The Grizzlies start to the season certainly can be defined as a surprise. The 7-5 record itself has been unexpected. The teams the Grizzlies have beat to get those wins has added to the shock factor
While Memphis may be overachieving, the reasons for their success are legitimate. They have validated themselves as one of the best defensive teams in the league. They are also one of the most efficient teams when it comes to turnovers. However, the Grizzlies biggest advantage so far this season has been the impact of their dynamic duo.
No. Not that Dynamic Duo.
The hierarchy of the this team was never in doubt. Marc Gasol and Mike Conley were always going to be the heavy lifters. After an offseason overhaul, many praised the Grizzlies for the quality of talent they acquired. Despite the new additions, one of the team’s biggest question marks was who would step up to support Marc and Mike, especially on offense.
The hope was that someone would emerge to fill the role of the “third wheel” consistently. The youth and talent of Kyle Anderson and Jaren Jackson Jr. made them obvious candidates. However, adjustments to a new environment and expanded roles have led to inconsistency. Many viewed JaMychal Green and Chandler Parsons as having significant roles. Unfortunately, injuries have again made them unreliable.
As a result, lineup adjustments needed to be made to overcome these obstacles. That meant more responsibility and minutes have fallen on the shoulders of veterans Shelvin Mack and Garrett Temple.
Both Mack and Temple have carved out lengthy NBA careers through effective play as role players. Mack has contributed as a back point guard, while Temple has provided needed minutes as a 3 and D wing. This season, through the injuries and inconsistencies of others, both players are now performing in the most significant roles of their careers.
The early results have been phenomenal. Each player is producing the highest offensive rating, Win Shares per 48 minutes, and Player Efficiency Rating marks of their careers. This has allowed the duo to answer the offensive production question while on the court to an extent.
In terms of 4-man combinations that have played at least 50 minutes together this year for the Grizzlies, Gasol, Conley, Mack and Temple have produced the highest offensive rating. Furthermore, of duos they have played more than 100 minutes together for the Grizzlies, no pair has provided more positive value than Mack and Temple, even Marc and Mike.
The source of the offensive success for Mack and Temple is simple. Both players are shooting career best rates in both total field goals and three pointers. Also, both players have seen more than a 10% increase in their true shooting percentages from their previous career best marks. In other words, they are making more shots because they are getting better looks more frequently.
These statistics should be viewed with both confidence and caution. The confidence should come from the reasons Mack and Temple have been so efficient: effective passing on offense and open looks. Teams have logically conceded offensive opportunities to Mack and Temple to defend Marc and Mike.
As an adjustment, the Grizzlies have used effective passing to find open looks for other players, primarily Mack and Temple. This was a focus of the players Memphis targeted in the offseason. And so far, the two veterans have made teams pay dearly.
The caution should come from the inevitable regression that each player will face. It is completely reasonable that each player could have the best offensive season of his career this year. It is highly unlikely that both players have become two of the league’s best shooters in one offseason.
Simply put, both players have been playing above their true talent levels. The Grizzlies are beginning to face more talented teams, and opponents will focus on the duo more due to their early season success. As a result, scoring opportunities will be harder to come by, and efficiency levels will likely drop.
Thankfully, even if their offense starts to regress, both players’ skill sets will allow them to continue to add value. For Temple, his basketball iq and length make him a wonderful asset on defense. With Temple in the lineup, the Grizzlies have produced the best defensive rating for any 5-Man, 4-Man, and 3-Man combination that have played 75 minutes or more together in the NBA this year.
For Mack, the Grizzlies efficiency becomes a clear advantage. The Grizzlies 4-man combination of Temple, Gasol, Conley, and Mack is second in the NBA in Assist/Turnover ratio (min. 50 minutes played.) He also is currently amongst the five most efficient bench shooters in terms of field goals and three pointers in the NBA. As a result, Shelvin Mack currently is one of the top candidates for Sixth Man of the year.
The individual successes of Temple and Mack have been a needed development for the Grizzlies. There is a reason the best way to demonstrate their impact on the Grizzlies is through lineup metrics. The success of the lineups that involve Mack and Temple has allowed the coaching staff to have an easier time with substitutions and lineup strategy.
Beyond situational adjustments and specific plays, the Grizzles have also formulated a blueprint of success that has worked in the early season.
Specifically, since the injury to Jamychal Green, the Grizzlies have started Jackson Jr, Kyle Anderson, Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Garret Temple. They have been able to stay in games or pull ahead due to elite defense. As the game progresses, Shelvin Mack and other reserves have provided good play in smaller lineups. That allows the Grizzlies to stay competitive and productive offensively.
Then, in the fourth quarter, they go to a lineup of Gasol, Conley, Temple, Mack and a rotating fifth player. This lineup has been very successful at limiting mistakes on offense and preventing good looks on defense. That has been essential in securing the Grizzlies’ upset wins so far this season.
The importance of Temple and Mack to the Grizzlies success is not likely to decrease. The inability of Parsons to stay healthy, and the news of Dillon Brooks being out 6-8 weeks means Temple and Mack will continue to play plenty of minutes. The reason being is that the two clear strengths of this team is defense and efficiency. The Grizzlies are at their best in those two departments with Mack and Temple on the floor together.
As a result, if this continues to be a career year for Garret Temple and Shelvin Mack, the Grizzlies should continue to be successful. However, if they start to struggle, the Grizzlies could find difficulty to win as well. Clearly, while they have been the answers so far, questions could quickly arise again if other players do not begin to become consistent.
Other offseason additions may have provided more publicity because of their potential. Temple and Mack have provided success due to their production. It is well known that Memphis will go as far as the duo of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley will carry them. However, the duo of Garrett Temple and Shelvin Mack could be just as critical to this season continuing to be a clear success.