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Lionel Hollins criticizes analytics in radio interview

Memphis Grizzlies head coach Lionel Hollins criticized the shift towards analytics in the NBA and called it a "bad trait" of teams during a radio interview on Friday. It's an interesting opinion, considering the Grizzlies recently hired stats guru John Hollinger as their new vice president of basketball operations.


The rampant Rudy Gay trade rumors are making everyone in Memphis a bit crazy, but it's becoming clear that members of the team are particularly against any move to break up the core of the squad. Rudy Gay said he wants to stay in Memphis, and on Friday morning head coach Lionel Hollins expressed his displeasure with the idea of breaking up the team -- as well as his distrust of the underlying statistical arguments that support shipping out Gay -- during a radio interview on Sports 56 WHBQ in Memphis.

Hollins predictably came to the defense of his star small forward during the interview, but things got interesting when he started to express his opinion on the rise of analytics in the NBA. In short, Hollins doesn't think advanced statistical metrics and measures are fit to capture the contributions of a player like Rudy Gay. Here's a bit of what he had to say:

"The reality is that we have a very versatile small forward that is 6'9. There aren't many guys out there like that. He can post up, shoot from the perimeter [and] he can attack the basket. He defends LeBron James, he defendsKevin Durant and all these guys that are tall, and strong, and quick and athletic. We don't have another player on our rsoter with that versatility, and most teams don't. That's the bottom line."

"There are a lot of expectations that go with that contract, but as I've told all the players that sign a new contract, 'you are still the same player.' Obviously, the media and fans expect more, because you get paid more, but the reality is that everybody has a role. Andrei Kirilenko, for years, was a max player in Utah, but he was not the best player on that team. The leverage was such where he became a max player, and they kept him until his contract is up. He served a very valuable role. You can't knock players for getting contracts because they have leverage. That's what negotiating is all about."

Sometimes, circumstances dictate the kinds of shots you get. When we have marc and zach on the inside, it's hard to find a spot to put them when we want to post rudy more. Rudy's adjusted to that from day one. You hear people say that Rudy and Zach can't play together and they don't fit. They do fit! They need each other. Zach needs Rudy'sversatility, and Rudy needs Zach to post up and get rebounds.

"We get hung up on statistics a little too much, and I think that's a bad trait all over the league that's taken place. And the media has done it because it's easy to go to the stats to make a point or to build up a player or tear down a player. Just the analyzing, I see it every time listening to talk show radio. You've got guys spouting off stat after stat after stat. The bottom line is going out and contributing to your team for winning."

The back end of the comments strike an odd note, considering the Grizzlies recently hired stats guru and former-ESPN analytics expert John Hollinger as their new vice president of basketball operations last month. Not only is Hollinger a man who believes in the value of metrics like Player Efficiency Rating and adjusted plus-minus, he was also a prominent member of the media who used stats extensively during his time at ESPN. It's not news that an old-school coach is wary of the statistical revolution in basketball -- a game with so many moving parts and un-recorded events -- but he didn't stop there. It's probably worth setting the table with some context before exploring the rest of the interview, however.

The Grizzlies are up against a difficult salary cap situation next season -- they have committed $58 million to Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley for 2013-14 -- and something has to give for a small market team that is unlikely to pay penalties an increasingly aggressive luxury tax system.

Since Hollinger assumed his duties within the organization, Rudy Gay has been singled out in NBA trade rumors as the most likely player to depart. This is not a coincidence. Gay is the most expensive piece on a very good team, but most advanced metrics suggest he's not worth the price. The 26-year-old forward has a unique blend of size and athelticism that won't be easy to replace, but he's also owed roughly $37 million over the final two years years of contract. There isn't much evidence that Gay makes the Grizzlies markedly better when he's on the floor -- at least not according to adjusted plus-minus stats and other efficiency metrics -- so the money could be spent in different ways.

Here's what Hollins had to say about analytics as used by teams that 'pigeonhole' players:

"Analytics has a place. It can't be the be all end all. I'm still trying to figure out when the Oakland Athletics won a championship with all the analytics they have. It takes talent. We had a guy a few years ago that was sending me emails about different lineup combinations, and he was saying, 'this lineup should be on the court a lot more because they're the most effective.' So, then you coach that lineup and keep them on the floor for 40 minutes. I'm going to stay with the lineups that I have on the floor. No matter what anyone wants to say, there are players that get it done in the last six minutes, they're players that do it in the first quarter. When it comes down to big shots, there's only a few guys that will take those shots, want to take those shots, have the bravery and courage to take them. Because there's a lot of criticism when you miss a shot. You have to be mentally tough and courageous to take those shots at the end of the game."

"So somebody with crazy stats all through the course of the game, in our situation, I try to go to the guy who has the ability to get us the best possible shot to win the game and make it. Guys can shoot the ball, but they might not be able to get the best shot."

"You look at Kobe [Bryant]. Kobe is able to get the best possible shot. They don't go to Pau [Gasol]. They don't go to Metta [World Peace]. They probably won't even go to Steve Nash. They're going to Kobe Bryant. He's proven it time after time."

"I just think we get caught up in the stats. There are some guys that contribute so much that the stats don't even talk about. A guy running the court, filling the lane 100% of the time is better than having a guy that's a little more talented that fills the lane 40 percent of the time. That guy filling the lane 100 percent of the time is going to create a shot for somebody else."

"There's a lot to be said about stats, but there's a lot to be said about heart, toughness, courage and bravery to go in the big moment."

Hollinger and Hollins may sit down and have an interesting talk over the next few weeks, especially if Rudy Gay is traded before the Feb. 21 trade deadline.