The Denver Nuggets proved once again last night that they’re able to use their athleticism inside to shut down everything the Grizzlies do well — but then, the Grizzlies haven’t been doing much well lately, have they?
Last night’s loss on the road in Denver was the third in a row for the floundering Grizzlies. In November, when this team was winning big, they did it through ball movement, swinging the ball around to feed the post from one side or the other, occasionally turning those passes into 3’s or drives to the basket when there was an open look. At the other end, they were creating chaos in the passing lanes, wreaking havoc on ball handlers, and grabbing every rebound they could get their hands on.
So what happened? How did this team go from a top 5 offense and a top 5 defense to… this?
The Grizzlies have the 2nd-best defense in the league, holding opponents to 91.1 points per game with a Defensive Rating of 100.0 (for you non-stats-geeks, that’s 100 points allowed per 100 possessions). The offense, after being as high as 3rd in the league, has steadily slipped back to what we saw at the end of last season in the disastrous 7-game series against the Los Angeles Clippers. The team’s offensive rating is currently 10th of 30 teams at 106.5, but the team’s Pace has slowed to 26th out of the league’s 30 teams.
Why is that? Last night’s game provides some clues.
- Rudy Gay is not shooting well. Last night Rudy scored 21 points, but he did it on 10/21 shooting from the field (0/4 from beyond the arc, including a contested isolation three that could’ve tied the game at 97 at the end of regulation) and — and this is pretty inexcusable — attempting only one free throw. How does Rudy Gay take 21 shots and only attempt one free throw? Either the refs stared at the floor every time Rudy had the ball, or he wasn’t going to the rim enough, or some weird combination of both. Rudy was one FGA away from taking as many shots as Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined.
- Nobody else is shooting well either. The bench finally had a decent game last night, with Marreese Speights coming in and scoring 14 points on 11 shots in 20 minutes, and Wayne Ellington finding his shot for 11 points, including 3 3-pointers. Other than that? Nobody was good. Marc Gasol shot 2/10. Mike Conley shot 5/14. Zach Randolph shot 5/12. The shots just aren’t falling for the Grizzlies right now, for anybody. So it certainly wasn’t just that Rudy isn’t shooting well. Nobody is.
- The Grizzlies struggle against athletic bigs. Gasol, Randolph, and Speights are all great bigs, but they all struggle to jump over a stack of three phone books. They’re not leapers. They’re finesse players, or, at least, they’re ground-bound. JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried spend so much time up in the air that they need FAA licenses to play basketball. Just like the Clippers series last year (which I’m going to keep bringing up until the Grizzlies stop reenacting it on a nightly basis), physical, athletic big men are able to create all kinds of problems for the Grizzlies’ inside-oriented offense because they put a lid on it from the top, blocking and swatting everything in sight and containing it from up around the rim. Darrell Arthur provides a little antidote to this, but he spent most of last night in the locker room after getting clobbered by McGee’s elbow.
I don’t know everything that’s wrong with the Grizzlies right now, but I don’t have to be John Hollinger to look at the box score and see that this team just isn’t shooting well and isn’t getting their offense together. Watching them play in this rough stretch has been torture. Every possession is clogged like a toilet.
I can’t wait for this team to get back to where it was in November when we were beating the league’s elite on a nightly basis, because right now it feels like we’re in a free fall. What else is going wrong? Anything I missed?