As the NBA has transitioned into the “pace and space” era focused on having four shooters on the floor and running to the 3-point line, the Memphis Grizzlies have decided to go back to zagging when the Association zigs, focusing on their grit and grind style of play.
While this style brought Memphis success to start the 2010s, the modern style of play has seemed to pass the Grizzlies by, as the team has not won a playoff series since 2015. The past three seasons have seen Memphis produce two teams that barely finished above .500 and a team struck by injuries and locker room clashes that lost 60 games.
The last time Memphis won over 50 games was in the 2014-15 season, which may not seem like it was all that long ago. However, the NBA (and more specifically, the style of modern offense) has drastically changed since that last elite Grizzlies team took the floor. In that 2014-15 season, the Houston Rockets led the league in 3-pointers attempted per game at 32.7. In this past season, Houston led the league in such attempts at 42.3 per game! Now, it must be said that the Rockets are long known for pushing the barriers when it comes to 3-pointers, using their analytics-based offense to jack up 3 after 3 (as well as plenty of shots at the rim).
However, there is a common misconception about the Rockets and their offense. Many people assume that because of their reputation as a team, as well as the reputations of some of their players, that Houston trots out lineups full of knockdown, dead-eye shooters. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. Sure, Houston continuously leads the league in attempts from beyond the arc, but they almost always hover around league average in terms of 3-point percentage, finishing 14th this past season, 15th in 2016-17, and 19th in the 2015-16 campaign.
They make up for their pedestrian accuracy with an increase in volume, and such a recipe is something the Grizzlies can and should replicate moving forward. This isn’t the NBA 2K video game in which you can just jack up a bunch of 3-pointers and hope you get the player’s shooting release down for the shot to go in. But there is something to be said about the Rockets’ offense, as their high volume of 3-point attempts increases the variance of their offense, and by shooting so many threes and focusing on getting to the rim, they have continuously posted elite offensive numbers since Mike D’Antoni took over two seasons ago.
Memphis finished 24th in the league in 3-point attempts per game (26.2), a number that should increase moving forward if the Grizzlies want to drastically improve their offense. The Grizzlies have the shooters in their rotation to make this a fruitful addition to the Grit and Grind philosophy, from Chandler Parsons (42.1 percent last season), Wayne Selden Jr. (40.2 percent) and Garrett Temple (39.2 percent) to a returning Mike Conley (career 37.7 percent).
Other rotational pieces such as Dillon Brooks, Marc Gasol, JaMychal Green and rookie Jaren Jackson Jr. have the ability and potential to shoot above league-average from beyond the arc.
Long story short, the Grizzlies have more than enough shooters in the rotation to justify an increase in attempts this season.
Let’s take a look at some lineups that J.B. Bickerstaff can throw out to maximize the floor spacing and shooting during stretches of games.
Starting lineup: Conley, Temple, Kyle Anderson, JJJ/Green, Gasol
This is one of the potential starting lineups Memphis can begin the season with, and inserting Temple for Dillon Brooks at the two guard provides just a bit more shooting around Anderson, a notoriously limited shooter. If the starting frontcourt players can shoot at least league average from beyond the arc, this lineup has quite the spacing around Anderson, making it more viable to put the ball in his hands to initiate the offense. Gasol attempted a career-high 4.4 threes per game last season, and as he continues to age, should find himself available behind the arc.
Sure, Gasol clashed with David Fizdale last season, but Fizdale’s desire to bring the Grizzlies into the modern-offensive era paid dividends for Gasol, who is now comfortable jacking up threes in order to keep defenses honest.
Gasol can become an even more dynamic pick-and-roll/pop partner for Conley and Anderson, with his ability to pop out beyond the arc from nearly anywhere on the floor. It continues to be hard for traditional bigs to keep up with Gasol on the perimeter, and his willingness to shoot without hesitation will be key for the team’s offense this season.
With another playmaker inserted into the starting lineup, Gasol should continue to get quality looks from behind the arc, especially with his ability to back up to the line after setting screens:
The main concerns in this lineup come from the frontcourt. Everyone knows Anderson isn’t jacking up 3-pointers anytime soon, so it will be incredibly important for Green (33.9 percent) and Gasol (34.1 percent) to improve their shooting from last season. If Jackson Jr. starts, will his shooting be able to translate early in his rookie season? We know he won’t shoot 50 percent from beyond the arc like he did in summer league, but will he be able to hit threes at an above-average rate?
The hope is that having two quality playmakers in Conley and Anderson will generate more quality looks for the frontcourt, but that remains to be seen at the moment.
Pumping up the floor spacing: Conley, MarShon Brooks, Temple, Parsons, Gasol
Inserting Brooks and Parsons into a lineup provides more consistent and reliable shooting, but certainly sacrifices on the defensive end, making it less likely Bickerstaff throws out such a combination on a regular basis (given that Parsons can even play on a regular basis). However, this lineup would still have three plus defenders on the floor, and would include four players that have shot over 38 percent from beyond the arc in recent seasons.
Another compelling component of this lineup is the secondary and tertiary playmaking that Temple and Parsons can provide, which will likely lead to more quality shots for Conley and Gasol playing off-ball and through setting screens.
If Bickerstaff wants to feel more confident at the defensive end, subbing in Dillon Brooks for MarShon provides more stability on that end of the floor without killing the floor spacing, as Brooks shot around 36 percent on 3-pointers last season, a number that should increase with less of a offensive load to handle and additional playmakers alongside him.
Getting creative with small-ball: Conley, Selden Jr./M. Brooks, Temple, Parsons, Anderson
Now this is where things get a bit crazy (and unlikely to occur). However, if you’re looking for a modern lineup that has the shooting and just enough defense to combat the recent trend of small-ball, this is it. This lineup includes four knockdown shooters around an unorthodox, playmaking wing in Anderson, who at 6’9” with a long wingspan fits the mold for a small-ball center.
This lineup still has three plus defenders on the floor, and provides Anderson with an incredible amount of floor-spacing to initiate the offense. Imagine a similar play to the one below, with Anderson in Tyreke Evans’ position:
Additionally, Parsons and Temple can handle the ball at times, giving Conley and the shooting guard (Selden or Brooks) the ability to run off screens for catch-and-shoot opportunities. The amount of floor-spacing would also provide Conley with plenty of room to navigate his way inside the arc for mid-range jumpers and crafty floaters, keeping the defense honest and stretched to defend all areas of the floor.
In the end, we can play around with potential lineups for hours. While the Grizzlies won’t transform into an offense dependent on 3-pointers overnight, there is a recipe to follow for improving the team’s ability to put points on the board, and it starts with an increase in volume of 3-pointers attempted.
As the Rockets have shown, you don’t have to be elite in 3-point percentage, as a strong number of attempts (in conjunction with a focus on getting to the rim and free throw line) can produce a good offense.
The Grizzlies have the ingredients to increase their number of attempts and floor-spacing, which will only stand to improve the team’s offense as they look to withstand a tough Western Conference and return to the playoffs.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com/stats.
Video courtesy of 3ball.io