From the moment David Joerger was hired, he has hammered the media with talk of changing up the offense to play a more up-tempo style with a lot of pushing the ball. That's correct. Joerger plans to take the Grizzlies, the slowest-paced team in the entire NBA last season, and try to get them to push the ball. Now, that doesn't mean that he intends for the offense to execute a complete 180 in one season. Make no mistake, this will still be the grind it out Grizzlies that fans have come to know and love. However, changing the offensive style is clearly something that Joerger is adamant about accomplishing in the future. Why not now?
Many might argue that the Grizzlies don't have the personnel right now to push the ball and become a faster-paced team as this piece over at 3 Shades of Blue articulates so well. With that said, I don't agree with that line of thinking. It's a myth that the Grizzlies are a team that couldn't get out in transition and run last year. Last season, the Grizzlies ranked in the bottom third of the league in transition field goal attempts. However, just because they created a smaller amount of attempts in transition than most teams doesn't automatically equate to them being worse in transition. Memphis was the 8th most efficient team in the entire league last season in transition opportunities. Sure, Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, two lumbering giants that are poised to log most of the front court minutes are not guys that like to get out and run. As a matter of fact, Gasol and Randolph alone make it hard for the Grizzlies to push the ball.
The Grizzlies don't have to be fast for 48 minutes. Actually, Joerger doesn't want the Grizzlies to get out and run for the whole game because it would be detrimental to the team's success. However, the offense doesn't have to be high octane to get into their offense sooner. A faster pace can simply mean getting into the offense before the shot clock is dwindling around 6-8 seconds. Mike Conley doesn't have to walk the ball up the court so slowly that he crosses mid-court while barely missing the eight second violation. The sooner the offense is able to get into position, the more crisp sets it is able to run during a possession, which should lead to more good looks at the basket. Joerger certainly knows that every easy basket his offense generates takes just a little bit of pressure off the defense the Grizzlies have so heavily relied upon to achieve this level of success.
Now for the rest of the roster. Rounding out the starting five are Conley, Tony Allen, and Tayshaun Prince. Conley is one that nobody will worry about flourishing in an up-tempo offense. On the other hand, people have their misguided doubts about the usefulness of Allen and Prince in transition. Last season, Allen was 96/161 in transition, which puts him right around 60% from the floor in those situations. Prince was 29/56, good enough for a 51.8% conversion rate in transition.
Much is made about Allen's lack of ability to hit layups consistently and Prince's age hindering his running ability. To disprove the first notion, Allen actually finished last season shooting 52.43% around the rim, which is right around league average. He is actually better in an up-tempo, transition offense than he is in a half-court offense because it hides his most glaring weakness; his shooting ability. As for Prince, sure the thirty-three year old knees of an NBA player are never going to be in prime shape, but Prince can still run, and getting out in transition helps him for the same reason that it helps Allen.
While Conley, Allen, and Prince are generally on the floor with the slow-footed Gasol and Randolph, they can still execute a semblance of a transition offense. Joerger will likely look to get the ball in Conley's hands as quick as possible after a defensive rebound and have him sprint ahead with Allen and Prince as his wing men. Gasol and Randolph, obviously not able to run at the same pace, would be the trailers on the play. This gives the Grizzlies multiple options. Transition offense is all about knowing when to leak out from defense to offense, spacing, and filling your lanes correctly. With five of the savviest veteran basketball players in the league on the court, this shouldn't be a problem.
Option number one will be Joerger's desired outcome, which is Conley pushes the ball ahead and dishes to either Allen or Prince for an easy layup. Option two would be for Conley to take a shot for himself if the defenders key on the wing men. Option three would be to hit Gasol, the trailer, to shoot his patented elbow jumper. Option four would be for Conley to feed Gasol and allow him to execute the Grizzlies patented high-low play before the defense has a chance to set up. This is just one iteration of options for the Grizzlies in transition. Check out the options I have described in the video below.
Many still might be skeptical of how well the Grizzlies will really be able to execute the up-tempo style of offense that Joerger covets. That's why coaches invented situational lineups. The bench players are just as much a part of Joerger's up-tempo equation as the starters. Right now, they might even carry more weight in that equation because of the way the bench has been constructed.
After lacking bench depth for the last several years, the Grizzlies have rectified that problem. The thing that's interesting about all the guys they've added this offseason i.e. Jamaal Franklin, Mike Miller, Nick Calathes, and Kosta Koufos is that they are all guys that will help fulfill Joerger's wish to implement a more dynamic, up-tempo attack. These are all guys that can run. The Grizzlies saw a lot of promise in Franklin, and one of the reasons they drafted him was undoubtedly related to his athleticism and his ability to wreak havoc in the open court.
Next, substitute Miller into the starting five for Prince and the transition attack has even more lethal options when his three point shooting is added into the mix. Calathes, if he comes over for this season, will add a quick, shifty guard to the mix that handles the ball well and distributes well in transition. Last, but possibly the most important of the additions is Koufos. He runs the floor exceptionally well for a big man and he is actually better in an up-tempo offense than in the half-court due to his lack of a post game. While his ability to run the floor is important, his ability to spell Gasol and Randolph when they get winded might mean more than anything. Koufos will allow Gasol and Randolph to expend more energy running a more up-tempo style offense without having to worry about being gassed at the end of the game.
Add in the bench players carried over from last season's roster i.e. Tony Wroten, Jon Leuer, Ed Davis, Jerryd Bayless, and Quincy Pondexter, and there is no reason the Grizzlies bench can't absolutely wear teams down throughout the course of a game before the starters come back in and finish the opponent off. Equate it to boxing. The bench will give the opposition body blow after body blow and when they have their opponent on the ropes, that's when the starters will come back in and knock them out with a haymaker square to the jaw.
All this is to say write off the Grizzlies ability to run a more up-tempo offense at your own peril. While the team will embody much the same 'in the mud' style of play as last season, the Grizzlies, unlike past seasons, actually have legitimate bench pieces that can help them change the pace without taking too much of a dip in quality when the starters are out. Couple that with the Grizzlies tenacious defense forcing a lot of steals and the Grizzlies have an opportunity to add more fast break attempts while maintaining their high efficiency in transition.
Right now, there are many that don't believe Joerger can/should change the pace of the offense for one reason or another. As Paul Brown once said, winning makes believers of us all. Right now, all the talk is great, but for Joerger, winning with an up-tempo offense will go a long way.