look at all like the second most efficient offense in the league as they were during the regular season), it is their improved frontcourt dynamic giving them a chance to win each game.
Earlier in the year, the Marc Gasol / Zach Randolph pairing looked shaky at best. The two bigs had trouble staying out of each other’s way and while Randolph’s production was consistent (as it always has been), they had no frontcourt flow. A question about their future playing together in Memphis was more than legitimate, as it looked like they would have trouble co-existing and being successful.
Fast forward to this playoff series with the San Antonio Spurs. Now, through a combination of superior spacing and a feel for post tandem teamwork, the Grizzlies pair of frontcourt horses have really made life on the Spurs very difficult.
On any post touch Randolph gets now, there is a looping dive from Gasol toward the rim, but outside the lane. A traditional cut here would be directly down the center of the lane, but Gasol moves outside the painted area to both give Randolph more room on his initial move and also to force his defender to define their defensive plan. Most of these types of dives are meant to produce scores, but this is not the primary purpose of Gasol’s cut. It’s a smart adjustment given the kind of bucket-getter Randolph is.
Quite a few of Gasol’s touches in the halfcourt (when Randolph is in the game, at least) come at the high post / elbow areas, and sometimes as high as the seam (basically the lane line extended through the three-point line). His ability to catch and operate in this area makes Randolph an even tougher player to guard. One of the best ways to consistently contain Randolph is to front and deny. However, because Gasol is such a skilled passer and playmaker from out high, fronting Randolph can actually be the worst kind of strategy. Randolph allows defenders to front, then seals them and awaits the dump down from Gasol after the ball is reversed to him. It is a very simple play in basketball, but highly effective.
The two have coupled to become extremely effective, and even dominant, rebounders. They are averaging a combined 21 boards per contest and the amount of attention San Antonio must devote to at least containing Randolph has given Gasol seemingly free reign on the offensive glass. He is averaging a full offensive rebound more per game in the playoffs than during the regular season.
The frontcourt efficiency and persistence gives Memphis the ability to pound it in and get good shots later in the shot clock, which in turn amplifies their defensive prowess by encouraging a slower, grind it out game – a game where the Grizzlies really shine.
The Dallas Mavericks have managed to move past the heroics of Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and company and move into the Western Conference semifinals for only the second time in the last five tries. One of the problems the Mavs have had in the past has been consistent frontcourt help for star Dirk Nowitzki. While it is still unclear if center Tyson Chandler can be the missing piece to that puzzle, there is no doubt Dallas played better when he is more involved.
In their wins during the regular season, Chandler averaged 5.9 field-goal attempts per game, compared to just 4.3 attempts in losses. He was also generally more active, averaging 10.4 points and 9.7 rebounds in wins, but only 9.2 points and 8.4 rebounds in losses. In the playoffs, Chandler has averaged 7.8 points and 11.5 rebounds in wins, and just 4 points and 5.5 rebounds in losses. He has actually taken less shots per game than during the regular season, but his shooting percentage has been very high in their wins.
In their second-round matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers, the Mavericks will need to increase their use of Chandler against the Lakers’ front line. The more he can be a factor the Lakers must take into account as they prepare defensively, the easier life will be on Dirk Nowitzki. Chandler does not need to be a 15 and 10 guy for Dallas to be successful, but getting him at least six field-goal attempts per game and asking him to average double figures on the glass will give the Mavericks a much better chance at getting to the Western Conference finals.
Have questions for Coach Macri? Be sure and drop by HOOPSWORLD on Mondays at 2PM Eastern for the Coach’s weekly basketball chat! You can also follow Coach Macri on Twitter @CoachMacri.