Jeff Green has not fully been who the Grizzlies hoped he would be — particularly on offense — when they acquired him earlier this season. Coach Dave Joerger continues to tinker with lineups, and the optimal spot for Green in the rotation has yet to be found. While the best use of Green within the Grizzlies offense remains heavily debated, one area where he has undoubtedly benefitted the Grizzlies is in transition.
One of the slowest teams in the NBA, the Grizzlies don't get out and run a lot. But when they do, they are very good at it. According to Synergy Sports, the Grizzlies are currently ranked 7th in the NBA in points per possession on transition attempts. The Grizzlies were good in transition before Green's arrival, but replacing Tayshaun Prince and Quincy Pondexter in the lineup with Green gives the Grizzlies a couple elements they previously lacked on the break.
To be sure, one player by himself doesn't make a good transition attack. No matter the personnel, quick transition from defense to offense, understanding roles, and proper spacing are essential ingredients for success on the break. The Grizzlies already did all of those things exceptionally well before Green's arrival.
Throwing Green into the mix simply makes the transition attack tougher than ever to stop.
In a game against the Orlando Magic shortly after Green was acquired, the Grizzlies perfectly implemented him and demonstrated how to execute in transition during a fourth quarter possession.
After a missed shot by the Magic, Marc Gasol grabs the defensive rebound. Without hesitation, he locates the point guard — Nick Calathes in this case — and delivers the ball to him. While that exchange is underway, the other three Grizzlies on the floor have already begun sprinting to the other end in an attempt to set up the attack as fast as possible. Speed is of the essence in transition.
There are two types of transition attacks: numbered and free-flowing. On a numbered break, each player has a definitive spot to run to in transition, based on position. For example, the 1 is the ball-handler, 2 sprints to the right corner, 3 sprints to the left corner, 4 trails the play, and 5 heads to the low block.
On the other hand, a free-flowing fastbreak is exactly what it sounds like. Players ahead of the ball simply run wide. Players behind the ball fill the middle lane. Players can even run in the same lane as long as they are properly spaced.
The Grizzlies have shown an ability to utilize both numbered and free-flowing fastbreaks, but they mostly stick with a version of the numbered variety. In either form of transition attack, the ball-handler is told to always pick a side and avoid the middle of the floor. This is simply because dribbling up the sideline provides better spacing that results in more scoring options. Notice below how the Grizzlies each have a lane to fill to properly space the floor, and they do so remarkably well.
On this play, Calathes recognizes that Green is running free down the middle of the floor. Situations like this one are when Green is most dangerous and useful offensively. He possesses rare athleticism for a player standing at 6'9" 235 pounds, and that athleticism coupled with his size and strength makes him an absolute menace for defenders in open space.
Calathes delivers the ball to Green as he's running full speed towards the rim, giving him the opportunity to attack the lone defender in his way. Evan Fournier has no chance to stop Green, which is not his fault. Most defenders are no match for Green's athleticism and size when he's barreling towards them like a freight train. The worst-case scenario when Green has the ball in transition is usually a trip to the free throw line.
One power dribble and long stride later, Green lays the ball up and in.
Since joining the Grizzlies, Green has scored numerous transition buckets exactly like this one.
Aside from just filling his lane and receiving the ball from the point guard on his way to the rim, Green can also serve as the ball-handler in transition. This is another luxury the Grizzlies haven't had before. Giving the man who grabs the defensive rebound multiple outlets only speeds up the attack.
When Green serves as the point forward in transition, that gives the Grizzlies more shooting in the wide lanes. Mike Conley can spot up on one side while Courtney Lee does the same on the opposite side. The threat of a physical specimen taking the ball coast to coast, two solid three-point shooters filling the lanes on the wing, Zach Randolph as the man typically bulldozing his way down the middle in front of the attack, and Marc Gasol trailing the attack makes the Grizzlies near impossible to stop in transition when their spacing is on point, which is usually the case.
Don't expect the Grizzlies to change their pace of play simply because they are good when they do get out and run, though. Given the personnel on the roster, that would most likely do far more harm than good over the course of any given game. They play at the slow pace they do for a reason.
For now, the Grizzlies will continue to selectively pick and choose their spots to get out on the break. Having the option of throwing a player like Green at defenses in the open court will only make transition attempts far more dangerous and tough for opposing teams to deal with. More success on the break with Green in the mix is inevitable.