For several years, the Memphis Grizzlies have had success playing a brand of basketball that goes against league norms. One key aspect of that brand is a slow pace of play. The idea is designed to neutralize the advantage of more athletic and offensively talented teams. his roster was put together with this philosophy in mind.
Statistics show the Grizzlies have been consistent with their commitment. Over the past two seasons, the league has averaged 171.4 shots per game. In Grizzlies’ games, there has been an average of 162.8 shots per game. As a result, with nearly ten less shots per game, possessions become even more important.
The key to successfully playing slow is playing smart. Basically, in games with less shots, limiting your opponent’s scoring possessions while increasing your own is essential. One of the best ways to do this is through creating turnovers and not committing them. The other is getting offensive rebounds and not allowing them.
Recognizing the Flaw and It’s Impact
Effective offensive rebounding is always important. However, when it comes to Grizzlies’ games, it may be the most important statistic in the box score. When less shots are taken, high percentage shots become even more valuable. Most offensive rebounds occur within five feet of the basket. As a result, if the offense gets the rebound, they will likely have a high percentage shot attempt. Thus, the team that wins the offensive rebounding battle gains a huge advantage in Grizzlies games.
The Grizzlies will typically rank among the leagues worst in rebounding totals. Since 2010, they are 30th in defensive rebounds per game, and 20th in total rebounds. The obvious reason is the slow pace of play. Less shots mean less rebounds opportunities.
However, the Grizzlies have found success on their own end of the floor. From 2010-2017, their 7-year playoff run, the Grizzlies ranked sixth in offensive rebounds per game. During that same stretch, they ranked seventh in offensive rebounds per game allowed. This created a clear advantage for Memphis to get extra scoring opportunities that won many close games over the years.
Last year, these numbers significantly declined. In 2017-2018, they were 12th and 18th. The Grizzlies shooting percentage also declined from previous years. However, their field goal attempts increased. This means that more shots were missed, and more rebounds were produced. The increase in opportunities for opponents to expose the Grizzlies’ decline in offensive rebounding ability significantly contributed to the Grizzlies’ struggles.
That weakness has been exposed even this preseason. While preseason games should be kept in context, their revelations should not be completely ignored. In their five preseason games, the Grizzlies averaged 40.4 rebounds per game, 34.6 on defense and 5.8 on offense. Their opponents averaged 49.2 rebounds per game, 36 on defense and 13.2 on offense.
Projected over 82 games compared to last year’s league numbers, this Grizzlies team would have been the worst in the league by a significant margin. Their opponents would have been the best by a significant margin. Again, preseason performance is not a reliable indicator for the regular season. However, that big of a gap in per game averages certainly identifies a significant weakness for the Grizzlies roster.
This is validated even further when looking at the Grizzlies’ roster individually. Only Jamychal Green, Marc Gasol, and Ivan Rabb are average to above average rebound sources. While Green is expected to see significant time, minutes will be hard to come by for Rabb.
While above average compared to others, Marc Gasol’s rebounding ability is average compared to other centers. Jaren Jackson Jr. is still very young and raw, and his rebounding is not an asset in the present. This preseason made it pretty clear Memphis wants to pair Gasol and Jackson Jr. in lineups. If Green concedes playing time to Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies may be at a significant disadvantage.
Minimizing a Weakness by Maximizing Strengths
The effort to overcome this weakness begins with the one quality this team has that last year’s did not. That is simply being healthy. Having nine to ten reliable guys in good health who can provide quality play is significant. It allows for players to play less minutes, keeping their bodies fresh and energy levels high. With rebounding being the physical part of the game, that high energy can seal wins through getting rebounds at the end of close games.
Beyond health, team chemistry is also very important. Good Chemistry means good communication. During the preseason, there have been multiple times players missed their box out assignment. Just like it is essential for a good team defense, good communication greatly improves a team’s ability to rebound.
The addition of several highly intelligent and versatile players should eventually allow team chemistry to be a strength. These two traits should help with ball movement and spacing on offense. They should also help with better communication and positioning on defense. The versatility of others should allow Marc Gasol to play more in the post instead of away from the basket. This would mean Marc, Green, and Jackson Jr. could focus on the rim once a shot is taken to get the rebound.
Another result of versatility is better shot selection. Obviously, making more shots reduces offensive rebound opportunities for the opposition. Beyond that, it also gives the Grizzlies more options to have better chances at offensive rebounds. Furthermore, attempting more threes could have a positive impact on rebounding. Through new additions and healthy returns, the Grizzlies now have several players that can shoot the three with consistency.
The positive impact of more threes remains whether or not the shot goes in. If the shot is made, this helps offsets any extra points opponents get from offensive rebounds. If the shot is missed, a longer shot means the ball will usually stay in the air longer.
This gives the Grizzlies more time to get good positioning. The Grizzles have significantly more length through their wings this year. This should assist in grabbing longer rebounds. Even if the opponent gets the rebound, they are further from the basket than usual, without as good of a shot.
Overall, this is not likely to be an issue that is solved overnight. However, strong team play could help over come it some nights. The Grizzlies will have the perfect opportunity to prove that ability in the season opener. They open up the season against the Indiana Pacers. Back on October 6th, the Grizzlies beat the Pacers 109-104.
In that game, the Grizzlies were out rebounded 61-43. However, the Grizzlies caused 27 turnovers. They outscored the Pacers 28-13 on points off turnovers. This proves the Grizzlies have the ability to overcome their weakness by playing to their strengths as a team.
The biggest key to try overcome, or at least minimize, this roster flaw is the players playing within they skill sets. It will take each individual playing with discipline and intelligence. This should help limit mental errors and confusion. The more the roster plays together, the more efficient as a team they will become. The Grizzlies may not make rebounding a strength, but they do have the ability limit its impact as a weakness.