What the firing of Lionel Hollins means for the NBA

The Memphis Grizzlies have opted to not renew coach Lionel Hollins’ contract. While he did lead the team to 56 wins and an appearance in the Western Conference Finals, there was somewhat of a disconnect between Hollins and the front office.

The Grizzlies front office is starting to rely more and more on sabermetrics, as evidenced by their hiring of statistical guru John Hollinger as their Vice President of Basketball Operations last winter. They kicked off the Hollinger era by trading the highly esteemed and paid small forward Rudy Gay. This trade was a polarizing one between statistical eggheads and those who follow conventional basketball wisdom. Conventional wisdom suggests that Gay is one of the better small forwards in the league, that he is Memphis’s franchise player and that the defense has to always account for him. Advanced metrics suggest otherwise.

Hollinger’s first born son is the Player Efficiency Rating or PER, the most commonly used advanced metric in basketball. Last season, Gay posted a PER of 15.7 which is very average and contradicts his reputation of being a borderline all-star.

Hollins often sides with conventional wisdom. According to an interview with Zach Lowe on Grantland, Hollins claimed that he did not want to trade Gay. This was an understandable decision considering coaches are focused on who they have instead of who they can get. Nevertheless, Hollins’ favorable opinion of Gay made it apparent that he does not rely on advanced metrics the same way Hollinger and the Memphis front office do. Hollins emphasizes qualities like toughness and maturity over attention to advanced statistics.

The former Memphis coach will probably not be the first coach of this mold to lose his job as teams look for more stat oriented coaches. The Spurs and the Heat pay a great deal of attention to sabermetrics and since many teams copy the successful franchises, the league as a whole is starting to lean toward advanced metrics like never before. The Sixers just hired the statistically savvy Sam Hinkie to be their GM and many other teams will follow this trend in the near future. This shift will make it harder for good coaches like Hollins who don’t put as much emphasis on advanced metrics to find a head coaching job.

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