In case you haven’t heard the news, the Memphis Grizzlies determined Lionel Hollins’ replacement on Monday. In fact, it was Hollins’ top assistant in Memphis, Dave Joerger.
The decision to replace Hollins was made in spite of the fact that the team reached the Western Conference Finals for the first time ever this past season. He clashed with the front office over a number of things and this most notably included the advanced statistics which were recently made part of the front office’s new strategy. Memphis instead went with Joerger, who is known to be much more open to analytics.
Let’s shift away from the Joerger storyline for a moment, and instead turn our eyes to a pair of Grizzlies forwards: Darrell Arthur and Ed Davis. Arthur has been with the team since he played his first NBA game five years ago. Davis, meanwhile, has been with the team for just a little less than five months, having been sent to Memphis from Toronto as part of the Rudy Gay trade.
Behind Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, two of the team’s stars in the frontcourt, Arthur and Davis have seemed to cancel each other out. They’ve been locked into a timeshare for whatever minutes there are to be played–since Davis joined the team, Arthur has averaged just 14.8 minutes per game, while Davis himself has averaged 15.1.
Interestingly, Davis had been coming into his own in Toronto before joining the Grizzlies. After a mostly unremarkable start to his career since being drafted 13th in 2010, Davis had claimed a starting role in the Raptors’ frontcourt following an Andrea Bargnani injury. Seeing more minutes than ever before in his career, Davis upped his production significantly and proved to be a reliable 12-and-8 player when given starter’s minutes, with plenty of room to continue and develop. It was very likely that this stretch was when Memphis developed an interest in him, and eventually traded for him alongside Tayshaun Prince.
That said, Davis’ playing time was significantly less in Memphis than in Toronto. Obviously, Z-Bo and Gasol were going to be starting over him, but Hollins was hesitant even to play him over Darrell Arthur. Davis’ impact with the Grizzlies was very underwhelming, particularly after what he had been able to do with the Raptors. The Rudy Gay trade was more about offloading Gay’s contract than anything else, but I would think that the front office would have hoped to see a little more from Davis considering he was the young upside they chose to take back for Gay.
The hiring of Joerger, however, throws a wrench into the timeshare between Arthur and Gay. Obviously last season, it was Hollins calling the shots on playing time, and he chose to play Arthur and Davis for a similar amount of time. As most of us know, Hollins rarely chooses to play his young players big minutes. While Davis is just one year younger than Arthur, he’s been in the NBA for two years less and has spent noticeably less time with the organization.
As a former D-League coach, Joerger seems a little more likely to have faith in young players. Davis might have an easier time convincing Joerger to give him significantly more playing time than Arthur than he would with Hollins as the coach. Provided he was the better player, of course.
That takes us full circle–right back to advanced stats. With advanced stats, we can get some idea of who the better player might be. It’d be foolish to put complete faith into the numbers without paying attention to observations made from studying actual games, but provided Joerger can use them properly, he can use them as a valuable aid in his judgments.
Looking at the advanced stats between Ed Davis (using his Grizzlies stats only, for the sake of reducing the number of variables in playing for different teams) and Darrell Arthur, we can make a couple of observations. Look at Basketball-Reference’s advanced stats for each (usage rate and win shares omitted; the former isn’t relevant to the topic at hand and the latter doesn’t account for the significant difference in games played):
(Refer to Basketball-Reference’s glossary for the definitions of each stat)
You may notice that Davis leads Arthur in every advanced stat except for assist percentage and steal percentage, being tied with him in the latter. For a big man, those stats are hardly important. Now, stats can’t see everything and the Grizzlies will be looking at more metrics and analytics than just what’s on this table, but that Davis rates better than Arthur across the board seems to make a pretty defined statement nonetheless.
Let’s look at Player Efficiency Rating, a metric used to determine the overall value of a player. (An interesting side note: John Hollinger, the Grizzlies’ Vice President of Basketball Operations, developed this stat, which could have actual repercussions on how the team takes advantage of it.) Davis had a 17.2 PER last seasons, compared to Arthur with 11.8. For comparison, the PER of an average NBA player is considered to be 15.0.
In the end, it all comes down to this: the timeshare between Darrell Arthur and Ed Davis is about to see change. Almost every sign points to Davis taking on a significantly larger role next season. The new coach, his familiarity with young players, the advanced stats–they all support Davis taking a large chunk of Arthur’s playing time next season.
Although it’d be unlikely for the Grizzlies to take the radical approach and completely overturn the team’s strategy in one offseason, especially after one of their most successful seasons ever, subtle winds of change are blowing in Memphis. Dave Joerger’s hiring comes only as confirmation of this. The short-lived and uncomfortable saga of Darrell Arthur and Ed Davis is very likely on the brink of a new chapter, and it’ll be exciting to see how it affects the Grizzlies going forward.