Little-known coach Dave Joerger has Memphis off to franchise-best start with improved offense

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MEMPHIS, Tennessee — Memphis coach Dave Joerger is constantly thinking of new plays for his Grizzlies or tweaking something he saw another team that might benefit his squad.

He just needs a better way of remembering that nugget of information.

"I'm not very smart," Joerger said with a laugh. "I don't write stuff down when I think of it. Then I forget it. It comes back to you some other time, 'Yeah, why didn't I write that down? That was a decent idea.'"

Not many fans probably know Joerger, he's not a household name among NBA coaches.

Those who do aren't buying his self-deprecation, not with the Grizzlies off to the best start in franchise history at 21-4.

They ended Golden State's 16-game winning streak Tuesday, then beat the Spurs in San Antonio in triple overtime Wednesday night. Now they set their sights on the East, starting with Chicago on Friday followed by a trip to Cleveland Sunday. They wrap the brutal stretch against Utah on Monday.

Joerger has led Memphis to the second-best record in the NBA and he went 65-35 in his first 100 games — second only to the Bulls' Tom Thibodeau for the best start among active coaches.

Now 40, Joerger already has been the Western Conference coach of the month three times in his brief head coaching career, making him the fourth-youngest coach to do that behind Lawrence Frank, Mike Brown and Pat Riley.

Joerger was fortunate in that he inherited a playoff team anchored by the trio of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Mike Conley. The Grizzlies added Vince Carter this summer for additional depth.

It's not surprising that Joerger has pulled it all together, coaching is in his blood.

He was a coach-on the-floor as a point guard at then-Moorhead State. Before that, Joerger was sketching out plays with his father, a high school basketball coach in Staples, Minnesota. Joerger also took notes whenever he got a chance to watch other teams, including the Timberwolves when Flip Saunders was coach when Joerger was working his way into coaching.

Duane Ticknor, a member of Joerger's Memphis staff, has been talking basketball with him since giving Joerger his first coaching job as an assistant with the Dakota Wizards.

"When he was first getting started as an assistant coach in his early 20s, he would call me at 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning having an idea in his head," Ticknor said. "We talked three, four times a week, and we weren't even working together. I was on a different team. He's always been inquisitive."

Joerger enjoys watching games, even those in Europe, looking for any detail to give him an edge.

When former NBA coaches like Hubie Brown or Jeff Van Gundy are working Grizzlies' games, Joerger quizzes them with questions once the cameras are off.

"I just keep trying to get better and better and steal ideas from whoever I can ..." Joerger said. "I'm like, 'OK then really show me something, teach me something.' I get my pen and paper out."

Joerger has been with the Grizzlies since the 2007-08 season, and has a reputation of being a defensive coach. But since replacing Lionel Hollins in June 2013, Joerger has been working to speed up the Grizzlies offensively and they're averaging 103 points a game.

Memphis still is one of the NBA's slowest teams in terms of pace, but the Grizzlies rank sixth with an offensive rating of 107 per 100 possessions. That's 10 spots higher than they've been the past four seasons, a run that has been the best in franchise history.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr sees the Grizzlies running some effective offense sets with a variety of options and deception.

"I'm sure a lot of that is Dave's experience from last year and having a year under his belt with this group, and being able to study it over the summer and come up with different ideas," Kerr said.

Guard Mike Conley raves about Joerger's creativity.

Conley's favorite play remains the inbounds lob from Carter to Courtney Lee in November. There was 0.3 seconds remaining and Lee's reverse layup capped the largest comeback in franchise history as Memphis rallied from a 26-point deficit to beat Sacramento.

"He can draw up some crazy stuff," Conley said smiling. "He's really good at that, really good at drawing up plays, especially late game situations. I think that's why we execute so well because we know it's going to be a great play. We just have to go out and do it ourselves and trust in it."

Despite his success, Joerger doesn't take time to enjoy it. Maybe that'll come after he retires.

"People ask, 'What do you do for a living?' I don't work for a living. I worry for a living," Joerger said. "It's 24-7, 365 days a year."

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