It's that time of year again: the time where I actually write stuff about basketball on a semi-regular basis and post it here.
Seriously, though, the Grizzlies' 2014 preseason schedule starts this week with games against the Bucks, Rockets, and Hawks, and we're less than four weeks away from actual, meaningful basketball being played at the FedExForum. I know, right? I can't believe it either. It's been a weird summer—one that started with a Jason Levien-sized bang and ended with a whimper (sorry Hassan Whiteside and Luke Hancock signings). But: we all survived, and we're all back here again, contemplating the important things in life: basketball.
Sample Size Theatre: Quincy Pondexter Edition
Most of you know I used to be the managing editor over at SB Nation's Grizzly Bear Blues. I still keep up with what's going on over there, of course, and I try not to link over there too much because, y'know, nepotism and favoritism and all that kind of stuff. But this piece by my friend Matt Hrdlicka got me thinking and, really, stepped all over a thing I had half-written but not posted yet about some of the same stuff he talks about.
The main topic on which we mostly agreed? Quincy Pondexter, who signed a 4-year deal with the Grizzlies before last season after playing out of his mind in the playoffs (and especially the Western Conference Finals) the season before. Since signing that contract, there's been a lot of talk about Pondexter as a potential answer to the Grizzlies' ever-looming question marks at the small forward spot, starting in the place of Tayshaun Prince and/or sliding over to the 2 spot so someone else could take the 3.
It's an idea with merit, because Pondexter—according to the narrative and at a surface glance—looks like the kind of 3-and-D wing the Grizzlies need to keep the offense going around Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, somebody to stretch the floor a little bit and contribute to the Grizzlies' stifling perimeter defense.
There's a catch, though, which Hrdlicka points out in his piece, and which I ended up spending a lot of time thinking about (and poring over stats) last week: we don't actually know whether Pondexter is an above-average shooter or not, and his defense isn't that great.
I hear you saying it: "What do you mean we don't know if he's a good 3-point shooter? Didn't you watch the 2013 playoffs?" and yes, I did, but: read this Darryl Blackport piece for Nylon Calculus called How Long Does It Take For Three Point Shooting To Stabilize? and come back. Basically, even after 750 3-point attempts, a player's percentage is still only 50% skill and 50% noise. In other words, it doesn't mean much—it only tells you how the player did on his first 750 attempts. It's not an indicator of how the next 750 attempts are going to go; he could improve, he could get worse. That's 750 attempts, and Pondexter has only attempted 309 three-pointers in his whole career so far. Which means, statistically, that Pondexter isn't even halfway to the number of attempts at which that percentage would be 50% noise. Which means that Pondexter might be the greatest 3-point shooter in history, or he might be a terrible 3-point shooter who got hot from the corners for a season. We don't know. It takes a long time for an NBA player to take enough attempts for his percentage to be a good indicator of future success.
And then there's defense. Pondexter is well-liked for his hustle, which is undeniable, but how good is it really? Good enough for him to garner a reputation as a "3-and-D" player? Maybe. Early signs suggest he's no Shane Battier, one of the best 3-and-D guys in recent memory. Again: we don't know. He's shown flashes, but he's only had two seasons with a positive net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) and one of those was only +1. He's not a "turn the water off" guy, and it's doubtful that he can become that kind of a defensive stopper. With Pondexter, it's just more that he's not bad at it.
Pondexter is a guy that likes to talk about having a chip on his shoulder and playing to prove things to people (like when he was rated as the worst player in the league by NBA 2K14, but last season, at the beginning (before his season-ending injury), he tried to be a playmaker, attacking the rim instead of shooting jump shots, and was an absolute disaster. Does his image of the player he should be match up with his actual skills? Can he step up and prove once and for all that he's a dependable rotation player, or even a starter in the NBA?
He's clearly going to get some run this year, seemingly, but will he be able to capitalize on it and actually become who the Grizzlies need and/or want him to be? We just don't know. We do know this year is probably make-or-break for his tenure with the Grizzlies, especially as an aspiring starter, but beyond that... Pondexter has a lot of questions to answer. Here's hoping that he can find a groove this year.
Basketball Games! Against other teams and stuff! For real!
The Grizzlies open their preseason schedule with a road back-to-back (which seems especially cruel) Wednesday and Thursday nights against the Milwaukee Bucks (in Green Bay) and the Houston Rockets. Milwaukee is looking to be especially terrible this year, but they have Jabari Parker, they have Jason Kidd for a head coach now (though it remains to be seen whether he's), and they have Giannis Antetokounmpo, the "Greek Freak," who I think is one of the most fun-to-watch young players in the league. You can tell he's still figuring out what he's capable of, and he's going to be capable of a lot. Oh, and O.J. Mayo plays for the Bucks, so it'll be interesting to see whether he's
been eating cheeseburgers all summer gotten himself back into condition after clearly not giving two craps last year.
As for the Rockets, the feared Southwest Division Rocketpocalypse of landing a LeBron James or Chris Bosh this summer didn't happen, so they still "just" have James Harden and Dwight Howard to build around. Harden's defense was horrific during the FIBA World Cup this summer—even worse than it was during the playoffs last year—so one wonders if he's even going to bother trying to play it this year. Meanwhile, Marc Gasol almost always demolishes Dwight Howard, who is really not as tall as you think he should be. But who am I kidding? Those guys aren't going to be playing much in a preseason game, especially on a back to back for the Grizzlies. So look forward to seeing Jarnell Stokes and Jordan Adams rack up some minutes against whoever the Rockets signed this summer.
The real treat this week is the first home preseason game, on Saturday night against the Atlanta Hawks. Al Horford is back for Atlanta after missing a big chunk of last season with a torn pectoral muscle, and Horford is a great basketball player, so that was a bummer. For what it's worth, I'm looking forward to getting back into the Grindhouse for an actual game between two different teams, even if it doesn't matter much. It'll be fun, and beautiful, and a long-awaited return to spend some time with my (and our) old friends, the Memphis Grizzlies. That October 29th game against the Timberwolves will be here before you know it.