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Guards lead the way in Memphis

This team goes as they go.

Maccabi Haifa v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

It happens every game. As Dillon Brooks approaches 20 points, Pete Pranica and Brevin Knight, without fail, bring up the fact that the Memphis Grizzlies are undefeated when Dillon scores 20+ points.

This fact remains true. The Grizzlies have not lost a game where Dillon Brooks scores 20 or more points. The fact is that Memphis has also won a few games where he does not reach the 20 mark. This led to a little bit of research.

How big of an impact does Brooks truly have on this team? Here are the records of Grizzlies’ players when they are the leading scorer on any given night:

Jaren Jackson Jr. : 1-8

Jonas Valanciunas: 1-4

Ja Morant: 4-5

Dillon Brooks: 4-0

The first hypothesis to be tested by this research was that Dillon’s success was tied to another player also stepping up their game that night. The goal was to prove that Dillon is best as a secondary scorer.

According to the research, the team is very successful when DB leads the team in scoring. In those 4 wins he averaged 25.2 points per game.

In four more of the ten wins on the season, Dillon was the second leading scorer, averaging 19.5 points per game. What became obvious in this data was that this Memphis Grizzlies team lives and dies with the play of its back court.

In the 7 wins (Ja missed one victory during his injury) with either Ja or Dillon leading the team in scoring, the two of them combined for 45.6 points, good for 38% of the offense in those games.

For Comparison:

Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combine for 43% of Portland’s offense

Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell — 36%

Jamal Murray and Gary Harris — 26.2%

This means when Memphis wins games, they are typically relying upon their starting backcourt at an extremely high rate.

Both the Utah Jazz and the Denver Nuggets are ahead of the Blazers, with the Nuggets ahead of the Jazz and I believe there is a direct correlation to their playoff position and their backcourt usage rate.

The Blazers have always had to rely upon their starting backcourt and them alone to have success. The rise of Jusuf Nurkic before his injury gave Portland real hope they could make that push. The Jazz have secondary pieces such as Bojan Bogdonavic who is following his career year in Indiana with another career year. The Nuggets have Nikola Jokic and Paul Millsap amongst other pieces to compliment their talented guards.

Los Angeles Lakers v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Even the mighty Golden State Warriors with perhaps the best backcourt of all time in Steph Curry and Klay Thompson needed a Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Draymond Green or Kevin Durant to win it all.

The Memphis Grizzlies are most successful when their backcourt leads. To go to the next level, Jaren Jackson Jr. has to remain a focus, lest the Grizzlies become the next Portland team, only making the playoffs and nothing more. Jaren is currently shooting 40% from three at 6 attempts per game, which is second in attempts and best % for anyone on the team shooting more than 2.5 per game. The Nuggets are considered a favorite in the West because of their talented backcourt AND a talent like Jokic in the front court.

The Los Angeles Lakers and the Milwaukee Bucks are the best two teams in the Association at the moment and their formula does not rely upon shooting for success. Yes both teams combine to have 3 of the top players in the world, but it goes beyond that. Shooters are prone to have off nights, the key is for a team to find a way to win on nights the shots are not falling. Neither the Lakers nor the Bucks rely on shooting to win games. They attack the basket.

Ja Morant plays like a better shooting Russell Westbrook. He does not rely upon his jumper to get buckets, but has the ability to do that at an efficient rate. Dillon Brooks is just a scorer, but when his shot is not falling, he looks rather pedestrian. When one of the backcourt guys does not have it going, they have to be able to turn to someone.

That someone is Jaren Jackson Jr. Jaren should probably be second in shot attempts for this team on a nightly basis, behind Morant. Regardless of who gets the most shots up, Ja, Jaren and Dillon should each be in the top 3 every night in touches for this team to succeed.

If Taylor Jenkins becomes too perimeter-centric and relies on the backcourt to do the heavy lifting, then the Grizzlies’ ceiling will stop before the Finals. This team needs Ja and Dillon to be consistently productive, but it equally needs Jaren to be a force offensively to maximize this roster, both now and in the future.

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