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Who are the Memphis Grizzlies?

Blown leads and unpredictable basketball have Grizzlies fans just...confused.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Life is hard for Memphis fans. We haven’t had to learn to love losing for a very long time, seven seasons to be exact. It’s weird isn’t it?

Alas, here we are. The Grizzlies are 8-18, and 1-14 in the last 15 games. There are some interesting story lines that the Memphis community are growing to expect: injury problems as always, blown leads, and hard-to-watch basketball, just to name a few.

After researching the ominous trend of blown leads, there is a serious problem in Memphis. Our very own Joe Mullinax wrote that the Grizzlies trend downward after the first half of games. Joe showed how the stats reflect what we have all seen on the surface.

But what about the blown leads? Are they common? Or are we only seeing the massive leads fall and overlooking the good things happening for the Grizz?

The blown leads are common.

Take a look at this table, this is a list of the losses by the Grizzlies after having a significant lead at some point during the game. I define a significant lead as 8 points or more.

Losses After Significant Lead

Date Opponent Largest Lead Final Score
Date Opponent Largest Lead Final Score
Dec. 9 OKC 20 102-101 (OT)
Dec. 8 TOR 17 116-107
Dec. 6 NYK 12 99-88
Dec. 2 CLE 12 116-111
Nov. 26 BKN 8 98-88
Nov. 22 DAL 18 95-94
Nov. 20 POR 9 100-92
Nov. 13 MIL 10 110-103
Nov. 1 ORL 11 101-99
Oct. 30 CHA 13 104-99

As you can see, there are 10 such games out of 18 total loses (over 50%). Not listed on this table is that there are also only five losses this season that the Grizzlies haven’t had a 4+ point lead at some point in the game. In total, Memphis has had an average largest lead of 8.1 points in losses this season.

In losses consisting of a double digit lead, the Grizzlies have held an average lead of 14.1 points.

Even in wins, scoring is inconsistent.

In the eight wins (unfortunately small sample size) the Grizzlies have tallied this season, they have recorded an average largest lead of 13.6 points. When compared to their final score leads (7.75) there is almost a six point difference.

What does all this mean?

The Grizzlies have no identity.

Perhaps you could say this is a defensive team, and based on the league comparison, that is valid. But in reality, we can only claim quality defense because the offense is so bad.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at New York Knicks Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

When a team can totally dominate for stretches of games while also being completely dominated on both ends, what does that amount to? A whole lot of nothing. The Grizzlies don’t have much to hang their hat on, and that is a real problem. A team with no identity is dangerous and the lack of direction looking into the future is seemingly unknown. That’s more scary than tanking.

It would be easier to understand if the Grizzlies were beating really bad teams and losing to the good ones, we would all agree that this team is just average. But that is not the case: the blown-leads syndrome knows no pattern.

The Dallas Mavericks, who are barely worse than Memphis, beat the Grizzlies by one (95-94) at FedExForum on November 22nd. The Grizzlies blew an 18 point lead, a 17 point halftime lead, in this game. A month prior (Oct. 26, 96-91) Memphis beat Dallas and in that game the Grizzlies built a 22 point lead, ultimately to lose the lead with four minutes left in the fourth quarter. Though they pulled out the victory, this is a prime example of how well and how terrible the Grizzlies can play, all within the same contest.

Let’s look at a team that isn’t equally terrible: Toronto Raptors. This match-up on December 8th was another home game. The Raps are second in the East currently, a team that seems to hang around the top of the Eastern Conference every year. Memphis ballooned a 17 point lead early in the second quarter. My tweet below was sent as this run was forming in the second quarter. (The answer is 8 games.)

And as quickly as it started, it was squashed. The halftime lead was down to five points.

The Grizz came out strong in the third quarter, bringing the lead back to 12 points at the 7:15 mark. We know how the story ends. Toronto closed the fourth quarter strong, holding a 12 point lead with 1:54 left in the game. Again, another example of this team playing good and bad in the same game.

This table shows significant leads against teams that are currently in the top eight of each conference, both in wins and losses. As you can see from this table, the Grizzlies are capable of putting together quality basketball.

Significant Leads Against Current Playoff Teams

Date Team Largest Lead Result
Date Team Largest Lead Result
Oct. 18 NOP 14 W, 103-91
Oct. 21 GSW 19 W, 111-101
Oct. 23 HOU 8 W, 98-90
Oct. 28 HOU 19 W, 103-89
Nov. 7 POR 8 W, 98-97
Nov. 13 MIL 10 L, 110-103
Nov. 20 POR 9 L, 100-92
Dec. 2 CLE 12 L, 116-111
Dec. 6 NYK 12 L, 99-88
Dec. 8 TOR 17 L, 116-107
Dec. 9 OKC 20 L, 102-101 (OT)

But what isn’t shown here are the bad losses the Grizzlies have also managed to have: Dallas (two losses, blew 18 point lead), Charlotte (blew 13 point lead), Brooklyn (blew eight point lead), Orlando (blew 11 point lead), the Los Angeles Lakers.

There is good news to be taken from all of this. Fortunately, there are 56 games left this season. That is plenty of games to get back in the hunt in the top-heavy Western Conference. From the looks of it now, a .500 record will get you one of the 5-8 seeds.

Also, injuries are forcing this team and coaching staff into a tough spot. Mike Conley is single-handedly worth a few extra wins, though he is not the cure-all. Brandan Wright is great when he can actually play (rarely), and Parsons is still showing signs of weak knees.

When (if) injuries are no longer a major issue, this team will finally have a chance to create an identity under new head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. Large leads are also a sign that this team has a foundation to work with. The Grizzlies are capable of elite basketball, the numbers show that, but the players and coaches alike have to figure out how to channel that type basketball into a complete game. The Memphis Grizzlies identity: to be determined.

Overall, Memphis has totaled a double digit lead in 13 out of 26 games this season. The team is 5-8 in those games.

Based on my definition of a “significant lead”, that number grows to 17 out of 26. That’s a pretty solid percentage (65%). Of those 17 games, the Grizz are 7-10, just a 41% win percentage. Not so solid.

We can crunch the numbers all we want, but at the end of the day, I’ll just take a win any way we can get it. There’s no better time to start a win streak than the next game. Let’s do this Memphis.

All stats provided by NBA.com and ESPN Stats.

Follow @sbngrizzlies