The Grizzlies have now played five and a half games since they lost Ja Morant in the second quarter of their game against the Nets on December 28th. Over that time, the Grizzlies are 2-4 with a wide assortment of both good and bad performances. This variance is expected with a roster that is without its best talents; however, with nearly two weeks of data, some trends start to emerge that identify the positives and negatives of the available roster.
Since Dec. 28th, the Grizzlies are 21st in the NBA with a -3.7 NET RATING. This is a result of a clear strength and weakness emerging for Memphis this season. Over that time frame, the Grizzlies are seventh in Defensive Rating and 28th in offensive rating. A big reason for this is because the Grizzlies best offensive players are either struggling or not playing and many of the Grizzlies’ better defensive talents are playing more minutes.
With Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. both unavailable and Jonas Valanciunas in a slump, the Grizzlies have been far below average on offense for long stretches. With players such as Kyle Anderson, De’Anthony Melton, and Brandon Clarke now in expanded roles, along with the defensive improvements of Tyus Jones and Valanciunas, the Grizzlies defense (outside of the game against the Celtics) has been quite effective overall. The Grizzlies have shown the ability to defend the three point shot, limit fouls, and create turnovers against opposing backcourts at above average levels compared to the rest of the NBA this season.
While no one will label the Grizzlies as one of the best defensive teams in the league currently, they have held their opponents to 94 points or less in four of the last five games. Though lapses cost them the game Thursday night against Cleveland, they have been fairly consistent and effective to at least give themselves a chance to remain in games and win. Unfortunately, while the Grizzlies defense has certainly done its job, the offense has simply not found any consistency to take advantage of it.
One issue is the initial struggles of Valanciunas, Jones, and Clarke offensively. With this trio now playing more minutes against opposing teams’ best talents, the effectiveness of the Grizzlies’ starting lineup has plummeted. With Anderson and Dillon Brooks now regressing from their early season successes, Memphis currently has no go-to source to score, especially in the fourth quarter. And with the low chance that any player will emerge as that source among the options currently available, the Grizzlies have to create sources of offensive consistency through strategy and schemes.
A few glimmers of hope for the offense are the production of the bench in the past few games and Clarke finding his form. In addition, hope remains that Valanciunas will find his groove soon, which will be a big boost for Memphis. While these improvements are certainly a step in the right direction, the overall benefit of these specific developments is Memphis becoming more productive in terms of two-point shots. For the Grizzlies, the key for their offense to significantly improve with the current options available is getting some sort of consistency beyond the arc.
That concept begins with Desmond Bane and Tyus Jones.
Though the Grizzlies have defended the three well overall, the fact that they are 25th in 3PM and 26th in 3PFG% per game has not allowed for them to take advantage of their effective defense. A big reason for their offensive struggles beyond the arc is that Memphis is currently second to last in catch and shoot 3PFG% in the NBA. Add in the fact that Memphis is also in the bottom five in the league when it comes to pull-up attempts, the Grizzlies’ success with threes is more dependent on catch and shoot accuracy than most teams due to their overall lack of shot creators.
Grizzlies' catch & shoot numbers so far this year:— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) January 6, 2021
Bane: 50% (13-26)
Dieng: 42.9% (9-21)
Konchar: 36.4% (4-11)
Brooks: 34.3% (12-35)
Anderson: 30.0% (9-30)
Allen: 26.3% (5-19)
Clarke: 18.8% (3-16)
Jones: 17.6% (3-17)
You want spacing? Shooting? Start Bane.
One way in which the Grizzlies could improve their consistency from beyond the arc is finding more catch and shoot opportunities for Bane and Jones. Currently, Desmond Bane leads the Grizzlies in both FG% and 3PFG% in catch and shoot situations. In fact, Bane is actually one of the most effective catch and shoot three point shooters in the league so far this season. Here is the group of players who have a 45% or better 3PFG% and 70% or better eFG% on at least 25 catch and shoot opportunities this season:
This group of 15 players includes players who have shown MVP level ceilings and some of the best shooters in the league. Bane is tied for the lowest amount of catch and shoot opportunities among this group. Many of these other players are on teams with other successful three point shooters, though. The Grizzlies are not one of those teams; as a result, it seems Memphis would certainly benefit from providing Bane with more catch and shoot opportunities from three.
In fact, Bane should be leading Memphis in these opportunities moving forward. In terms of catch of shoot 3PA per game for the Grizzlies, Bane (48% 3PFG%, 73.1% eFG%) with 3.1 attempts is currently third behind Dillon Brooks (35.5% 3PFG%, 50.0% eFG%) at 3.9 attempts and Kyle Anderson (30% 3PFG%, 45 eFG%) at 3.8 attempts for Memphis. This is a logical distribution at this point of the season with Brooks and Anderson being veterans and starters and Bane being less than ten games into his career as a rookie. However, Bane is tied for 106th in the league in attempts per game. Whether it comes through being a starter or simply being featured more through play design when he is on the court, Memphis has to increase Bane’s opportunities from beyond the arc to improve the offense.
At the bottom of Peter Edmiston’s tweet from above is Tyus Jones, who has certainly struggled to find success with his shot to begin this season much like he struggled last season. Whether it be through playing different roles or still being in the first few weeks of playing competitive basketball that counts for the first time in nine months, there is some logic as to why Jones is having a slow start. However, just like last year when Jones found his groove and really progressed as a shooter from December 1st through the suspension of the season in March, there is reason to believe he will return to his expected form soon. Furthermore, his shooting results from last year also provide plenty of reason as to why the Grizzlies should give him every opportunity to regain that form.
As seen in the first image above, among Grizzlies who attempted 80 or more catch and shoot field goal attempts last season, Jones was first in FG% and second in eFG% (Grayson Allen’s insane performance in the bubble made slightly better). As seen in the second image, among Grizzlies with 100 or more pull up field goal attempts last year, Jones led the team in both FG% and eFG%. In both shooting scenarios, Jones was the Grizzlies’ best performer. Especially with him showing the best potential as a pull-up shooter of anyone on the Grizzlies’ roster, there is clear evidence that an effort should be made to increase Jones’s attempt from three as well.
The logic behind increasing the three point attempts of Bane and Jones is similar to the logic that Taylor Jenkins displayed when he decided to start Grayson Allen to begin the season over other backcourt options. However, Allen has certainly struggled with his shot to begin the season, and does not add the value in other areas of the game that Jones (playmaking and pull up shooting) and Bane (playmaking and rebounding) do.
Furthermore, the eFG% marks and overall accuracy shown above offer a bit more confidence in Jones and Bane than them simply receiving more shot opportunities. Considering their overall efficiency as players, if Jones or Bane are electing to shoot a three, it likely is either a high percentage look or the best shot available in that specific possession. Without a doubt, Memphis certainly needs to end as many offensive possessions as possible with the most beneficial look at the basket that can be found. It seems more threes from Bane and Jones are logical solutions.
So far, Jones and Bane have combined for roughly 2.5 3PM on 6.5 3PA per game. If the Grizzlies could increase that to 9 or 10 attempts per game for this duo, that could lead to a few more threes per night. So far this season, that difference could have resulted in multiple losses becoming wins for Memphis. Without a doubt, Taylor Jenkins’s lineup decisions have made the Grizzlies a better defensive team and has allowed them to remain competitive despite a plethora of injuries. The next step may be to make some tweaks to the current offensive philosophy that could result in more good looks from distance for Bane and Jones.
The end result could be earning a few more wins in the present, and better shooting depth once the roster returns to full health in the near future. It would also allow this roster to take the next step toward the final form Taylor Jenkins truly desires.