We have reached 40 games, nearly halfway through the season, and the Grizzlies are frustratingly, but appropriately, 20-20. I say appropriately because this is a team that has seemed to take two steps forward then two steps back all year, whether it be due to injuries, effort, or effectiveness - the Grizzlies recent 5-game winning streak being snapped by a 15-24 Pelicans team was the latest example. To see what's different from last year's Western Conference Finals team, let's examine what has changed year to year:
|Points per game||93.4||T-26th||95.9||T-23rd|
|Points allowed per game||89.3||1st||96.6||T-4th|
|Field Goal %||44.4||21st||45.2||13th|
|3 point %||34.5||24th||34.8||T-21st|
|Free throw %||77.3||10th||75.1||20th|
|True Shooting %||51.4||T-22nd||52.0||21st|
Despite some early struggles with turnovers, this team has returned to being one of the best in the league at winning the possession game by limiting turnovers. Pace, Offensive efficiency, and true shooting percentage have all improved slightly, leading to 2.5 more points per game. Overall, though, the Grizzlies remain a middle-of-the-pack offensive team, near-identical in many ways to last year's team. The one area the team has regressed in offensively is free throw shooting, with Nick Calathes (50%), Ed Davis (53%), and Tayshaun Prince (61%) being the biggest culprits.
One interesting thing to note is that while the Grizzlies' pace has increased from 91.1 to 92.4, they are last in the league in pace. Statistically, the entire NBA is playing at a faster pace this year - 7 teams were under 93 last year, while only the Grizzlies and Knicks are under that this year.
Mike Conley is having an All-Star-type season thus far, averaging 18.1 PPG and 6.3 APG on a career-high 45.4 FG%. He has spent so much of the first half carrying the team game in and game out, I do worry about fatigue down the stretch. I hope Gasol rounds back in to form soon to help offset this possibility. Zach Randolph also has his highest scoring average in 3 years at 17.6 while still rebounding well (10.6 RPG), though his shooting percentage is down slightly compared to the past 2 seasons.
First 40 Grade: C+ The offense has slightly improved and still takes care of the ball, but not explosive enough to keep up if the game turns into a shootout.
Rebounding & Defense
The Grizzlies have continued to rebound the ball well, slipping from 2nd to 4th in rebounding rate, but remain a top-notch rebounding team. Combined with the low turnover rate, that means the Grizzlies, on average, win the possession game.
The bad news? They have to win the possession game because the defense has taken a nosedive this year to 18th in the league. That's a huge change from last year's 2nd-best defensive efficiency, and steals and blocks are down significantly too. If you look at the offensive vs. defensive efficiencies, you'll see that the Grizzlies have given up more points per 100 possessions than they've scored this year. That's not good. It basically means that most nights, the Grizzlies have to get more possessions than the other team or they lose the game. All this adds up to a team that allowed a league-best 89.3 poins per game last season now giving up 96.6 points per game.
So what's the root of this? Well, Marc obviously has been out for some time and that certainly has had an effect. Beyond that, though, neither Marc nor Tony Allen - the defensive leaders - have been particularly good on defense this year. A step slow, gambling too much, all of that has hurt the Grizzlies. Quincy Pondexter, who was expected to take a step up a notch as a 3-and-D guy, was ineffective, then benched, and now out for the year with injury. Mike Conley's steal numbers have decreased as his offensive numbers have increased, though they have slowly been inching back up of late.
The defensive efficiency has improved from about 24th to 18th since James Johnson and Courtney Lee have come on board, and it will be interesting to see if that continues to improve. If it does, it will go a long way toward the second-half run this team needs. A question that has arisen with the success of Lee and Johnson is what to do with Tony Allen once he comes back healthy. Joe Mullinax wrote an excellent piece on what that might mean for the Grizzlies this week.
First 40 Grade: C The rebounding has remained very good, but the defense has taken a big step back. A continued correction of that should make the Grizzlies a playoff contender.
Coach Dave Joerger has had a tough go of it so far. His hiring was an unpopular one with many on the heels of Lionel Hollins' departure. With the team's struggles, the muttering critics became loud, vocal critics. He tried to push the pace too much early, but has settled into a better offensive rhythym. He has struggled at times with substitutions, the worst being the infernal all-bench lineup that he puts on the floor at times that almost always loses ground. He is a rookie head coach and it shows occasionally, but in my opinion he seems to be learning and growing as a coach.
First 40 Grade: C Joerger has dealt with injuries and a tough situation, but a .500 record is pretty much the definition of average coaching.
There is no doubt that one of the most glaring statistical differences between last year's team and this year's team is their record within the division. The Grizzlies finished '12-'13 10-6 in their division. They are 0-10 in their division this year, the only NBA team to be held winless and frankly, it's embarrassing. If the Grizzlies had matched last year's .625 winning percentage, they would be approximately 6-4 within the Southwest, which would also make them 26-14 and currently the 6 seed in the Western Conference. Most of the teams present matchup problems, but a team has to be able to win some of those games. The inability to compete with their own division has been a major Achilles' heel so far this year.
Overall First 40 Verdict: C
.500 basketball is frustrating and disappointing after the Grizzlies' recent success, but injuries have played a role and they have been mediocre in just about everything as team so it's a flat C from me. What happens the rest of the way will determine this season's legacy.
I think it's fair to say we've all been disappointed with the season thus far, it's just a matter of to what degree. Feel free to comment and give your letter grade if you'd like. My question is: what would it take from this point forward for you to give this season an A grade? Vote in the poll below.
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