Dave Joerger came in last season as the Memphis Grizzlies‘ new head coach to replace Lionel Hollins. Hollins had successfully built the Grizzlies into a postseason powerhouse while he was there, as he played to the strengths of the roster he had around him while injecting his intensity into the team on defense. Hollins played a slower tempo and did not force things with his perimeter players. Rather, he allowed the offense to be run through his two big men Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. Even though the Grizzlies have not been the best scoring offense in the NBA, the team has found success when the ball has been in the hands of either Randolph or Gasol.
Joerger never ignored his two big men. In fact, in the half court, Joerger still ran a lot of plays through Gasol, who is arguably one of the best big men playing at the high post next to Joakim Noah due to his ability to pass the ball as well as hit the mid-range jump shot with ease. Joerger’s half court offensive sets were very similar to what Hollins ran, but where Joerger differed was his beliefs in pushing the tempo.
Joerger coached turnover defense, meaning that Joerger wanted the Grizzlies to come away with a steal or deflection in order to get the offense running in transition. This kind of play is great for wearing the other team down and getting easy scoring opportunities throughout the game, however, one has to have the right roster to be able to play at such a speed.
The Grizzlies are not that kind of roster.
The Grizzlies are not filled with all kinds of speed athletes. Point guard Mike Conley is one of the faster guards in the NBA, but outside of him the team does not have any truly elite athleticism. The Grizzlies are built to be a half-court team that runs the offense through its bigs. Hollins had success, and Joerger should have taken note of that all season long. When the Grizzlies played at a faster pace at the beginning of last season, the team struggled to be consistent on both ends of the floor. When Joerger gave in and slowed things down, the team performed like it had in the past, and made a huge push to end up as the seventh seed in the playoffs.
Joerger is a talented young coach with a lot of good sets on both ends of the floor. What Joerger is learning is that he needs to play to the strengths of his team, even if that means changing up some of his philosophies. It paid dividends later in the season, and if he can continue to follow those same philosophies, then the Grizzlies will be a tough team to beat once again in the Western Conference.