Before Tipoff: Responding to J.A. Adande on the Clippers-Memphis Series

USA TODAY Sports

We're set to tip off shortly for Game 1 of what's sure to be another classic series between the Grizzlies and the Clippers, but before we start, I wanted to respond to a recent J.A. Adande article that ESPN published, in which he analyzed the Clippers-Memphis series.

First, here's a link to the article. It's about which key players have the most to prove in their respective series--in this case, Blake Griffin--and how the series will eventually be decided.

Player with most at stake: Blake Griffin

Let's first break down some of Adande's points:

It's time for him to do more than dunk, and time for him to play up to the All-Star status twice bestowed on him.
Can't say we haven't heard this tired old line before. I think we've all seen Blake show that he can do a heck of a lot more than dunk. Let's move on.

Griffin has spent hours extending his shooting range and improving his free throws, but it doesn't always show up in games. There's a bridge he needs to make between practice work and real-world application.
What? It doesn't always show up in games? Perhaps he means that Blake could use more consistency from the perimeter, as there are days when he looks perfect from outside, and days where he can't seem to figure it out. But if that's what Adande meant, why not just say that? But then he goes on to talk about a "bridge" between practice work and real-world application, which leads me to believe he thinks Blake makes his free throws in the gym, but not in games. Which, of course, is completely ludicrous. I'm just going to assume Adande hasn't been watching the Clippers much.

Most of his analysis on Blake was fine, though. This isn't really where I felt the need to respond to. It's the next part that I felt needed... completing.

How the series will be decided

How the series will be decided: The line of demarcation stat category to watch is the same as in last year's matchup, even if neither team is quite as elite. Last season, the Grizzlies forced the most opponent turnovers in the league, while the Clippers ranked second in protecting the ball. This season, the Grizzlies were sixth in turnovers forced, while the Clippers dropped to the middle of the pack in turnovers allowed.
So while those statistics Adande has given are correct, he, like many other ESPN writers not named Kevin Pelton, is forgetting to tell the other half of the story, which is why he thinks that both the Clippers and Grizzlies have regressed from last year in these categories. That's not entirely true: The Clippers went from 16th in turnovers forced to 1st. And on the flip side, the Grizzlies went from 14th in turnovers committed to 5th. So both teams have, in some ways, flipped the script.

The Clippers have become extremely elite at forcing turnovers, and kind of mediocre at protecting the ball. The Grizzlies have gone from extremely elite at forcing turnovers to very good, and from mediocre at protecting the ball to very good as well. So you'd think that the Grizzlies would be the one improved on last season, right? Well, I think it makes more sense to look at turnover differential. That is, how many more turnovers you force than you commit--or put in simpler terms: how many extra possessions you get over your opponent. * The Clippers now have a turnover differential of +1.48 more turnovers forced per game than committed, up from +1.31 last year. * The Grizzlies now have a turnover differential of +1.52 more turnovers forced per game than committed, down from +2.65 last year.

So actually, the Clippers are more elite than last year as far as TO differential goes, while the Grizzlies are less elite than last year, because they were ridiculously elite last year in getting these extra possessions. Overall, the Grizzlies still edge out the Clippers in this category, but it's far closer than it was last year. What does that mean for this series? I think it means that either the Grizzlies are going to be even easier to take out of their offensive comfort zone (which Adande alludes to), OR it means that the Grizzlies have adapted and have learned to be a better team without relying on turnovers so much. Let's hope it's not the latter.

For reference, the top 5 in TO differential this year is New York, Miluakee, Miami, Memphis, and the Clippers (New York is WAY above everyone else, with a differential of +3.10).

The Clippers, meanwhile, could miss two players who aren't known for their scoring: Kenyon Martin and Reggie Evans. They were exactly the kind of tough guys a team needs to deal with the physical Grizzlies. Look for Ryan Hollins to play an important role. In a series that will feature a lot of shoving, Hollins is the only Clipper inclined to push someone to the ground.
Although I understand where Adande is coming from here, I disagree with his reasoning. It's not just about being tough against the Grizzlies; it's about being able to execute an offense against a swarming defense that tries to contest every shot. When the Clippers played Kenyon and Reggie at the same time, there was essentially no offensive production coming from the front court. When Odom is in the game, an additional facilitator is added who can create offense for the rest of the team--including Ryan Hollins, who is DJ-efficient right now on offense. Sure, Reggie's rebounding is missed, but overall it's not a huge difference if you look at Odom-Hollins (18.2 REB per 36) vs Evans-Martin (19.6 REB per 36). Add in vastly superior rebounding from the SF position with Matt Barnes (6.4 REB per 36) over Nick Young (2.5 REB per 36), and I think the Clippers are still better off. Toughness will surely be missed from last year's squad, but let's hope it's not a necessity to beat the Grizzlies.

Anyway, those were my thoughts after reading the article. It's about half-an-hour til Game 1 starts, and I can't wait. Go Clippers!
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