Preview: Warriors vs. Grizzlies - for some of the marbles!
BONUS: Q&A with Brendan Smart, of Grizzly Bear Blues
The Golden State Warriors’ rocky 2021 regular season campaign will draw to a close this afternoon as they host the Memphis Grizzlies. The winner today goes home with the 8th seed - and a more advantageous path to a playoff berth. The loser gets bumped down to the 9th seed, with a tricky “two wins and no losses” path to make it into the playoffs.
The NBA has released the play-in tournament schedule, so even though we don’t yet know where all the teams go, here’s the overview:
WHO: Golden State Warriors () vs Memphis Grizzlies
WHEN: Sunday, May 16th, 2021 // 12:30pm PST
The path to victory
Even as I melted down over the Durant—> DLo —> Wiggins trade cascade, calmer voices were preaching caution. It’s funny looking back at that article, because Daniel Hardee was prescient not just about Wiggins’ time in Golden State - but also so much about what the road map entailed.
A.) Faith in the Warriors front office.
B.) The knowledge that Wiggins is joining three future hall-of-famers in their primes.
Starting with the second point, this season’s roster has made abundantly clear just how strong of a lift Stephen Curry and Draymond Green provide, regardless of who shares the court with them. The outcome of today’s game will rest heavily on the shoulders of Curry and Green - two sets of shoulders that have become accustomed to - or even dependent on - that weight. Throughout this season, both of the champs have been playing like there’s something a little bit extra on the line.
Curry is averaging the most points per game of his career, while maintaining the elite efficiency that reminds everyone that Curry isn’t just going to visit his peak and then start back down; by all appearances, he looks like he’ll be hanging out at the apex of his career for a while.
Green has likewise delivered one of his best seasons ever. Though the scoring has continued to evaporate, Green’s contributions everywhere else keep him amongst the league’s elite when it comes to overall impact. Here he is recently, with The Athletic’s Sam Amick, talking about his ability to detonate opponents’ entire offensive scheme:
“I mean, I always think I should be there and in the conversation [for DPOY] because of what I do on the defensive side of the ball. One thing I am certain of is that I can fuck up an entire team’s offense. And so, when you look at the impact that I have on the defensive side of the ball, it’s not always going to show up in blocked shots. It’s not always going to show up in steals. But I guarantee you it shows up in your favorite-player-who-I-may-be-playing-against’s mind.”
So if Curry is exploding their opponents defensive schemes, and Green is exploding the opposing offense, then it’s easy to see how short the bridge needs to be in order to compete against most teams.
Which brings us back to Mr. Hardee’s first point above, “faith in the Warriors front office.” To illustrate this point, I’d like to show you all the Warriors’ best players, sorted by net impact. Note, these are from Cleaning the Glass, which ignores garbage time (so values may be slightly different than those shown elsewhere):
Sure, Curry and Green are at the top, but look at the others that are helping the team the most. Kent Bazemore was brought back in by the front office after some very forgettable stints in Portland and Sacramento. He’s on a minimum contract. So too is Juan Toscano-Anderson, a guy the front office plucked from fringes and patiently utilized often enough to be able to recognize what a gem he was. Looney is another bargain player with high quality impact that doesn’t put up big box score numbers.
And though the Warriors’ front office is far from infallible, it behooves those of us with a platform to remind the masses that critical bench player, Jordan Poole was found with the 28th pick. Now, the Warriors’ egalitarian system isn’t for everyone. From McKinnie to Casspi, there have been plenty of players that have passed through and just as quickly faded into the sunset - but this roster is a testament to the front office’s ability to reinvent the roster on the fly, with limited assets. We don’t need to ignore the misses, to recognize the hits.
Two-man weave: A conversation with Brendan Smart
Hey Brendan, thanks for doing this! Let’s just jump right in since everyone knows the stakes for this game. Starting with the bottom line up front: what has to break the Grizzlies’ way in order for them to win this game?
The big thing for the Grizzlies will be how their starting five starts the game. Adding Jaren Jackson Jr., back to the starting five has been huge as the regular season has concluded. Jaren has produced well, but he will have to stay out of foul trouble. The Grizzlies as a whole have to take control of the game, and dictate the pace of the game as you know Golden State likes to play with pace as well. I’m really excited to see the matchup between Dillon Brooks and Steph Curry. Grizzlies dictate pace, and I like their chances.
This is why I love doing these with people who know their teams well. Can you please spend a moment selling me on Jaren Jackson? Some stats: his on/off impact (according to Cleaning the Glass) is -17 points per 100 possessions. That’s bad. They list him as in the bottom 2% of the league in net impact. He also doesn’t appear to score efficiently (close to bottom third in points scored per attempt), doesn’t assist much, and is a bad rebounder… again, all based on a quick review of Cleaning the Glass stats.
Is his defense that nice? What might a blog boi like me be seeing from the outside?
Jaren Jackson Jr. is something we have never seen before. One thing that handicaps Jaren at times is his fouling, and defending at the rim. Staying vertical is something he is getting better at, but his true strength is his offensive versatility. He can literally score anywhere on the floor. Looking at his rebounding numbers, he isn’t the best rebounding big, but sharing the floor with Jonas Valanciunas doesn’t help matters out either. The kid is special, but which direction he takes those talents will be interesting for sure. He impacts the game in a positive aspect, and will have an impact on screens Sunday when Curry is involved. (Hopefully)
Ok, I’ll reserve judgement on young JJJ. But let’s pull the focus back and shift gears to a broader discussion of matchups. This is a Memphis team that won five of their last six games going against a red hot Warriors team that has won four in a row, and six of their last seven. From a direct player-to-player matchup, where do you think the Grizzlies are going to look to attack most frequently?
And on the flip side of that, what plays are going to cause you to start shaking your head in the negative, like that “not like this” lady from The Matrix?
I think that it will be a tale of two bench units. The Grizzlies have one of the higher scoring bench units in the NBA. If you’re looking strictly at 1-1 matchups, I don’t know who can guard and contain Jonas Valanciunas in the post. His game has grown so much, that if you double the post, his passing ability is just as good. Valanciunas is the only real mismatch that I see that either team can look to exploit. Easy answer is Steph Curry, but he will be guarded full court by Dillon Brooks. I think Curry does his thing, but just looking at overall roster - who joins Steph in the scoring Column?
Rather than a silly prediction (Dubs win, 113-107), I’d like to use this space to present some data on todays game.
First of all, here’s a comparison between the Warriors and Grizzlies offensive play type data (from Synergy).
The Warriors have been utilizing a lot more screens, handoffs and cuts - which makes sense when you watch this offense. By contrast, Memphis is a heavy attacker off the pick-and-roll, and those offensive rebounds are exactly why I agree with Smart’s take on the threat that Valanciunas represents in the post.
In fact, that offensive rebounding number is one of the primary concerns today. Here are some select data (from basketball reference) showing team pace, shooting, and a couple areas of concern. Note that while the Warriors appear to have a significant offensive advantage over the Grizzlies, they are going to have to contend with some rebounding and turnover discrepancies.
This is game holds enough importance to get me nervous. I’ve missed stress-watching important playoff games, so hopefully the Warriors get through today, and push deep into the post season.