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Just The Sports: 2011-04-10

Just The Sports

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Rudy Gay Is Not That Valuable To The Memphis Grizzlies

Even though Rudy Gay played the best basketball of his career this season in his 54 games before suffering a season-ending injury, there cannot help but be some doubt in the Memphis Grizzlies organization about the decision to award Gay a maximum contract extension. The doubt has surely crept in because of how little the Grizzlies have missed Gay over the past 28 contests. In fact, the Grizzlies have actually played better without Gay in the line-up.

Over the course of the 54 games in which Gay was in the line-up for the Grizzlies, Memphis outscored their opponents by 2.0 points per 100 possessions. Yet, in the 28 games in which the Grizzlies did not have Gay, they outscored their opponents by 3.6 points per 100 possessions, games which include the last two contests of the season where the Grizzlies were not even trying to win.

There was no single statistical category in which the Grizzlies became worse when they played without their second-highest paid player.

The way in which the Grizzlies have easily been able to survive without Gay is reflected in the fact he has been just the fourth most valuable player for the Grizzlies in terms of win shares per 48 minutes behind Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Tony Allen.

Despite Rudy Gay playing better than ever before, he has been just another guy for the Grizzlies this season, and maximum contract guys are supposed to be so much more than that.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Shaka Smart's True Coaching Ability Is Still To Be Determined

North Carolina State should not feel too disappointed that Virginia Commonwealth basketball head coach Shaka Smart turned down a job offer to coach the Wolfpack. In the end, it might be a blessing in disguise because the jury is still out on just how good a coach Shaka Smart truly is.

The excitement that surrounded Virginia Commonwealth's road to the Final Four covered up both the advantages Smart had this season with his team and also where the Rams came up short even with those advantages.

This past season, Smart's Virginia Commonwealth squad enjoyed a roster stability of .81, meaning that 81 percent of the team's minutes were played by players who were on the roster last year. That is the equivalent of losing just one position player and should have set up the Rams to have a better season than they did last year.

Yet, despite having such a veteran squad and winning their five out of their last six games, the Rams were not as dominant as the 2009-10 team. This past season, the Rams outscored their opponents by 7.4 points per 100 possessions, but last season, the Rams outscored their opponents by 14.2 points per 100 possessions.

They might not have had as much national exposure as the 2010-11 team, but they were better over the course of the season. However, even the accomplishments of the 2009-10 roster that went on to win the CBI championship are made a little less noteworthy by the fact that the team also had a lot of experience; the roster stability in 2009-10 was .80.

In his two seasons as a college basketball head coach, Smart has enjoyed an amazingly high level of roster stability, which usually makes a head coach look better because the longer a group of players stays together, the better that group will perform. Therefore, Smart deserves some criticism for the fact Virginia Commonwealth had a less dominant season than last year since the team should have been expected to at least maintain their level of play if not improve due to the overwhelming veteran presence on the roster.

Of course, Smart's luck will run out next year and he will actually have to prove to everyone he can build a winning program across multiple seasons. This season, 54 percent of the team's minutes were played by seniors so for the first time next season, Smart will be working with a team that is not so veteran-laden. How his teams perform over the next couple seasons will go a long way in allowing us to truly gauge his coaching acumen and determining his level of competence in actually building a successful college basketball program.

Smart's situation is very similar to that of current Virginia basketball head coach Tony Bennett. He, too, enjoyed the benefit of having great roster stability his first two seasons as a head coach at Washington State.

His first team in 2007-08 had a roster stability of .85 and outscored opponents by 12.2 points per 100 possessions. His second team in 2008-09 had an astounding roster stability of .98 and outscored opponents by 17.0 points per 100 possessions.

Then, in his third season, Bennett's team's roster stability dropped to .63 and when he needed to coach his best, he was not up to the task. That squad managed to outscore opponents by only 6.5 points per 100 possessions. It was in his third season where we first glimpsed that Bennett was not necessarily that great a coach and was only a product of having such veteran-laden teams in his first two seasons.

The Virginia Cavaliers decided to ignore that glimpse and hire Bennett anyway. They were rewarded by having him coach a team with a roster stability of .90 that outscored their opponents by 5.4 points per 100 possessions, which was an improvement, although an expected one no matter who was coaching the team, over how the Cavaliers had played the previous season.

In this past season, however, with a roster stability of .62, the Cavaliers were outscored by .9 points per 100 possessions, demonstrating once again the fact that Bennett struggles whenever he does not have an abundance of veteran talent on his roster. It is his failure in that aspect that will keep him from being a good coach.

Smart will have to avoid the same fate that has befallen Bennett to truly earn the accolades that have been showered upon him thus far, and we will all have to wait and see just how good a coach Smart really is, starting with next season.

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Monday, April 11, 2011

Blake Griffin Should Never Have Defended Former Oklahoma Basketball Coach Jeff Capel

Blake Griffin can complain about and defend Oklahoma's decision to fire former basketball head coach Jeff Capel all he wants, but that will not change the truth of the situation. Capel's firing was completely warranted for the simple fact that he failed at the most basic aspect of coaching college sports; Capel failed to reload his roster and sustain success.

The best coaches and those who have the most job security are those who are able to replace star players with more star players and maintain a constant level of elite play from their teams across multiple seasons. Those who are fired after a couple of seasons are the ones who are unable to do so.

Capel falls into the latter category because he was never able to duplicate the success he had when Blake Griffin was on the court for him. In the 68 games during which Griffin played for Oklahoma, the Sooners outscored their opponents by 12.0 points per 100 possessions.

In the subsequent 63 games the Oklahoma Sooners have played, they have been outscored by 2.9 points per 100 possessions so his teams have been 14.9 points per 100 possessions worse since Griffin left for the NBA.

The differences between the offensive ratings (from 110.9 points per 100 possessions to 105.3 points per 100 possessions) and defensive ratings (98.9 points per 100 possessions to 108.2 points per 100 possessions) from the Blake Griffin era to the post-Blake Griffin era were both statistically significant ones.

Unfortunately for the Sooners, they forgot both how to score and defend in a proficient manner over the past two seasons.

Even without the decline the Sooners experienced after Griffin left Oklahoma, Capel deserved to be fired because his teams were not even equaling his first year in Norman, Oklahoma. Capel's first-year record of 16-15 was pretty misleading because despite having a record just a little bit above .500, the Sooners still outscored their opponents by 13.8 points per 100 possessions thanks to some really impressive blowout wins. They did not come close to that over the past two seasons.

Although Capel's struggles after Griffin left is the most readily apparent line of demarcation in his coaching tenure at Oklahoma, his last two teams have left a lot to be desired compared to his first Oklahoma team.

No matter what kind of coach Griffin believes Capel is, there is no denying he has been mediocre at assembling a successful basketball program over the past two seasons and deserved to be fired.

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