Grizzlies hire Taylor Jenkins as coach

Don't apply for a job with the Grizzlies unless your CV shines. My biggest takeaway from the Taylor Jenkins hire is this: inside the walls of the FedEx Forum, the nerds have won. Their GM is a Duke law grad; the guy above him is a UVA law grad. The guy below them both is a former mechanical engineer. 

And now the head coach, Taylor Jenkins, is a graduate of the Penn Wharton School of Business, literally the best business degree in the country. One would think that a Wharton grad toiling as an assistant NBA coach for years would be a sign of a loose labor market, but the U6 rate is still plunging below 7%  so maybe Jenkins is just an anecdote. Makris and Tayshaun better subscribe to The Economist and The Wall Street Journal because otherwise that last joke won't land with them.

The above paragraphs are tongue in cheek, but they're also true. One can't help but notice that the candidate's bonafides are strikingly similar to the rest of the Grizzlies front office.

I want to be careful to not place a value judgement on this hire. Jenkins isn't a good hire because he's credentialed, just like a former head coach wouldn't be a good hire because they had experience. We simply don't know. I'm a firm believer that there is no single heuristic for finding a successful head coach. Every hire is situational. I don't subscribe to the idea that any team should hire former players because they communicate better. Former players can be better communicators. They also can be woefully poor. Prior head coaching experience can be helpful; or a prior head coach can be too set in their ways. 

I think the Grizzlies should hire who they think is the best candidate who will take the job, and I hope they've done that. I think they have. Time will tell if they got the right guy. I mean, time will probably tell.

What we can clearly assume now is that the Grizzlies value credentialed intelligence. That might not be the hiring heuristic, but it's part of the puzzle. You can make of this what you will. Google HR has performed hiring analytics which suggest credentials (what school you went to) is less predictive of being a good hire for Google than actual performance at a school. The best student at an unattractive school is probably a better hire for Google than the median student at Harvard. To bring this full circle, here's an article from Wharton (Jenkins' post grad alma mater) that gives a nice summary of some of Google's HR analytics.

I cite this study to paint a purposefully incorrect picture. This study demonstrably works for Google. Google can hire two (or one thousand) people for the same job, doing the same work, and determine over several thousand iterations what type of people work best. Basketball is different. Bereft of a large sample or control groups, this type of approach to NBA hiring is impossible. The Grizzlies could have hired Jenkins last season instead of JBB, and his performance would look far different from how it will at the end of the upcoming season. We also would never know that JBB really liked to play Shelvin Mack, and some would pine that JBB never got a fair shake in Memphis. 

We never get the counterfactual, so untangling single causes from each other is impossible. This is what I meant when I said time will probably tell. It actually might not.

Harping on Taylor Jenkins schooling would do him a disservice. He comes off a head coach's staff - Mike Budenholzer - with an increasingly impressive coaching tree (Quinn Snyder, Kenny Atkinson). Given that the Grizzlies are entering a multi-year rebuild, Jenkins has a chance to instill his ethos from the ground up. Given where he just came from, I'm going to assume it is something close the Bucks blueprint from this season.

My bet is the Grizzlies switch a ton next season on defense, and emphasize taking a ton of threes on offense. They'll play faster. Much faster. They will consider the trade of taking away a shot at the rim for allowing a three above the break, as a good one. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Bucks gave up the fewest shots at the rim in the entire league, but the most non-corner threes in the league (also the most threes overall). Clearly, that was a marginal advantage the Bucks were okay with, and probably a sneaky reason why the Raptors (with a cadre of good above the break shooters) beat the Bucks.

I hesitate to say Jenkins is the perfect coach for Jaren, but get ready for Jaren to shoot a ton of threes and be asked to do a ton on defense. It's gonna be so awesome to watch.

Also this: is it marginally more likely that the Grizzlies draft RJ Barrett now? The Bucks staff and Front office clearly value size and switchability (or at least versatility), and RJ fits that role so much better than Ja. With Ja on the court, a switching defense will always have a place to attack. He's too slight to stop any big wing. At the same time, Ja isn't a great three point shooter. Giannis wasn't either, but then again, Giannis is 7 feet tall. One wonders if Jenkins will always have to coach around Ja's structural disadvantages, or if Barrett's size and potential as a shooter/scorer might be preferred. Just food for thought.

Final thought. Budenholzer clearly was receptive to understanding how analytics can illustrate where good tradeoffs occur. He had a monster center and huge wings, which gave him the ability to choke off the paint. The Bucks crafted their entire defense around that strength and the numbers bore out it was a good trade. It is my belief that the Grizzlies prize this kind of coach, one who will look at data which demonstrate plus expected value tradeoffs, and craft a defense and offense that exploit the marginal edges that data show will win in the long run. 

Almost regardless of how next season goes, we need to give this coach and front office time. Hopefully time will tell the Grizzlies made the right hire, but that grade will take years, not months, to bear itself out.

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