All of the sudden, April is here.
For the Memphis Grizzlies and their fans, that means only a few more games to enjoy in the 2018-2019 season. While some may be glad the season is coming to an end, many have truly enjoyed the new Grizzlies’ roster and their recent offensive success. Furthermore, this could be the last few games that Mike Conley plays in a Grizzlies uniform. Whether it has brought happiness or despair, the season will quickly be over.
One reason for the recent happiness was the Grizzlies’ play in the month of March. No matter how you view it, if you have more wins in one month than the previous two combined, that month should be considered a success. This is a direct result of the efforts of several new additions that were made at the trade deadline.
C.J. Miles, Avery Bradley, and Delon Wright have enjoyed some of the most offensive success in their respective careers in Memphis. Bradley played his best stretch of offensive basketball since he has been in the NBA. Miles set a new career high in threes against Atlanta. Delon Wright matched his career high in points and proved his value has a key back court piece to invest in. Overall, Miles and Bradley provided outside shooting the Grizzlies have not had in years, while Wright’s ability to get to the rim as a guard was another effective element for the Grizzlies’ offense.
However, the main reasons for the offensive prosperity were Mike Conley and Jonas Valanciunas. Just like Wright, Miles, and Bradley, Conley and Valanciunas arguably were playing the best offensive basketball of their careers. Furthermore, many speculated both players were playing some of the best individual offensive basketball in franchise history. A That speculation expanded to the opinion that the Grizzlies played their highest level of offensive basketball as a team in franchise history in March.
With that in mind, I felt it would be a fun subject to explore. On both a team level and individually, just how elite were the Grizzlies, Conley, and Valanciunas in March compared to other Grizzlies players and teams in franchise history?
In short, Memphis’s play was quite memorable in March.
March was truly historic for the Grizzlies as a team. The Grizzlies averaged 111.5 PPG and 10.9 3PM per game, both franchise bests in a single month. They also achieved top ten single month marks in field goals made per game and team offensive rating.
A major reason for the record production was the record amount of chances. The Grizzlies averaged 87.4 FGA and 31.3 3PA per game, the second highest and highest marks per game for one month in franchise history. With longer distance shots, the shooting percentage numbers were not as high as previous Grizzlies teams that focused on high percentage two pointers. However, the faster pace and higher emphasis on quantity resulted in arguably the best offensive month in team history.
As a disclaimer, Mike Conley only played 10 games in the month of March due to general soreness and basically health management as his minutes played and usage were getting quite high. Coming off a year in which Conley only played 14 games, it was expected he may miss a few games later in the season. However, when Conley has played, he has performed at a level not seen before in franchise history.
In his ten games, Conley averaged 26.7 points per game in the month of March. That is the highest points per game average for a player who played a minimum of ten games in a month in franchise history. In fact, it is more than 3 full points higher than the next highest mark.
At basketball-reference.com, a statistic that is used to measure each individual game is Game Score. It is an overall grade of each player’s statistical performance. Conley’s average Game Score in March was 22.3, more than 3 full points higher than any other player in Grizzlies’ history.
Conley also averaged 2.7 threes per game in March. Only Mike Miller and Tyreke Evans have averaged more per game in a month. Furthermore, Conley’s current streak of 9 straight games with 20 points scored is the most since Zach Randolph in the 2009-2010 season. Statistically speaking, Mike Conley arguably is playing the best offensive basketball in his career. In fact, he logically is playing the highest level of offensive basketball an individual has ever played in a Grizzlies’ uniform.
Not to get too biblical, but Jonas Valanciunas has been both a beast and a revelation since arriving in Memphis. In March, Valanciunas averaged 20.4 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game. The Grizzlies have not seen that type of statistical production in a month since Zach Randolph’s prime, which was 2009-2012. In March, Jonas set a career high for points scored multiple times. He also set the franchise record for defensive rebounds for 23 against Orlando.
Valanciunas’s dominance was especially evident over the past few weeks. In a five game stretch from March 22nd through March 30th, Valanciunas scored at least 18 points, grabbed at least 13 rebounds, and blocked at least 2 shots in each game. Only Dwight Howard has met that statistical baseline in five straight games over the past 6 years. The reason Valanciunas’ efforts in March have been so highly praised is because his level of play has been rarely seen across the NBA over the past several years.
As a duo, Conley and Valanciunas combined for 46.8 points per game in March. That is the highest scoring mark for a Grizzlies duo in a single month in franchise history. For any Grizzlies pairing that has played more than 200 minutes together this year, the six best duos in offensive rating include Conley, Valanciunas, or both. When both or either one of these two players are on the court, the Grizzlies offense is at its best.
For a fan base that has been clamoring for a Grizzlies’ team that can consistently be at least competent on offense, the franchise delivered. In fact, it exceeded expectations. Whether it be Conley’s heroics or the new players taking advantage of new career opportunities, they all have succeeded. Even if we do not convey, the front office, staff, and players were unified in a plan to become better offensively. They succeeded in a manner few likely thought possible.
This success should not be taken out of context. This stretch of play should not be a significant factor in future roster decisions. The roster is still flawed and limited. Instead, this success should be viewed as a positive to enjoy in a season that overall has had its fair share of negatives. Sometimes it is best for fans to simply focus on the present to truly enjoy the successes of the team they cheer, especially when those successes are rare.
In a season where many things have gone wrong, March was was truly a memorable month because it signified the franchise finally got something right.