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An Era of Triple Troubles: Finally Fixing Memphis' Three-Point Shooting Woes

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There have been some historic three-point performances this regular and postseason. Unfortunately for Memphis and their Grizzlies, they remain on the opposite side of that trend.

If Tony Allen is supposed to be a key floor spacer for your offense, you're in trouble
If Tony Allen is supposed to be a key floor spacer for your offense, you're in trouble
Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

If you have followed the Memphis Grizzlies the past several seasons, during the era known as "Grit and Grind", you know that there are certain undisputable facts regarding their style of play.

  1. They indeed are "all heart". No one wrote any articles saying "good riddance" to them when they were eliminated from the playoffs (looking at you, Houston Rockets).
  2. They depend heavily on Marc Gasol for scheme on both the offensive and defensive ends of the court...which explains why his below expectations play and eventual injury hurt Memphis so much this past season.
  3. They are not very good at shooting three-pointers.

As nice as the first point is, and as comforting as the fact that Gasol is locked up long-term is (as long as he is healthy), that third point remains painful to understand. The Memphis Grizzlies, throughout the "Grit and Grind Era", have struggled converting buckets from beyond the arc according to NBA.com/stats.

Season 3 Point % 3 Point Attempts Rankings
2010-2011 33.4 11.3 27th/30th
2011-2012 32.6 12.9 T-26th/28th
2012-2013 34.5 13.5 24th/30th
2013-2014 35.3 14.0 20th/30th
2014-2015 33.9 15.2 22nd/29th
2015-2016 33.1 18.5 29th/T-26th

The team's shot chart from three this past season shows an overall lack of three point efficiency, especially from the corners, where many teams design scheme to get good, open shots.

3 point shot chart

Last season's performance is just the latest in a long line of poor showings. The average shooting percentage over that six regular season sample size? 33.7. Average shot attempts? 14.2. That means over the span of six entire seasons, 476 games (five seasons of 82, one lockout-shortened season of 66), the Grizzlies on average have hit 4.78 three point shots a game.

After the Cleveland Cavaliers dominated the Atlanta Hawks in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series on Wednesday night, J.R. Smith is averaging 4.7 made threes by himself in the 2016 NBA Playoffs. Stephen Curry of the Warriors averaged 5.1 made threes per game over the course of the entire 2015-2016 campaign and attempted almost as many threes per game (11.2) by himself as the 2010-2011 Memphis Grizzlies did as a team per game.

The three point shot remains a massive problem for Memphis...but the Grizzlies may finally be able to fix it this offseason.

The times, they are continuing to change. To Memphis' credit, they have adapted some; they shot over seven more threes per game this past season than they did in 2010-2011, for example. Their rankings in both shot attempts and three point percentage have not improved, however. They remain in the bottom third or quarter of the league in both categories despite those increased efforts, and their average league rankings in those statistical groups over six seasons (25th in three point shooting percentage, 29th in attempts) leaves a lot to be desired.

Simply put, the league continues to leave the Grizzlies behind. The inability to convert three-point opportunities consistently continues to haunt Memphis. The good news is they have the roster flexibility and future draft picks to perhaps make some moves on draft night and beyond to fix these issues for good.

Winning the Draft

Memphis has the 17th pick in June's NBA Draft, the highest selection they have had in years. The difference between a pick in the mid-20's and 17th can be drastic depending on the way the dominos fall on draft night, and the Grizzlies actually have the pieces to be capable of moving up, or down, if they so choose. Assuming they stay where they are and make no trades, the front court would seem to be set with Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Jarell Martin, JaMychal Green, and Brandan Wright all available to return in 2016-2017 if Memphis chooses to retain their services.

So the 17th pick could be used on a perimeter player who can shoot the rock, and there are several possibilities.

  • Denzel Valentine, Michigan State: The former Spartan shot 44.4% from three last season and at 6'6" 223 pounds would be able to play multiple wing positions, including point guard; according to DraftExpress, Valentine is the first college player over 6'5 since 1988 to average over 9 assists per-40 minutes. His defensive issues make him less versatile on that end, but perhaps that can be hidden early on in his career as he gets acclimated to Memphis' defensive system. His ability to create offensively in a variety of ways would be a welcome addition to the Grizzlies.
  • Furkan Korkmaz, International: DraftExpress has Furkan being drafted by Memphis in their latest mock draft and he is another player who could perhaps help solve the Grizzlies' shooting issues to an extent; he shot 42.3% in his league play this season. Only problem is, according to DraftExpress, he may not solve much else. They describe him as an average defender who cannot create off the dribble or finish well in traffic.
  • Wade Baldwin, Vanderbilt: Here is a young man who could be a back-up point guard to Mike Conley and also perhaps allow Mike to play off the ball some as Mario Chalmers did this past year. Another high percentage shooter from range (40.6% from three), Baldwin also boasts a 6'10" wingspan, meaning he should be able to defend a variety of perimeter players. He is intriguing, but also may be gone (DraftExpress has him going 15th to Denver).

In fact, outside of Korkmaz most of the draft's shooting wings are gone by the time Memphis selects according to DraftExpress. Taurean Prince of Baylor could be a possibility, but he is not the shooter that those mentioned above are. In order for Memphis to acquire the offensive player they should crave in the draft, they may have to move up to the 15th pick of Denver, or perhaps even higher. Denver also selects 7th in the draft, and a package of #17 this year, one of the 2nd rounders from the Courtney Lee trade, and Brandan Wright's attractive (when healthy) contract may be enough to move up in the draft to at least that 15th pick, perhaps even higher if another sweetener is added to the deal.

Valentine would be nice. Buddy Hield of Oklahoma (45.7% three-point shooting on 8.7 attempts from three per game) would possibly be even better. Moving that far up may be a stretch, but a jump of a spot or two could secure the services of potential immediate help from range.


Free Agency Options

Maybe Memphis chooses to go with a big man on draft night, or trades back for future picks, drafting and stashing an overseas prospect. There will be options in free agency, and the Grizzlies will potentially have plenty of money to play with to get some help offensively. It is important to get those delusions of grandeur out of your head though - Kevin Durant is not coming to Memphis. Chandler Parsons and Nicolas Batum likely aren't coming to play for the Grizzlies, either. 20 or so teams will have near max money to throw around; there will be slim pickings at the top for Memphis.

They could get some good help a tier or two below those names, though, and perhaps be able to get two very serviceable players for the price of one superstar.

  • Allen Crabbe, Portland Trail Blazers: A young man who remains a bit of an unknown commodity due to playing in Portland and alongside ball dominant guards Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, the 24 year-old wing could fit nicely alongside the core four of Grizzlies and beyond when Zach Randolph and Tony Allen move along. Crabbe is a career 38.5% three-point shooter, and he shot 39.3% on 3.5 attempts per game this past season. A 4-year, $48-52 million contract may be able to get his services, but with the rising cap it may take even more than that to bring a young talented shooter like Crabbe into the fold.
  • Jared Dudley, Washington Wizards: Dudley has quietly become one of the NBA's most efficient three-point shooters. Dudley shot 42% from beyond the arc this past season with the Wizards and has shot 39.9% over his time in the NBA. The way he plays the game (below the rim but with good effort) screams Memphis Grizzly. Unfortunately for Memphis, he seems to be best utilized as a small-ball four at this point in his career and not as a wing. Perhaps the Grizzlies think otherwise and would be interested in a 2 year, $19 million or so contract with the 30 year old Dudley.
  • Eric Gordon, New Orleans Pelicans: Here's some good news and some bad news: the good news is, Gordon could be had for relatively cheap, is 27 years old, and has made over 100 three pointers over each of the past three seasons while shooting 40.7% from range in those seasons on average. The bad news? He can be had for cheap because he hasn't played in more than 64 games since his rookie season. He is a health risk to be sure, but for the right price (2 years, $17 million with some non-guaranteed money) perhaps the possible reward would be worth it.

Scheme Adjustments

The book has been out on the Grizzlies for some time now - collapse the middle and force them to either fight through double teams in the paint or pass. While this should result in open perimeter looks, the team has not been able to convert and therefore hasn't made it a priority until recently to find those shooters beyond the arc. Marc Gasol has always been a willing passer, and this past season showed that Zach Randolph is more willing than ever before to pass the ball to the open man. Making passing out of the post more of a point of emphasis heading into next season would be a welcome wrinkle to the Grizzlies' pick and roll sets and would also create chances for Mike Conley (if/when he re-signs) and others off the ball.

Some other potential tweaks to get more open looks would include multiple off-ball screens, dribble drive penetration with wing players, and more long range pick and pop opportunities for JaMychal Green and others would make teams have to update their Grizzlies scouting reports.

Time to Solve the Problem

There are a variety of avenues that Memphis could travel to try to fix the continuous issue that is their lackluster perimeter shooting, but that isn't the only problem. Offense from beyond the arc is just a piece of the puzzle; creating off the dribble, smart basketball decisions, and passing vision outside the lane must also be made priorities in one way or another to fully solve the Grizzlies' offensive woes.

The three-point scoring has been a problem for a long time now, though, and for the first time in a long time Memphis may actually have the means to make those issues a thing of the past starting with the 2016-2017 regular season.

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Check out previous Friday Three articles here.