Even at their gritty and grindy best, the Grizzlies have finished in the top half of the NBA in offensive rating only three times this decade: 2010-11 (13th), 2013-14 (14th) and 2014-15 (13th).
Point guard Mike Conley and center Marc Gasol were big reasons for those outputs, as the two have been pivotal in creating offense for both themselves and their teammates during that time frame. Through 12 games this season, it has been more of the same for the franchise cornerstones, but their overall offensive efficiency is lower than it has been during their Grizzlies tenure. The result is a 22nd place team ranking in offensive efficiency for Memphis.
Conley is currently shooting 38 percent from the field, six percentage points lower than his career average. His three-point shooting sits at 31 percent, seven percentage points lower than his lifetime average. His effective field goal percentage is at 44 percent, eight points lower than the league average and six points lower than his career numbers. Many of those totals are buoyed by his Saturday performance against Philadelphia, when the 12-year veteran enjoyed his best game of the season in the overtime victory.
Gasol’s shooting numbers are better than Conley’s, but still lower than his career totals overall. The burly center is shooting a career low 42 percent from the field, seven percentage points lower than his 11-year average. His 42 percent three-point percentage has been a positive, and that number is the only reason he currently sits two points below his career average of 50 percent in effective field goal percentage.
Despite those lackluster shooting numbers from their key players, the Grizzlies are 7-5 and in the thick of the early season Western Conference playoff race.
Finding a third option with the ability to facilitate offense has been a priority for the Grizzlies. For multiple seasons, general manager Chris Wallace has tried to bring in talent that can take some of the offensive responsibility from Conley and Gasol.
When forward Chandler Parsons inked a four-year, $94 million dollar max contract during the 2016 offseason, the organization thought they finally found a player capable of handling secondary playmaking responsibilities. The 6-foot-10 forward was known as a three-point marksman that could extend the defense and put the ball on the floor, applying pressure to opposing defenses with his slashing and passing ability.
Parsons’ facilitating ability never materialized, however, as the forward succumbed to the same injury issues he experienced prior to joining Memphis.
When the Grizzlies front office realized Parsons’ contract was a sunk cost and that he wouldn’t be able to fulfill the role he was brought in for, they went out and revamped the roster last offseason following a 50-win prediction from owner Robert Pera. Half of the Grizzlies players who have played a minimum of seven games this season are new to the team.
Newcomers Shelvin Mack, Kyle Anderson, Omri Casspi, Garrett Temple and Jaren Jackson Jr. were brought in by the front office this past offseason to complement Conley and Gasol’s skillsets and improve the offense in an effort to return to the Western Conference playoffs.
In the early going, Conley and Gasol still possess too much of the offensive burden – affecting their efficiency in the process. Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff wanted to utilize Conley off the ball more this season, but so far, the point guard’s usage rate sits at a career high 28 percent.
Temple was slotted into the starting lineup immediately and his 40 percent three-point shooting has helped space the floor. Jackson Jr. has been better than advertised offensively, exhibiting an advanced ability to score on both the left and right block as a high-low partner for Gasol. Prior to his knee injury, Casspi was a key component in three of the top four Grizzlies lineups by net rating. But none of the aforementioned players currently have the ability to run the offense on the perimeter like Conley, or from the post, like Gasol.
That’s where Anderson and Mack come into play, and why their roles on the team are extremely vital. Out of all of the players on the Grizzlies roster, the two offseason acquisitions are the closest thing the team has to secondary playmakers.
Mack has been a pleasant surprise. The journeyman guard has been a recent staple during crunch time lineups. His play has given opposing defenses a different look than Memphis has presented in quite some time, alleviating some of the perimeter ball-handling pressure from Conley.
Outside of a 28-game stint with the Utah Jazz in 2015-16, Mack has never averaged more than 25 minutes per game during an NBA season. Currently, he’s averaging 26 minutes per game, so it remains to be seen whether he can continue the kind of production he has displayed so far.
Anderson has started to hit his stride after a slow start. The forward is not the kind of player to jump out with flashy play or athleticism, but he is a natural playmaker going back to his days as a high school McDonald’s All-American point guard for coach Bobby Hurley at St. Anthony’s in New Jersey. So far, Anderson has gotten a lot of assists in transition on the secondary fast break and from the top of the arc to teammates cutting towards the rim or rolling behind the three-point arc.
Anderson can do more than he’s shown so far. He seems to be comfortable at the elbow, like Gasol, operating a high-low game or distributing dribble hand offs to attacking teammates. Expect to see even more from him moving forward.
Can Anderson and Mack continue to improve within the Grizzlies offense and further limit Conley and Gasol’s workload? The answer to that question will determine how far Memphis can go this season.