West vs. Wallace: Who was the best GM in Memphis History?

Posted on May 21, 2011 by


On Friday, Henry Abbott – at TrueHoop – made the following observation:

Bringing Jerry West into the Warriors’ organization as an adviser will certainly lend credibility to the new ownership. Will it actually improve basketball decision-making? Hard to know. In his last job, he made the Grizzlies OK, but not as good as much-maligned Chris Wallace made them.

When I read this I immediately thought: Is Memphis really better today than they were under West?

I realize the Grizzlies have finally won a playoff game and advanced to the second round.  But because the playoffs are a small sample, they are not as good as the regular season when it comes to measuring the quality of a team.  So let’s compare the regular season performance of the Grizzlies under West and Wallace.

West came to Memphis in April of 2002.  He then departed Memphis in July of 2007.  So West was calling the shots in Memphis from 2002-03 to 2006-07.  Here is how Memphis performed across those seasons in terms of regular season wins and regular season efficiency differential (offensive efficiency minus defensive efficiency).

  • 2002-03: 22 wins, -5.27 efficiency differential
  • 2003-04: 49 wins, 4.12 efficiency differential
  • 2004-05: 45 wins, 2.51 efficiency differential
  • 2005-06: 50 wins, 2.56 efficiency differential
  • 2006-07: 28 wins, -3.34 efficiency differential

Chris Wallace took over in 2007.  And here is what the Grizzlies have done across the past four seasons.

  • 2007-08: 22 wins, -6.30 efficiency differential
  • 2008-09: 24 wins, -5.86 efficiency differential
  • 2009-10: 40 wins, -1.54 efficiency differential
  • 2010-11: 46 wins, 2.44 efficiency differential

So West inherited a poor team.  He then led the team to its best season in franchise history (2003-04 if we focus on efficiency differential, 2005-06 if we focus on wins).  But when the players who produced these wins – Pau Gasol, Shane Battier, Eddie Jones, and Mike Miller – departed (as explained back in 2007 – a process that began in 2006-07), the Grizzlies got much worse.

And that means Wallace also inherited a poor team.  Wallace has returned this team to respectability, but in the regular season it has yet to reach the level we saw under West.

Now people might still wish to focus on the playoffs.  Let me note, though, that Memphis might have had a better experience in the playoffs had they chosen to lose a particular game back in 2006.

Back in 2006, the LA Clippers advanced to the second round of the playoffs.  They were able to do this because they lost a game to Memphis towards the end of the season.  That loss gave the Clippers a favorable match-up in the first round.  Had Memphis lost that game, they would have had that favorable match-up and might have been able to win in the first round (before bowing out like the Clippers did in the next series).

Of course, Memphis didn’t lose that game.  And the Grizzlies never did win a playoff game until this year.  But again, I think we should evaluate West and Wallace in terms of regular season performance (the larger sample).

And I think that large sample says that West did a better job of leading Memphis (at least, so far).

– DJ