The Memphis Grizzlies in 2005-06

One curious feature of professional sports is the practice of a team changing cities but not changing its name. For example, one does not often think of Utah and Jazz, but the name made sense when the team was in New Orleans. The same story holds for the Lakers and LA or the Hornets and New Orleans. Again, the names only make sense if you are a student of NBA history and know where the franchise originated.

The Memphis Grizzlies originated in Vancouver, a fact that explains the team’s name (I am fairly certain that Memphis is not known for its bears). When this franchise was in Vancouver its name made sense. Every other feature of the team, though, had its problems. In six seasons the team won a total of 101 contests, or 22% of the games it played. This winning percentage works out to an average of 18 victories per season. If this was Canadian Football, that would be great. For the NBA, that’s not too good.

After six seasons torturing the good people of Vancouver, the Grizzlies departed for Memphis. In its first season – 2001-02 – the Grizzlies matched the franchise record for wins in a season, ending 23 contests with a victory. The next year the record was shattered as Memphis won 28 games. Then in 2003-04 the team won 50 games, an accomplishment yet to be enjoyed by Clipper fans (and that franchise has been around since the early 70s).

Since the magical season of 2003-04, though, Memphis looks to be running no where fast. In 2004-05 the team won 45 games. Last season the team posted 49 victories. Yes, the Grizzlies are good. But like fans everywhere, having seen good Memphis fans probably now want great. At the very least, Memphis fans would like to see this team win a playoff game, something that has yet to happen in team history (of course, had the team tried harder to lose to the Clippers at the end of last season, a playoff victory might have been seen in 2006).

When we look at the 2005-06 edition of this team, we do see some signs of greatness. Pau Gasol produced 14.1 wins and ranked 18th in the league in overall production. If Gasol was a center then he was the most productive center in the Western Conference last year. Of course, Gasol also spent time at power forward last year, so he is not strictly a center. Still, if he were, he is the best in the West.

For more greatness one has to look on the bench. Mike Miller produced 10.9 wins off the bench and was a well-deserving recipient of the 6th man of the year award. If we look at all players who played more than 1,000 minutes but started less than 15 games, Miller was the most productive.

If we look back at the starting line-up we see two “good” (although not “great”) players. Shane Battier and Eddie Jones were both above average players last year. Unfortunately Battier has since departed, having been traded to the Rockets for Stromile Swift and Rudy Gay.

Swift played for Memphis in 2004-05, and he was below average. Last year for the Rockets he was again below average. Now he is back with Memphis. And, at least at the start of the season, Swift may need to produce if this team is going to be successful.

Productivity from Swift is important because Gasol had an interesting summer vacation. Gasol spent his summer leading Spain to a World Championship in basketball. Although Gasol’s team took the title, he suffered an injury in the process. Consequently Memphis will enter the 2006-07 season without its most productive player.

If Gasol had stayed healthy the Grizzlies could have expected to come close to winning 50 games. The team might even have been good enough to win an actual playoff game. With Gasol expected to miss a significant part of the season, though, just making the playoffs might be a challenge. If he team does make the playoff field it might be able to win a playoff game. But in the very competitive Western Conference, winning a playoff series might be unrealistic.

Does this mean Memphis cannot have a “good” season this year? As we note in the book, whether something is “good” or “bad” depends upon your point of reference. If your reference point is the top teams in the West, Memphis will probably have a “bad” season. If your reference point is the Vancouver Grizzlies, then Memphis will indeed be “great” in 2006-07.

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

Wins Produced and Win Score are Discussed in the Following Posts

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

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