Whatever they've been trying to do, it clearly hasn't been working. In their past two games against the Houston Rockets and the Toronto Raptors, the Memphis Grizzlies have scored 73 and 72 points respectively on a combined 33.8% field goal percentage. They lost to the Rockets by 19 and to the Raptors by 36. It's been bad.
Two awful showings in the preseason isn't exactly something to get up in arms over when other teams go through similar struggles in the regular season and bounce back fine. It's pretty standard to go through a few rough games here and there, with shots not falling or other things not going the Grizzlies' way.
It'd be remiss to skip over the issues entirely, though. Time will likely straighten out a Grizzlies offense that isn't normally this bad (Could you imagine if any team played like this consistently? By the way, the Grizzlies don't play the Sixers until March 15th), but legitimate issues have cropped up. These are things that could come back and haunt the Grizzlies at times in the regular season as well. And let's not forget last season's Lakers, who went 0-8 in the preseason and proceeded to fall short of all expectations set for them in the regular season and playoffs. We don't want that to be us.
So, what's wrong? Looking at the box score, one of the culprits isn't too much of a shocker: three-point shooting. In the two games against the Rockets and the Raptors, the Grizzlies have made six three-pointers out of 32. If you prefer the gory percentage, that's 18.8% shooting. The combined 39 turnovers are ugly as well, especially for a team that was one of the best at limiting their own turnovers last season (13.2 per game, tied for 4th-fewest in the NBA).
It's not just their shooting from the three-point line that doesn't look very nice, however. If you want to look at their shot charts (against the Rockets / against the Raptors), they've been awful from almost every single spot on the court. Those are flat-out horrible numbers, and the Grizzlies are not helping their own cause by taking so many midrange jumpers. In both games, a heavy number of the Grizzlies' shots came between the paint and the three-point line – 30.4% against the Rockets and 29.1% against the Raptors, compared to just 34.8% and 30.4% at the rim respectively.
Of course, Tony Allen taking seven shots outside of the paint and not making one over those two games was never going to be a plan for success, especially when he was struggling overall (3-15 from the field). Defenses were content to give up jumpshots to him and Tayshaun Prince, which might sound all too familiar. But, it didn't help that Marc Gasol and Jerryd Bayless were totally content to settle for midrange jumpers too. Both players are generally reliable on those shots, but the shot selection wasn't great and we saw a lot of these.
I saw enough semi-contested Marc Gasol high post jumpers and bricked Jerryd Bayless pull-up shots to last a lifetime over those last two games. It's one thing to shoot those shots when they're falling, but when you're missing them time and time again? Then, maybe it's time to start taking advantage of Gasol's distributing ability or low-post game and take Bayless off the ball for a bit. For the record, Gasol shot 6-21 (28.6%) and Bayless shot 4-14 (28.6%; same ratio as Marc) over those two games, attempting a total of 13 of 35 shots in the paint (and just six at the rim).
To be fair, Dwight Howard and Omer Asik are a difficult frontcourt to face. However, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are talented enough high-post players that they should be able to stretch Howard and Asik out a bit (via horns, for example) to force the defense into a less-friendly situation, instead of just settling for jumpers. The high-low offense with Gasol stationed on the high post and Randolph down low was something the Grizzlies went to often last season to great results. Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson are a decent defensive frontcourt, but Gasol and Randolph should've been able to handle them.
Instead, with the high-low dynamic between Gasol and Randolph uneffective, the Grizzlies had to rely more on their perimeter players creating offense. Unfortunately, they don't have a lot of playmakers in the backcourt. Mike Conley ran a lot of pick-and-rolls, but struggled to get into the lane against strong pick-and-roll defenders in Kyle Lowry, Patrick Beverley and their big men counterparts, all good pick-and-roll defenders too. This led to the Grizzlies trying to put the ball in Mike Miller's hands for him to create offense, and predictably, that didn't work very well.
Dave Joerger has said that his plan for the Grizzlies' offense is to get out and run more. So far, that hasn't really been a noticeable theme. The offense still looks similar to last season's, with the perimeter players often stagnant in half-court sets. They had the occasional play that saw helpful off-ball movement from multiple players, but they also had a lot of this:
Once the pick-and-roll between Conley and Gasol broke down, the offense broke down completely and it ended up with Tony Allen forcing up a contested layup. For a point guard that uses the pick-and-roll so much, the Grizzlies better have a better backup plan than "pass to Allen, pass to Randolph, pass back to Allen, let Allen jack something up".
One thing you didn't see much of was screening away from the ball, not in a helpful capacity anyway. For guys like Miller and Bayless, it would have been nice to see some down screens set by Gasol or Randolph to get them open for shots. Instead, those guys mostly stood stagnant at the three-point line away from the ball. Moving off of the ball consisted mostly of switching spots on the three-point line or a shallow cut. When the high-low isn't functioning and the pick-and-roll is being stunted, then that's when it's most important for the wing players to get aggressive away from the ball.
As bad as the last two games have been, we haven't been completely devoid of bright moments. The bench really hasn't looked all that bad. Ed Davis had a 11-point, 9-rebound game against his old team in just 16:06 off of the bench, and Quincy Pondexter has looked increasingly comfortable putting the ball on the floor even if he hasn't performed particularly well. In the beginning of the fourth quarter of the game against the Rockets, the Grizzlies had some life to them with the bench in. With Nick Calathes at the controls, players were passing well and making snap judgments. We even got a few offensive highlights, and it's refreshing to know that we do have multiple guys on the bench to turn to.
With the regular season starting soon, it'll be important for the Grizzlies to get right soon. If they struggle in picking their half-court offense up, they can always go back to what they do best: defense. Turning defense into offense has always been a strength of the Grizzlies, and while a number of fastbreak layups and dunks were well contested or blocked in the past two games (like, Tony Allen must have missed three or four?), those opportunities will more often than not be easy buckets that can help on a team get back on its feet. Basically, a basketball pick-me-up, which is exactly what the Grizzlies could use.
From there, the Grizzlies can work out the kinks in their half-court offense. Gasol and Randolph were a dominant pairing last season, and it's hard to imagine anything changes. Conley is still very good at finding his way into the lane, especially in pick-and-roll situations. The addition of Mike Miller will only help alleviate three-point shooting woes, and if that become a serious concern, the Grizzlies can always bump Quincy Pondexter into the starting lineup.
And of course, it is just preseason. Under a rookie head coach (even if one who's been with the team for six years already as an assistant coach) trying to revamp the offense, it's not surprising the Grizzlies may struggle some in the early going. With the Grizzlies' season opener in four days, let's identify the issues and get a head start on working them out.