In Part One and Part Two of “Following the Bud Blueprint”, I detailed a few ways in which Memphis Head Coach Taylor Jenkins is following in the footsteps of his mentor, Mike Budenholzer. Through frequent shooting and effective passing, the Grizzlies are continuing to develop into a roster with significant offensive potential. While they certainly still have a ways to go in terms of their shooting consistency, they finished the 2019-2020 season as one of the best passing teams in the NBA.
Obviously these two traits are certainly connected, as effective ball movement helps in gaining comfort for a roster to find good looks from distance. The end result is not just more frequent shooting from distance and beyond the arc. It is making more shots through higher percentage looks at the basket, thus gaining consistency on finishing possessions with positive outcomes.
Over his seven years as a head coach, Mike Budenholzer’s teams have finished among the best in the NBA in points per game and FG%. His pace of play, emphasis on frequent three point attempts, and ball movement have all contributed to that success. However, it is not simply the amount of shots taken, possessions, or passes per game that have allowed his offenses to be considered among the best in the league in both Atlanta and Milwaukee. It is the fact that his teams have consistently made the right passes to set up high percentage shots on a consistent basis.
In five of the last seven years (three in Atlanta and the last two in Milwaukee), Budenholzer had led his team to the playoffs. In each of those seasons, the Hawks and the Bucks were ranked in the top ten of the NBA in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage. This is significant because it indicates that his offensive schemes and rotations were consistently able to produce high percentage looks. Furthermore, especially in Milwaukee, the frequency of these attempts coming from beyond the arc shows that his roster could not only find good looks near the basket, but also from distance.
That ability to be among the best in the league in terms of three point production and still be highly consistent within the arc has allowed Milwaukee to arguably be the best offensive team in the league over the past two years (which makes the performances of Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, and their teammates even more impressive.)
Entering year two of their rebuild, the Grizzlies are still a ways away from anyone considering them among the best offenses in the league. Memphis was 20th in eFG% and 21st in TS% this past season. They also were 23rd in the league in 3PFG%. Despite having more success than many anticipated last season, this Grizzlies roster is currently still below average in terms of their overall ability to shoot.
Yet while reliable shooting from distance will likely take a bit of time to develop, there is already plenty of potntiale on this roster when it comes to finding the right shots consistently.
Fortunately, that potential clearly begins with the young and talented core Memphis has put together over the past two years based off their performances during the 2019-2020 season. Ja Morant joined Magic Johnson as the only rookies to average 17 or more points and 7 or more assists per game (min. 50 games) while producing a TS% above 55% in NBA history. Brandon Clarke produced the best eFG% and TS% of any rookie who has attempted 450 or more field goals in NBA History. For a player his height (6’11” or taller), Jaren Jackson Jr. became the only player in NBA history to average at least 2.5 threes per game while producing a eFG% of 56% and a TS% of 59%. Though this young trio certainly has plenty of room to improve, the significance of their initial success in the NBA is historic. They certainly have the potential to allow the Grizzlies to feature one of the best and most versatile offenses in the NBA in the future.
The Grizzlies best talents show incredible potential as effective shooters and scorers moving forward. However, as Budenholzer’s teams have shown, its also very important to have depth that can effectively shoot as well. Jonas Valanciunas was one of only two players last season with 700 or more FGA that produced an eFG% and TS% better than 60%. Through the production of these four players, the Grizzlies were able to establish areas of strength on offense. They were first in the NBA in points in the paint per game and fourth in fast break points per game. The development of these strengths allowed for better offensive consistency, and also helped the Grizzlies young core to develop comfort and confidence in finding the best shot opportunities consistently.
Though these strengths were clear reasons for the Grizzlies exceeding expectations last year, they eventually will have to find consistency from distance, especially from beyond the arc. Though Memphis was slightly below average in catch and shoot and pull up shooting situations overall last year, they were 20th and 30th in the NBA in these scenarios from beyond the arc, respectively. Significant improvement in these specific areas will be critical for the Grizzlies over time if they hope to consistently make and advance in the playoffs.
From December 1st on, Tyus Jones shot 43.8% from 3 and 49.2% on catch-and-shoot 3's.— Parker Fleming (@PAKA_FLOCKA) September 21, 2020
Of those that played 30+ games in that stretch, & shot 2+ 3s/g, only these players shot better from 3: Seth Curry, Pat Beverley, Shake Milton, Duncan Robinson, JJ Redick, Grayson Allen, MPJ
There were clear steps toward establishing that improvement last year. As GBB’s own Parker Fleming points out, Tyus Jones proved to be a reliable three point option when called upon for much of the season. Grayson Allen, once back healthy from his hip injury, emerged as one of the best three-point shooters in the bubble this past summer. Though he had his ups and downs, the Grizzlies were 16-10 when Dillon Brooks made three or more threes in a game last year. Even Kyle Anderson improved significantly once his shoulder returned to full health, as he improved from 22% from three (11-49) before March to 36% from three (13-36) after March. While these players will likely never be among the NBA’s best three point specialists, the overall shooting depth they provide is at a significantly higher level than it was a year ago.
Though there was clear improvement in the areas of shooting and playmaking last season for the Grizzlies, these two traits remained areas of need this offseason. As a result, the Grizzlies pinpointed talents that specifically addressed these two needs in the NBA draft. In Desmond Bane and Killian Tillie, Memphis arguably acquired the best overall shooter and best frontcourt shooter in the 2020 draft. In Xavier Tillman, the Grizzlies selected arguably the best frontcourt passer in this year’s draft class. This trio adds significant passing and shooting potential to a young roster that needed it, and allows Taylor Jenkins even more confidence that he can play his ideal style of basketball regardless of the lineup that he puts on the court.
Overall, the Grizzlies still need another elite shooting talent to truly reach the level of sustainable success that Budenholzer’s teams have achieved in recent history. However, they certainly have a core in place than has a good chance to reach that level one day, and now Memphis has highly versatile depth that can allow them to pass and shoot the ball effectively for much of the game. Though other teams may have better individual shooting talents, Taylor Jenkins how has the amount of pieces to make the Grizzlies shooting and offensive consistency competitive against any level of opponent.
In reality, the Grizzlies are still a few years away from being a sustainable winner or true title contender. However, they are showing significant strides to reach that level of success faster than anyone expected. Through elite passing and improved shooting, the Grizzlies should successfully continue that journey this season. And though Taylor Jenkins will likely find consistent success through his own methods, he certainly has had great initial results implementing the strategies of his predecessor so far in Memphis.
In time, following the Bud Blueprint will hopefully lead to unprecedented success for the Grizzlies on multiple occasions this decade. And, who knows, perhaps it will even lead to a playoff matchup or two between Taylor Jenkins and Mike Budenholzer in the not too distant future.