Evaluating individual player stats is fun, especially when you’re tracking a franchise focused on developing young talent like the Memphis Grizzlies are. At the end of the day, though, basketball is a team game and the team stats are what tell the story of an organization’s season. Now that more than 25% of the season has been played, there is enough data to start analyzing this team’s performance in a meaningful way. Below is a breakdown of how the Grizz are performing relative to their opponents in the four primary categories that analytics have continuously demonstrated drive wins in basketball.
Effective Field Goal Percentage (EFG)
This is the single most important category of predicting team wins, which should make sense. At the end of the day, the team that scores the most points wins. EFG is a fairly straightforward calculation, with total shots made compared to the total shots attempted. The only adjustment made is that the number of three-point field goal attempts made is multiplied by 1.5 to account for the fact that three-pointers count for 50% more points than two-pointers.
Thus far, Memphis is making 51.0% of their two-point shots and 34.2% of their shots beyond the arc, ranking 18th and 24th in those categories, respectively. Conversely, opponents are shooting 52.6% on from two and 37.6% from deep. Both of those are in the bottom third of all teams at this point in the season (21st for 2PM; 26th for 3PM). After adjusting for the additional weight of three-pointers, Memphis has an EFG of 51.1 while allowing opponents an EFG of 54.1. The relative difference places the Grizzlies 26th among all teams in the league.
Turnovers Per Possession (TPP)
Perhaps not surprisingly, this year’s Grizz have been fairly careless with the basketball. The team is averaging 13.7 turnovers per possession, again placing them in the bottom third of the league at 21st. This is in no small part due to having the third youngest roster in the league with an average age of 24.3. Being the primary ball handler as a 20 year-old rookie, Ja Morant has been the squad’s number one offender with 3.4 turnovers per game. As the team’s second and third most utilized players on offense, Jaren Jackson and Jonas Valančiūnas are likewise turning the ball over too often. Combined, the three account for 7.6 of the team’s 16 turnovers per game.
While Morant does help create some turnovers with an average of almost 1.5 steals a contest, the team as a whole forces significantly fewer turnovers per game than they commit. With opponents only committing 13.2 turnovers per 100 plays, Memphis is 21st in relative TPP thus far. Of note, however, is the small sample size provided by De’Anthony Melton recently. In the eleven games he has appeared in to this point, he has stolen the ball on 3.9% of opponents’ possessions while on the court. Far and away the leader in this category for the Grizz, he could provide significant returns in relative TPP for the team going forward if he continues to see more playing time when Morant comes back from his back injury.
Despite starting two at-or-near 7-footers, Memphis continues to rebound poorly this season. The Grizzlies are 24th in the league in offensive rebounding percentage, grabbing only 21.9 percent of their own missed shots. The silver lining is that this team actually rebounds fairly well when on defense, securing 78% of opponents missed shots. That places this team just outside the top ten in the NBA in this category. Nevertheless, the offensive rebounding rate is so poor that it drags the team’s total rebounding rate down to the bottom six of the league.
With such a discrepancy in offensive and defensive rebounding rates, it would seem that the issue revolves more around the offensive scheme than rebounding ability. The Grizzlies big men are often used to space the floor on offense, which makes it difficult for them to be in good positions for offensive rebounds. If this was resulting in better looks for the shooters, then the rebounding rate wouldn’t be as big of an issue. However, as we pointed out earlier, the effective shooting percentages for this squad have been among the worst in the league.
Free Throw Rate (FTR)
The free throw rate, which captures the number of made free throws per field goal attempt, is as much about tracking foul trouble as it is tracking points from the charity stripe. As a team, Memphis ranks in the bottom three of the league with a FTR of 16.6% while their opponents enjoy an FTR of 22.3% (also ranking in the bottom 10). Combined, the Grizzlies are the worst team in the league in relative FTR. The only silver lining here is that, of the four drivers discussed here, FTR carries the least amount of weight towards predicting wins. Again, this is an incredibly young team. Hopefully, the players (cough, Jaren Jackson, cough) will get better at not fouling and drawing fouls as the season progresses.
We’ll continue to monitor these as the season progresses. Believe it or not, this team is actually outperforming the predicted standings based on these metrics, just not by much. After adjusting the weights for the level of importance, the Memphis Grizzlies are predicted to have the fourth worst record in the league. Right now, they are only the sixth worst in the league (Silver linings, ok?). There are obvious areas for improvement that, if they do occur, could change Memphis’ fortunes quickly. With the franchise focused on developing young talent, though, this could be the norm for the 2019-20 season.
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