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Turning the corner through the corner

As the Grizzlies’ offense has a growing need for consistency, a new strategy could prove successful.

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Detroit Pistons v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Though the Grizzlies are likely not happy with two losses to begin their final stretch of the season, the Memphis offense gas certainly proven at times that they belong. Led by Jaren Jackson Jr, Ja Morant, and Brandon Clarke, the Grizzlies have been able to stay with their competition through good offensive stretches. However, the Grizzlies have also struggled. Though unfortunate injuries have played a significant part in their struggles, the Grizzlies offense having difficulty against good competition should not come as a surprise when you look at their schedule this season.

Consider the Grizzlies Offensive Rating over three different stretches of this season:

Start of the Season through November: 104.5 (26th in the league)

December and January: 114.2 (9th in the NBA)

February to March 11th: 107.8 (28th in the NBA)

Obviously, the key to Memphis being in the bubble was their play in December and January, as they featured one of the best offenses in the league over that time. Injures (Jackson Jr. and Clarke) and ineffectiveness (Dillon Brooks) impacted Memphis’s struggles before and after that stretch of play. However, another factor that also influenced the quality of the Grizzlies offense was their competition in these stretches:

Percentage of the Grizzlies Schedule versus teams currently in Orlando:

Start of Season through November: 83% (15 of 18 teams)

December and January: 70% (21 of 30 teams)

February to Present Day: 87.5% (14 of 16 teams)

Simply put, when the Grizzlies offense played against better competition, it struggled. While the season was suspended, Memphis’s roster was able to get fully healthy. But nearly every other team in Orlando benefited in the same way. The end result was many more talented teams only getting stronger as the restart neared.

2020 NBA Restart - All Access Practice Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Unfortunately, the Memphis anticipation of life with a full roster was short lived as the injuries to Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow were significant blows to Memphis’s overall potential. The absences were immediately felt, as other players now needed to step up in new roles. The impact on the Grizzlies offense was clear once things tipped off in Orlando. Though Memphis has still succeeded through transition, the paint, and by featuring its young stars, other sources of scoring that were expected to materialize have not.

For one, with Jones, the Grizzlies bench was among the most productive in the league, leading NBA reserve units in both assists per game and field goal percentage. Several names among the Grizzlies reserves - such as Jones, Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke, and De’Anthony Melton - were frequently a part of the Grizzlies most productive lineup combinations.

With its bench, Memphis actually featured an asset that was advantageous against nearly anyone in the NBA, even title contenders. However, in Orlando, the Grizzlies bench has been outscored by the reserves of its opposition, 71-68. Though that may not seem to be significant, the Grizzlies have lost by a total of seven points in two games. In Orlando, Memphis’s reserves are contributing 34 points per game; that is 7.2 points less than the 41.2 points they averaged per game before the season was suspended.

Atlanta Hawks v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Another source was the possibility of improved shooting from several players on the roster. Though Brooks had struggled since February, there was hope he would regain his form after the break. Both Melton and Anderson showed very encouraging improvements in their forms during the scrimmage sessions. However, that potential has yet to emerge as trusted production. This trio has made 18 of its 56 shot attempts in the bubble. including just six of its 27 shots from three.

Through this second potential source of scoring, the Grizzlies hoped their could be needed improvement in their approach from deep. Overall, Memphis’s ability from beyond the arc has never been a huge concern for other teams this season. Before the hiatus, the Grizzlies were 24th in the NBA in threes per game and 22nd in 3PFG%.

Naturally, Memphis has displayed better accuracy in catch and shoot opportunities versus chances when pulling up for shots. With the Grizzlies highly productive passing abilities, setting up catch and shoot chances, would seem to be a priority. One area of the court where this could be utilized consistently is the corners.

However, before the season was suspended, the Grizzlies ranked 26th in the league in 3PFG% from the corners, while being slightly below league average in overall attempts. Memphis simply has not featured the corner three as a reliable source of scoring this season. A big reason for that could be the personnel that was available to take the shots.

The top three players with the most corner three attempts on the Grizzlies this year are Jackson Jr, Brooks, and Jae Crowder (now on the Heat). As can be seen above, Jackson Jr. as an option is just fine; however, the reliance on Crowder and Brooks was less than ideal. Since these three were the most frequently utilized options from the corners, the lack of accuracy from Crowder and Brooks (18th and 11th percentiles in relation to their positions) highly impacted the Grizzlies’ struggles on these specific attempts.

However, as the season progressed due to trades and injuries the Grizzlies personnel options have changed with time. With Crowder on the Heat, and Brooks starting many of his possessions and taking many of his threes above the break, Memphis’s personnel options have evolved. While Jackson Jr. remains at the top of the list, Melton, Clarke, Anderson, Grayson Allen, Josh Jackson, and Anthony Tolliver are other options who could be used as shooting options from the corners on.

Though none of these names would be considered an elite option, according to the graphic above they certainly have better track records of reliability than Brooks or Crowder. Melton and Allen are among the Grizzlies most accurate shooters from the corners of the options currently available. Given Anderson’s shooting form improvements, Clarke’s impressive accuracy from threes in general, and Tolliver’s vast experience from beyond the arc for his position in terms of frequency and accuracy provides Memphis with plenty of depth to utilize in this scheme. Memphis can feature multiple players that can be targets for corner three attempts throughout the entire game, allowing this approach to be an option for both the starters and the reserves.

Though the results are not jaw dropping, there are signs of initial success. In Orlando, Memphis has averaged 8.5 corner looks per game, up from 6.9 from before the suspension. Memphis has shot 28% on 71 overall three point attempts. From the corners, Memphis has made 41% of its 17 attempts. As seen above, the Grizzlies found plenty of success against Portland, though they struggled a bit against San Antonio.

Taylor Jenkins has certainly shown the ability to adjust and adapt as new roster options emerge due to his usual roster options not being available. This is certainly an adjustment that offers encouragement. As the Grizzlies look to continue succeeding in the paint and teams collapse to stop their ability to do so, passing lanes will be open in the corners. If Morant, Brooks, and others can knock down a few baskets in the paint and gain the defense’s attention, the desired result could look similar to how Memphis played in the first half against Miami in their last scrimmage. This was when Memphis looked its best since arriving in the bubble.

Overall, the loss of Tyus Jones and struggles of Dillon Brooks are proving to be tough obstacles to overcome. However, the Grizzlies have reached a point where their offense must turn the corner toward success fast, as after New Orleans the Grizzlies face 5 of the 11 best defenses in the NBA. If these teams focus on limiting Morant and the Grizzlies ability in the paint, the Grizzlies scoring on the perimeter becomes critical. Early results are showing that Memphis can find good success through the corners, so a higher priority should be placed on utilizing them for the offense to get back its needed consistency and productivity.

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