Hornets Rival Report: Nemesis and the Patsy Edition

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Published: October 22, 2009

As promised, I’m finally completing the Southwest Division preview many of you asked for in the poll we did during the off-season.  Unlike the last one, where I did a generalized review of the Rockets and Mavericks, I’m going to approach this one a bit differently.  Since at this point you can find general season previews all over the web, I’m going to do a version of my the standard pre-game analysis I do before most games during the season. (I.E. I give you a general stat pack, a summary of each team’s recent actions, and then break down the positions.)

Presenting, the Spurs and the Grizzlies:

The Nemesis

San Antonio Spurs

Subtractions: Drew Gooden, Fabricio Oberto, Bruce Bowen, Jacque Vaughn, Ime Udoka, Kurt Thomas
Additions: DeJuan Blair, Richard Jefferson, Antonio McDyess, Theo Ratliff
Pace: 90.4(27th)
Offensive Efficiency: 106.2(12th) 
Defensive Efficiency: 102.0(6th)

Summary:  The Spurs struggled last year with injuries and an older supporting cast that hurt both their offensive punch and made them fall out of the top 5 in defensive efficiency for the first time since the 1996-97 season.  In response, their savvy front office cast off four older players who used to be defensive stalwarts, but were now a step slow: Bruce Bowen, Kurt Thomas, Fabricio Oberto, Jacque Vaughn.

Jeff Bower stole my thunder a little by mentioning this during the interview Niall did with him on Media day, but I feel that the most important acquisition the Spurs made this off-season was Antonio McDyess.  McDyess will get the minutes given last year to a very slow Kurt Thomas, a very undersized Ime Udoka, and a defensively inept Drew Gooden.  He’ll also cut into minutes given to the one dimensional starter at power forward, Matt Bonner.  Slotting him into the “Closing Five” of the Spurs next to Tim Duncan, Richard Jefferson, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker makes a huge difference on the defensive end and on the boards, and though his range doesn’t go out to the three point line, his midrange jumper can’t be ignored.

As for Richard Jefferson, the acquisition most people focus on, there is little question that Jefferson will provide a nice boost as a fourth scorer and provide needed depth when Manu Ginobili suffers through his annual 20-game injury.  However, when I look at the minutes he’ll be taking, I don’t see as big of an upgrade as I see with McDyess, particularly when we are talking about the “Closing Five”.  Jefferson will take minutes that previously went to Roger Mason, Jr and Mike Finley.   When those minutes are part of the second unit, where he can function as a well-rounded scorer, he’ll help, but when he’s playing alongside Duncan, McDyess, Ginobili and Parker, his role will be exactly what Mason and Finley did last year: spot up and shoot while the big three generate shots from the post and penetration.  While Jefferson is a fine shooter, he’s not any better than the two guys he’s replacing.

In the end, however, they both represent upgrades, and along with DeJuan Blair and George Hill entering his second season, it can’t help but improve the team.

Matchups

Center: Duncan vs. Okafor
There was nothing more informative about Tyson Chandler’s game than watching him make Duncan’s life difficult on both ends of the floor during a Spurs-Hornets game.  Okafor, however, doesn’t have the height to bother Duncan’s post game as well as Chandler did, and probably doesn’t have the continuous movement and energy to make Duncan work hard on the defensive end.  The Hornets, when Chandler was available, could count on a somewhat neutralized Duncan.  That is no longer likely. 

Power Forward: McDyess vs. West
West does matchup somewhat better with McDyess than he did with Bonner/Thomas.  West hates to extend his defense, so chasing Bonner off the three point line was a rare occurance, which means he’ll be able to handle McDyess’s offensive game better than Bonner’s.  Defensively, McDyess has a bit more speed than West, but West’s strength and post game should still prove effective against him.  Kurt Thomas’s willingness to get rough and foul sometimes compelled West to settle for mid-range jumpers more than usual.  In the end, though I like McDyess better, I think West matches up with him a little better than the other two.

Small Forward: Jefferson vs. Wright
Jefferson can shoot and slash.   Julian should be able to handle his slashing, since he’s an excellent on-the-ball defender and almost never fouls.  Unfortunately, Jefferson loves to spot up in the corner for swing passes, the Spurs excel at swinging the ball to the corner and making it hard for a guy to cover that spot, and Julian loves to leave his guy open in the corner and try and help out elsewhere.  It’s going to hurt.  Julian’s offensive game is so light right now, Jefferson will be able to do what Mike Finley did last year: Ignore him and help elsewhere.

Shooting Guard: Ginobili vs. Peterson
Yes, I know Ginobili won’t start.  But he’ll play more than half the game and he’ll finish.  And he’ll destroy the Hornets.  Peterson can’t keep up with him, can’t stop from fouling him, and can’t match his shooting.  Though he plays less than 30 minutes a game, Ginobili produces as per minute much as Kobe and Brandon Roy do when he’s healthy.  This is a scary matchup for the Hornets.

Point Guard: Parker vs. Paul
Paul is better than Parker, but scoring-wise, Parker is more than capable of matching Paul throughout a game.  Along with Nash, they are the most efficient scoring guards in basketball.  These are great battles, though Paul edges Parker as a passer, defender, rebounder and general instigator of nastiness.

Bench: Bonner, Blair, Finley, Mason, Hill vs Armstrong, Posey, Stojakovic, Thornton, Brown/Collison
Those appear to be the likely backups for each team at the moment.  You’ll notice that every single one of the Spur subs have a defined role and are at least good, and sometimes excellent at one aspect of the game: Bonner, Finley and Mason can shoot, Blair can rebound, and Hill can defend.  You can say the same for Posey and Stojakovic, but the rest of the Hornet’s bench don’t have any established strength that can be relied on.

Spurs games the past couple years were close things.  I’m not sure that’ll happen this year unless Paul and West are playing their absolute best.

The Patsy

Memphis Grizzlies

Subtractions: Hakeem Warrick, Darko Milicic, Quinton Ross, Darius Miles, Greg Buckner
Additions: Zach Randolph, Allen Iverson, Hasheem Thabeet, Sam Young, Marcus Williams, Mike Taylor, Demarre Carroll, Steven Hunter
Pace: 92.5(21st)
Offensive Efficiency: 100.9(28th) 
Defensive Efficiency: 106.8(20th)

Summary:
At the other end of the spectrum from the Spurs are the Grizzlies.  They too brought in two high-profile acquisitions.  Unfortunately, where the Spurs identify their weaknesses and bring in players to plug those holes, the Grizzlies exacerbate their problems by acquiring players who duplicate talents they already had.

Newly acquired Zach Randolph’s talent for scoring in the post may be prolific, but has also always been extremely inefficient.  Allen Iverson was brought in, and though he’d posted two fairly efficient scoring seasons in Denver, his numbers in Detroit were awful.  This means that the Grizzlies will trot out four primary scorers(Gay, Mayo, Randolph and Iverson) who averaged only 1.18 points per shot last year.  That’s not a good number.(Peja averaged 1.15 per shot last year) 

Last year, with only two scorers taking shots at that level of inefficiency, they were the 28th worst offense around.  Unless Mayo blows up, they’ve got the 30th ranked offense all locked up.

The one small inkling of hope the Grizzlies had last year was on the defensive end, as they improved over the season, and ended up 20th.  A number in the teens was within reach, but then they tossed their best interior defender, Darko Milicic, and made their big acquisitions of Randolph and Iverson to leave big, gaping holes for opponents to drive through both on the perimeter and at the rim.  I feel for OJ Mayo, who does actually care about that whole defense thing.

Matchups

Center: Gasol vs. Okafor
Gasol is a nice player, and despite being touted as a bruiser because of his size, showed offensive touch and good passing as a rookie.  His rebounding was adequate, though his defense was slow.  At some point, if he ever plays for a team that gets him the ball here and there, I’d expect him to develop into a better offensive player than Okafor.  Right now, however, Okafor’s got an edge offensively and a big edge on the boards and defensively.

Power Forward: Randolph vs. West
Randolph will produce the same numbers as David West.  But he’ll take four more shots, turn the ball over more often, Jack up some horrible three pointers, and let opposing perimeter players have more uncontested layups.  West will also be better at shouting “And One!” and looking pissed off.  Randolph just looks whiney when he’s frustrated.

Small Forward: Gay vs. Wright
Unless it’s a fast break dunk or a three-pointer, Gay isn’t going to score frequently against Wright, as the giraffe calf will make it way too difficult on Gay to get to the basket.  Since Gay’s natural inclination is to take easy shots, even if they aren’t high percentage ones, Wright will end up doing a solid job on him.  On the other end of the court, Julian will probably have good output against the Grizzlies.  Gay is as interested in defending as he is working for a good shot.

Shooting Guard: Mayo vs. Peterson
I like Mayo a lot.  He works hard on both ends of the floor.  He’s not that fast of a player, however, and that’s part of the reason his shooting efficiency is so low.  I would be surprised, however, if he doesn’t figure that out soon and improve his efficiency by becoming more of a bull and drawing fouls.  Morris Peterson should be able to keep up with him, but still won’t be able to outshoot him.  As it probably will be against most teams, this position is going to be a major net loss for the Hornets against the Grizzlies.

Point Guard: Conley vs. Paul
Conley has promise if he’s allowed to run, as his best attribute is his speed in the open court.  Unfortunately, Gasol, Thabeet and Randolph are as fleet of foot as a three-legged turtle.  Last season, the Grizzlies never ran.  I see no reason to think it would run even more this year.  Oh, and Chris Paul is going to eat him alive in the half-court.  Oh, and in the open court too.

Bench: Thabeet, Arthur, Sam Young, Iverson, Taylor vs Armstrong, Posey, Stojakovic, Thornton, Brown/Collison
Thabeet and Young have yet to have a good pre-season game.  Not even one.  Taylor is essentially Bobby Brown: small, fast and overly fond of scoring.  Iverson will score.  That’s about all I can say about the Grizzlies second unit.  Of course, I expect Thornton, Stojakovic, Posey and Brown will all score as well, and probably at the same level of efficiency as Iverson.

In all, I don’t expect the Grizzlies to be better this year than they were last year, and West and Paul will continue to earn career highs against them.

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