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Three is a Magic Number: Stud (and Dud) Memphis Grizzly Trios

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The internet is a magical place. There is a wealth of information at your fingertips, and over at NBA.com/stats you can check out lineup information on who plays well, or poorly together. Part III of this week's Friday Three analyzes some Grizzly triumvirates and breaks down why they do (or don't) work well together right now.

Memphis' three best players have to step it up when they are on the floor together.
Memphis' three best players have to step it up when they are on the floor together.
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

There are almost an infinite amount of ways to break down what makes basketball teams tick statistically. Advanced analytics, traditional statistics, player tracking information...numbers upon numbers upon numbers that can make you much more aware as a fan of what exactly you are seeing on a night in, night out basis. Your eyes can tell you how a player is doing, or a technique they are struggling with executing; the numbers can back that up.

The study of movement and breaking down individual play has gotten so in depth that websites like basketball-reference.com and NBA.com/stats attempt to determine how many wins a player directly contributes to a team, or how they play with certain players. Both are important, of course, but the lineup statistics over at NBA.com/stats are especially interesting. You can of course break down five-man lineups, but you can also look at four- and two-man units, seeing how foursomes or duos do alongside each other.

Of course, you can also look at how three guys play alongside each other as well, and this grouping bears significant weight. It brings an additional guy into the fold, seeing how individual games merge better than a two-man lineup can, but also allows for more individual impact on performance than, say, a four- or five-man lineup set of statistics may. With that in mind, let's look at one high-achieving, and one low-achieving, such trio for the Memphis Grizzlies, using the following criteria...

  • Must average at least 12 minutes played together per game
  • Must have played together in at least 30 games

Top Trio- Matt Barnes, Marc Gasol, Jeff Green

Games Played 38
Minutes Per Game 12.2
Field Goal % 44.4
Three Point % 38.7
Offensive Rating 102.9
Defensive Rating 98.9
Net Rating +4.0
Assist/Turnover Ratio 1.64
True Shooting % 54.0

Considering how much Jeff Green is looked down upon by many Grizzlies fans and writers alike, it is somewhat surprising that he is a part of such a successful trio of players. Seeing the two guys that he is paired with, however, it makes a bit more sense, especially defensively. Matt Barnes and Marc Gasol are two of Memphis' better defenders (and boast a two-man lineup defensive rating of 99.5), so those two being on the floor alongside Jeff allow for him to defend lesser offensive players, and therefore find more success using his frame and athleticism to defend different wings.

On the offensive end, the fact that two streaky/spotty three-point shooters like Green and Barnes has so much success from beyond the arc (above their season averages) with Gasol on the court with them also can come as a surprise. With Marc's ability to force defenses to collapse on him both on the elbow and the block, plus his passing acumen, he can kick to open shooters and get them the ball in a better rhythm than most big men. The space that exists because of Gasol's presence cannot be over-estimated with these three, and Jeff and Matt have been able to take advantage, at least with Marc next to them. Other players, like Mike Conley and Mario Chalmers, likely contribute to this as well.

Terrible Three- Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph

Games Played 32
Minutes Per Game 17.2
Shooting % 42.1
Three Point % 32.4
Offensive Rating 98.9
Defensive Rating 103.5
Net Rating -4.6
Assist/Turnover Ratio 1.66
True Shooting % 49.7

For being the three best players on the Memphis Grizzlies, they sure aren't playing very well together at the moment. Again, no assembly of information is perfect - Conley is the only three-point shooter of this bunch, so he is alone in that 32.4% number. The low offensive rating all-around, and low overall/true shooting percentages, are a cause for concern, and again explain some of Memphis' issues. So many are quick to blame Jeff Green and other role players, but the Grizzlies' three best players are not clicking at the moment. Gasol and Randolph are not helping Conley off of the pick and roll as effectively, and Mike is not being the spacing threat he must be to allow Randolph and Gasol to dominate in the post.

Defensively, the issues of Zach Randolph likely shine through here. While he has been better lately, his lack of foot speed and positioning kills help schemes on defense, which is what Memphis is built on. A great example is from Memphis' most recent game against the Denver Nuggets-

ZBo Bad D 1

This could be a scheme thing, and if it is, shame on Head Coach Dave Joerger, because he has put Zach Randolph in a position to fail. It's likely Zach does that to himself here, though.

Zach Bad D 2

Randolph does not have the athleticism to get back and defend the drive of Lauvergne, and that leads to an easy opportunity for the opponent. Conley, Gasol, and Randolph must play well together on both ends of the court if Memphis hopes to be competitive out west. As all three get healthy and get back in to the swing of things, it is possible those numbers improve, hopefully sooner rather than later.

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There are, of course, other triple threats and triple turds on Memphis. The combination of Matt Barnes, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley has a net rating of 5.4, best on the team, with a defensive rating of 96.8 and a true shooting percentage of 53.1. Three good-to-great defenders, a creator off the pick and roll with his big buddy, and a volume shooter taking advantage of drive-and-kick opportunities; it makes sense that those three are experiencing success.

On the flip side, Mike Conley, Zach Randolph, and Jeff Green boast a team-worst -9.8 net rating, with a miserable 106.8 defensive rating and a poor 97.0 offensive rating. Randolph and Green occupy similar areas of the floor, leading to being out of position or crowding each other on offense, while defensively both Z-Bo and "Uncle Jeff" have been defensive liabilities, whether it is because of slow reactions on the pick and roll or simple loss of a man while ball watching. An under-achieving Mike Conley cannot shoulder the offensive load and stay in front of his man and their men at the same time - not many players can.

These statistics drive home what your eyes tell you - some guys play better together than others. A duo of Marc Gasol and Jeff Green has glimmers of potential; Jeff and Zach Randolph has no potential at this point. Matt Barnes' versatility as a defender allows for him to fit well with a variety of players, and Mike Conley's struggles mean he cannot find ways to overcome the shortcomings of others. We can see these things, and in this information age those observations can be confirmed or questioned more than ever before.

Here's to hoping the Grizzlies can see where their strengths and weaknesses are at this point in the season.

Check out the rest of this (and previous) week's Friday Three here.

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