Perimeter creation was the deciding factor in the NBA bubble.
Obviously, the Lakers have the ultimate trump cards with LeBron and Anthony Davis. However, the Miami Heat had a plethora of playmakers, led by Jimmy Butler, that were vital in its improbable Finals run — Bam Adebayo, Goran Dragic, and Tyler Herro.
There were other successful teams in the bubble who broke out because of its perimeter creation. Denver had superstar performances from Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray en route to a Western Conference Finals berth — despite two 3-1 deficits. Boston makes up for its lack of bigs with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, and (healthy) Gordon Hayward.
It also decided the early fate of some regular-season favorites. The Los Angeles Clippers need a floor general. So do the Bucks, as they have no creators beyond Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton. Sure the Philadelphia 76ers needed Ben Simmons, but no one was going to create anything from the perimeter with its atrocious spacing.
To survive in this league, teams need to have multiple players that can create off the perimeter all across its positions. Wings and off-ball guards need to alleviate pressure off the point guard to handle playmaking responsibilities, while also creating their own looks. Point guards need a pull-up jumper. Big men need to stretch the floor, defend in space, and facilitate within the offense — at the bare minimum, through DHOs.
Or have LeBron James.
The Memphis Grizzlies are off to a great start in its rebuild. Ja Morant is already a top-10 playmaker, and he’ll only get better with an improved jumper. Jaren Jackson Jr. is a basketball unicorn with his sweet jumper and smooth handle as a 7-footer. The biggest things will be the evolution of Jackson and Brandon Clarke’s playmaking, and whether or not the Grizzlies can find secondary perimeter creation alongside its young duo.
In the bubble, Tyler Herro emerged as a perimeter creator in the form of a pull-up shooter. Though he’s deadlier as a catch-and-shoot flamethrower, 42.7% of his shots were pull-up jumpers, converting on 41.9% overall and 32% from 3 (50 attempts). The numbers aren’t the prettiest, but he’s already shown that he has this in his bag at a young age, and it helped the Heat steal a massive ECF game.
Another stride he made was as a secondary playmaker. In the playoffs, he averaged 3.7 assists against 2 turnovers, finishing with 5 or more assists in 4 games. This is a massive development, as it generates more looks for Bam and Butler, but it also elevates Herro’s ceiling to a new level. He’s only going to get better.
Other guards in the same ballpark — 6th men that can operate with the starters and create from the perimeter — would be Marcus Smart and Will Barton.
The only guy the Grizzlies have in this realm are Dillon Brooks and Justise Winslow. Polarizing perhaps, but Brooks has the chops to create off the dribble — 40.5% of his shots were pull-up jumpers, albeit on an inefficient 39.1% (30.9% on 3s). He also only dished out 2.1 assists per game, which is fine but not great. Though the numbers are discouraging, additional creators and shooters should help Brooks’ game and shooting, as it’ll take pressure off him to take wild shots.
Justise Winslow is another player that fits this archetype. In his last healthy season, he wasn’t much of a pull-up shooter, but his ability to get inside (48.6% of his shots came within 10 feet) and his playmaking (4.3 assists) could be huge...if he stays healthy.
The Grizzlies could be a playoff mainstay even with Brooks and Winslow alongside Morant, but to elevate to title contention they’ll need a perimeter creator that either is a star or could emulate a star — like Herro or Smart.
They could theoretically find another perimeter creator with the 40th pick and the mid-level exception, and Grayson Allen and (hopeful returning) De’Anthony Melton might emerge as creators. However, the real upside in finding more perimeter creators will come through its first-round draft capital — 2021 and beyond — or by a trade.
If the Grizzlies could find a secondary playmaker with star upside over the next couple years, it’ll do wonders for Ja Morant and its offense.
The big man archetype isn’t dying; it’s evolving. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor has been at the forefront of this conversation, highlighting how today’s centers are tasked with anchoring the defense, stretching the floor, and serving as a secondary — or even primary — playmaker.
3 of the final 4 teams possessed a big man that was an extraordinary perimeter creator. Anthony Davis continued his two-way interior dominance, but he was also a force outside the lane. He shot 38.3% from deep in the playoffs, while also finishing in the 92nd percentile in mid-range frequency, per Cleaning the Glass. Jimmy Butler is the driving force of the Heat’s force, but Bam Adebayo is the engine that keeps it going. His facilitating (4.4 assists against 2.5 turnovers in the postseason) at the top of the key generates good looks for Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, and Kendrick Nunn, and he’s also evolved as a live-dribble playmaker. Nikola Jokic is the hub of the Nuggets’ offense, scoring 24.4 points and dishing out 5.7 assists in the playoffs, while connecting on 50% of his mid-range jumpers, per Cleaning the Glass.
Jaren Jackson Jr. and Brandon Clarke have the potential to evolve as perimeter creators in their own sense. Obviously, Clarke’s 3-point volume is a big discussion, but I’ve chronicled his upside as a playmaker. I’ve also talked about Jackson’s unicorn potential he flashed in the bubble, and for the Grizzlies to become a legit contender down the road, it all starts and ends with how Jackson evolves into a dangerous perimeter weapon.
Jaren Jackson Jr. differs from Davis, Bam, and Jokic in that he’s a more potent outside weapon, firing 6.5 three’s a game at a 39.4% clip. His wiggle and footwork is already elite for his size and age. And it seems crazy to suggest that his perimeter game has room for growth.
Just patently absurd pull-up 3 flashes from 6-foot-11, 20-year-old Jaren Jackson Jr. pic.twitter.com/ctVjIRrRNk— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) July 17, 2020
Where Jackson could make major strides as a perimeter creator is improving his playmaking. Granted, he doesn’t need to put up assist numbers like Jokic or Bam, since Ja Morant projects at the top of leaderboards for assists for the next decade. But what he needs to do his level out his assist-to-turnover ratio, as he averaged 1.4 assists against 1.7 turnovers this past season. Doubling that assist number to about 3, while cutting down on his turnovers a smidge, would open up the Grizzlies’ offense tremendously.
Passes like these could become a fixture in Jenkins’ system, as Jackson develops as a perimeter creator and uses the threat of his outside jumper to create looks for himself and his teammates:
While he has the handle to create 3-point looks and to get to the rim, he needs to add more into his mid-range game. This season, 23% of his shots came in the mid-range, and he only converted 38% of them (82 attempts), per Cleaning the Glass. He shouldn’t stray away from becoming this 7-foot flamethrower that’s launching 7-10 3’s a game — I’d personally love the hell out of it if he did so. However, adding that pull-up game closer in the mid range as well would launch Jackson into the upper echelon of big men once he enters his prime.
Even this foul-line floater would be a marvelous staple in his bag — who’s going to block this:
Jaren Jackson Jr.’s peak will determine the Grizzlies ceiling. If he is this unicorn, Klay Thompson-Serge Ibaka hybrid, the Grizzlies will be top contenders in the Western Conference. As evident through the Bubble, Jackson will need to continue adding more to his bag, as the list of perimeter responsibilities for big men is only growing.
Ja Morant’s most prominent area of improvement is his perimeter game, particularly with his 3-point shot and pull-up jumper. As evident in the bubble, it’s a necessity to be in legitimate title contention.
Jamal Murray and Donovan Mitchell hit new levels, and that rise predicated through perimeter creation. Murray shot a blistering 43.2% on pull-up 3s (95 attempts) in the playoffs, while Mitchell was a smoking-hot 51% on those shots (51 attempts). In addition, their ability to stop on a dime and rise up in the mid-range was paramount when attacking pick-and-roll coverage.
I highlight those 2 specifically, because those are point guards Ja will have to go through to reach the Finals at some point over the next decade.
Ja’s primary area of improvement is his pull-up jumper. In 112 attempts, he shot 31.3% from 3 off the dribble. In the mid-range, he shot 42% overall and 42.2% on pull-up 2s. It was an area of his game that was exposed in the bubble, particularly in his 1-10 3-point performance against New Orleans in the bubble. Once he develops this area of his game, he’ll be able to attack under’s as a shooter, and over’s as a driver and playmaker.
He has upside as a shot-creator, and as his jumper improves, he’ll begin to efficiently attack opponents at all 3 levels with regularity:
He’s already flashed upside as a dynamic shot-creator, particularly with his floater and ability to finish in traffic. And I’m not suggesting he becomes this guy that fires 7-10 3’s a game like Trae Young or Damian Lillard. However, adding a nice pull-up jumper to his bag would unlock an infinite amount of avenues for him to work with on the court, and he’d emerge as a top point guard in the NBA, once enters his prime.
As our Site Manager Joe Mullinax illustrated earlier this week, the Memphis Grizzlies have lessons they can learn from the NBA playoffs in the bubble. You couldn’t say that over the past half-decade, as the Finals prominently featured 3 of the 25-ish greatest players of all time in LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant.
With teams like the Miami Heat, the Denver Nuggets, and the Boston Celtics, there are lessons to be learned in terms of team construction and culture setting. There are also lessons to be derived from the individual performances in the bubble. Coach Jenkins all season long talked about the importance of having as many playmakers on the floor as possible, and the Grizzlies’ future draft capital could build its wing depth to the point. And that’s still possible without tanking for a top-5 pick — reminder that Donovan Mitchell, Devin Booker, Zach LaVine, and Tyler Herro were all selected at 13 and 14 within the past 6 drafts. Finding another Herro, Smart, or even Kentavious Caldwell-Pope would be fantastic.
Jaren Jackson Jr.’s evolution as a go-to scorer and a playmaker could allow him to rise above his peers and have the level of impact that Anthony Davis, Bam Adebayo, and Nikola Jokic had in the playoffs.
Ja Morant’s improvement as a shooter and pull-up threat — combined with his wicked athleticism, Jimmy Butler-esque aggression, and generational playmaking — could make him a perennial MVP candidate and a legitimate first option on a title team.
The Memphis Grizzlies could find themselves in the same vein as the Heat, Celtics, and Nuggets — among other contenders — down the road. All of them organically grew into contenders through developing their picks, creating a phenomenal culture, and possessing multiple perimeter creators. How they continue finding more perimeter creators, and how their young stars expand their bags, will be the deciding factor in getting there.
Stats found on NBA.com, basketball reference, and Cleaning the Glass. Clips found on NBA.com.