MEMPHIS HOOPS: Six Takes After Six Games

Taking a page from The Daily Memphian’s Chris Herrington, six games does not complete the full college season, but it’s enough game-time to draw some early conclusions about this Tigers team.  To date, Memphis (3-3) has faced a range of lower-tier rebuilding cannon fodder (Canisius and TTU) to a middling Power 5 squad (Ok St) as well as a ranked team on the road (No. 22 LSU).  What can we extrapolate about this team so far?  I take the temperature of this young (and old?) Tigers team herein.

[NOTE: this analysis assesses only the 2018-2019 team and does not account for the significant successes Penny has obtained on the recruiting trail]

1.  Spoiler: This Team May Not Have the Personnel to Run the NBA Spread Offense.

Due to the recent success of the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors (and Penny, Mike Miller, and Sam Mitchell’s respective tenures in the pros), Penny intended to implement what’s commonly referred to as the NBA “spread offense.”

Specifically, this brand of offense uses lots of different wrinkles, secondary actions, and mis-directions, but the staple of each offense is the pick-and-roll with elite shooters around the arc. The simplicity of spread pick-and-roll is part of what makes it so effective. Shooters are able to spot up and prepare for an open catch-and-shoot three-pointer, while opening up the paint for their star player to attack off of the screen, force a switch and operate out of the post, or isolate against the mismatch from the top of the key.

The Tigers, however, are missing a few key components of a successful spread offense.  The first?  A James Harden-esque PG to initiate.  The second?  Actual shooters that make actual shots.

Let’s start with shooting (or lack thereof).  The list of Memphis players that shoot above .300 from deep on at least two attempts per game is as short as the player himself:

1. Tyler Harris (shooting an efficient 39% on 8.2 [!!!] attempts per game).

The next best shooter?

Kareem Brewton at 33% on exactly 2 attempts per game.

This unfortunate reality sparks the question: should Penny coach pursuant to his personnel and slow it down in an attempt to win more games this season, or should Penny install his offense and defensive philosophies this year (likely costing him a few games) until help arrives next season with the type of players that will be able to play his style?

I posed this exact question to some of #TigerNation:

SLIM, however, didn’t subscribe to one or the other.

The fact remains, the best starting line-up for this Tigers team (per ORtg) rating production is:

  1. Tyler Harris
  2. Kareem Brewton
  3. Jeremiah Martin
  4. Kyvon Davenport
  5. Mike Parks

I think Penny should make this change. Give ALo KB’s 15 minutes off the bench and give me a bottle of red and we’ll be rolling again.

2.  A Penny For Your Thoughts.

Nearly as interesting as the on-court product has been watching and observing Head Coach Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway patrolling the side-lines.

There’s not a substantial amount to report, but one thing of note is Penny clearly projects his emotions and telegraphs his thoughts via facial expressions — particularly the negative ones.

If his team turns their opponent over but then immediately gives the ball back by way of a bonehead pass, Penny looks frustrated.

If his team is on a fast break and one of this players misses a bunny at the rim, Penny does an about-face towards his bench helpless agony.

Memphis head coach Penny Hardaway (left) questions an officials foul call during action against the College of Charleston at the Advocate Invitational in Orlando Sunday, November 25, 2018.
Photo: Mark Weber/Commercial Appeal 

Not surprisingly, I believe Penny can’t help but be frustrated watching these players make mistakes that they’ve discussed and corrected numerous times in practice.  He especially has issues watching players fail to do things that he knows he could.  It may take some time before Penny realizes that these guys are not reincarnations of 1992  All American Penny Hardaway — either in size or skill.  Although, he’s looking to rectify the talent discrepancy as soon as next year.

3.  Adversity Breeds Adjustments.

After being demolished by Oklahoma State to the tune of twenty points, Penny hinted in his post-game presser that line-up adjustments would be imminent.  When the players took the court the next day against Canisius, gone were Kyvon Davenport and Isaiah Maurice from the starting lineup, and inserted were Raynere Thornton and Boogie Parks.

Rather than press and run-and-gun for forty minutes, Penny opted to play a slightly slower inside-out offense through Boogie in the post.  The immediate returns were positive.  The Tigers fed Boogie seemingly three straight offensive possessions and the man down low was eating.  He finished 7-8 from the field for 14 points and 5 boards.  Canisius did not have an answer for the bruising big man.  Kyvon responded similarly contributing a team-high 16 points off the bench.  However, for whatever reason (he only had 3 fouls), Boogie only played 17 minutes and was a non-factor in the second half — a curious result after his first-half success.

Penny trotted out the same lineup against Charleston to different results.

Boogie had only 3 FG attempts and totaled only 3 points.  The Tigers simply had no answer for Charleston’s Grant Riller, who torched Memphis for 32 points.  It seemed like every Charleston deep ball (though many were wide open looks) was destined to go in before it left the players’ hands.  This leads me to…

4.  DE-FENSE *clap clap* DE-FENSE *clap clap*.

Or, more appropriately, a lack thereof — the Tigers’ defense currently allows 78.5 PPG, bad enough to rank 303rd of 353 Division 1 teams in the country.  Translation: we’re not just a leaky dam with a thin trickle of water, we’re a gushing wide open and thundering river.

The list of + defenders on this Tigers team leaves much to be desired. Peso, Twann, and KB are the only three players on this team that boast a positive in offensive/defensive plus-minus (i.e., that are a net benefit both offensively and defensively when compared to an average player on an average team when they’re on the floor).  Penny needs to find a way to get these players on the floor more.

Image result for memphis tigers advocare invitational
Photo: Mark Weber/Commercial Appeal

5.  Offensive Rebounding, Huh?

One of the damndest things about this team is — despite the story-line that Memphis is undersized and can’t rebound with the big dogs — the Tigers have hauled in 84 offensive boards, good enough to be ranked 34th in the country.  Weirdly, ORBs are one of the few positive statistical categories in which Memphis ranks in the Top 100 (in addition to steals).

6.  KB & Mike “Boogie” Parks.

As hinted above, seniors KB and Boogie are statistically the best players on Memphis’ team.

Boogie is averaging 7.6 Pts, 3.6 Reb, 0.2 Ast in only 13 minutes.  Modest numbers to be sure, but the advanced metrics are more telling.  Per 100 possessions, Boogie’s offensive rating is 118.8 (good enough for best on the team) and he boasts a GAUDY 26.1 PER (player efficiency rating).  For comparison, LeBron James PER on the Lakers is 26.8.  Boogie needs more minutes.

Similarly, KB is averaging 7.5 Pts, 2.5 Reb, 2.0 Ast in 19 minutes.  Per 100 possessions, KB’s offensive rating is 111.1 (good enough for third best on the team) with a 98.1 defensive rating (team best among those who play actual minutes).  KB’s PER is 17, three points higher than the next best guard.

These dudes will help you win ball games (if that is indeed Penny’s main goal).

Memphis guard Kareem Brewton Jr. (left0 drives for a lay-up against College of Charleston defender Zep Jasper (right) during third day action in the Advocate Invitational in Orlando Sunday, November 25, 2018.
Photo: Mark Weber/Commercial Appeal

All told, this will be a long season.  But I can’t help but think…

Follow me @TheBarnChief and for other MEMPHIS content, check out the rest of The BarnBurner HERE.  #GoTigersGo

[banner image: Mark Weber/Commercial Appeal]

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