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Can a rookie make a good team into a contender?
The Grizzlies are a good team. They've been in the playoffs in the competitive Western conference for 3 straight years, averaging 48 wins/year. On the other hand, they have obviously not been true contenders because they've been swept in the first round in each of those 3 years.

Grizzlies exec Jerry West recently referred to their teams for the past few years as "patchwork line-ups", suggesting that his draft strategy this year (which landed the Grizz Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry, and Alexander Johnson) would be the key to turning the ship around and getting the team into the championship hunt.

My question is: can a rookie (or group of rookies) be the immediate difference between a "good" team and a "contender"? We've had plenty of recent examples of rookies coming in and helping lead poorer teams into playoff contention (Paul with NOK, Gordon with Chi, Wade with Miami, Melo with Denver to name some), but rarely do you see a rookie come in and take a playoff team to the next level.

Now part of that is that the potential impact rookies rarely go to playoff teams, since generally it's the bottom feeders picking at the top of the draft. But even recent instances of playoff teams getting high draft picks (Pistons - Darko one recent example) rarely result in the rookie coming in and making a difference.

I think there are 3 main things that a rookie needs to be an impact player: talent, mindset, and opportunity. Paul, Gordon, Wade, and Melo were all strong in all 3 of those areas, so they were able to make their mark. Darko, on the other hand, didn't have the opportunity or seemingly the mindset so he languished on the bench and eventually got moved.

Plus, "impact" rookies normally come in as the best player on their team from day 1, so their coaches/teammates are more willing to let them stumble a few times on their way up the rookie learning curve. On good teams, though, even rookies with the talent and the mindset usually have only a limited opportunity because good teams rarely have the patience to deal with many rookie mistakes.

So back to Gay. I think he's in a unique situation, because the Grizzlies are one of the few "good" teams that still have plenty of opportunity for him. They have a star already in Gasol, but he's arguably a secondary star more than a superstar so they know they need another co-star. Plus, the Grizz are SO filled with vets that they can better absorb Gay's rookie mistakes and mentor him to get him up to speed quicker. And finally, because they've been swept 3 straight years and know they need change, they're less likely to be impatient while the rookie learns since they probably understand that they really NEED him to develop into a star. In terms of situation, Gay to the Grizz could be comparable to perhaps the last rookie difference-maker on a good team, Duncan to the Spurs.

Gay clearly has the talent. It looks like he's gonna have the opportunity. It seems to me that the only question remaining is, does he have the mindset to come in from day one and accept co-leadership of a winning team? Duncan did, but he was a 4-year college player and is one of the best players of all-time. Does Gay have that in him? For the Grizzlies contending hopes this season, that is the million-dollar question...

Posted by Drez, The non-Wolves Professor at 7/27/2006 10:05:00 AM
Comments (0)

Iverson staying put?
Does anyone believe he will actually stay with the 76ers or is this just an attempt by GM Billy King to try to lure more value in for his star player? I can't see the 76ers keeping him when they have a chance to get some good younger players in exchange.

Posted by cat at 7/27/2006 9:09:00 AM
Comments (2)

Who is Mike James?
When trying to figure out what kinds of fantasy contributions to expect from James on the Wolves this year, one question to consider is: Did James produce numbers that led to wins for the Raptors, or was he just inflating his stats on a bad team (inflated stats probably wouldn't translate well to a new situation)? The surface observation is that the Raps only had 27 wins so clearly his numbers didn't help that much. But this hasn't really been looked at in-depth, so let's see what we come up with when we look closer...

The Raptors season was crazy, in that they went 1-15 to start the year, then finished the year 1-12. So they began/ended the year 2-27, but over the middle majority of the year they were basically a .500 team (25-28). Why the wild swings at the start and finish? Let's take a look.

In Nov. the team was full of youngsters and new starters, and they basically stunk until they learned how to play together. James had just been traded there right before the season, and in his first real starting gig both the team and James seemed to have growing pains. James was a solid shooter/scorer (16 pts/46% FG/41% 3-ptr) but not a big distributor (only 4.4 assists/game) and really a very secondary option.

In December, the Raps and James both seemed to start tentatively finding their way to respectability. Still inconsistent, but the teams wins/losses started to track well with James' performance. In the losses, James only averaged 11 points and 2.7 apg, but in the wins he bumped that up to 19 pts and 6.7 apg. Maybe he finally was settling into his starting role, because from then on his output got much more consistent.

For half the season, from Jan. until the end of March when Bosh got hurt (38 games), James hit his stride as a main offensive option (second only to Bosh) and started consistently putting up great numbers on a decently successful young team. He averaged 22 pts on outstanding shooting (49% FG, 46% 3-ptrs) and kept his assists at the 6.7 apg mark which seemed to lead to the early wins.

Bosh got hurt at the end of March. In 9 April games James' scoring went up (27.6 ppg) but assists went down slightly (6.1 apg)...which makes sense with the main franchise player being out. James had more scoring responsibility and fewer assist options. He still shot outstanding, though, hitting 47% of his FGs and 50% from the 3-point line.

Upon further review, it doesn't appear to me that James' numbers were hollow at all. Once he got settled in, James was consistent and efficient for the rest of the year. He helped Bosh lead a young, inexperienced team to a respectable 25-28 majority-season run. Without the 1-15 early season adjustment period and the 1-12 late season Bosh-less stretch, the Raps' winning percentage over the other 53 games would have had them challenging for the playoffs. And most of those wins came with James as the definite #2 option, scoring over 20 points with almost 7 assists per on very good shooting.

The 28 ppg month of April was probably a filler anomoly, and it is unlikely (though not impossible) that James shoots nearly 50% from both the field and the 3-point line for most of another season. Also, the Wolves have more scoring options (KG, Ricky Davis, Foye, eventually McCants) than the Raptors did last season which means that James would probably be hard-pressed to replicate his 20 ppg. But in a Wolves offense that generally is PG-heavy, averages of 18 ppg and 6 apg on solid shooting percentages (46%/40%/80%) would not be unexpected...

Posted by Drz, The Analytical Professor at 7/26/2006 11:46:00 AM
Comments (5)

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