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How the 4-point line could help evolve the Grizzlies offense

The Grizzlies newest practice tactic could propel the offense and its franchise cornerstone to another level.

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

Welcome to the future!

The Memphis Grizzlies under Taylor Jenkins keep smashing franchise records for 3-point volume, pace, and scoring on a per-possession basis. These are not your big sibling’s Memphis Grizzlies. They’re not going to grind teams out for 80-90 scored point wins, nor pound you to death in the half-court offense. They’re going to fly up and down the court, operate the offense with a wide-open floor, whip the ball around for open shots, and let that [bleep] fly.

The coaching staff has now added a new wrinkle to the fold to enhance the offense: a 4-point line at practice. Now, Grizz faithful, do not fret. This doesn’t mean that the Grizzlies will be seeking more 3’s from Curry or Dame range, or with the frequency of the Moreyball Houston Rockets squads.

While it may help them increase their 3-point rate — which has been a quick preseason product — the implementation of a 4-point line on the practice court is aimed to enhance the Grizzlies’ offense beyond from shooting triples.

It’s about spacing and the ripple effects from it.

Taylor Jenkins has said the spacing will be a big emphasis this year. That’s what implementing this 4-point line is designed to do. It doesn't lead to more deep 3’s; it opens up the floor for the offense to generate a spacing advantage when initiating the offense.

“That 4-point line spacing is something to try to stretch out the defense, the rotations, the close-outs,” Jenkins said of the decision. “Put ourselves in better position to read the defense a lot better, and hopefully at the end of the day, have better driving angles and more 3-point opportunities.”

This new practice ploy could end up boosting the Grizzlies’ offense, and the personnel executing on this spacing principle could help them breakthrough to return to the playoffs in the Western Conference.

Before diving into how the Grizzlies could benefit from the 4-point line, and how it enhances a few of the players in this, let’s dive into the performance of teams that have drawn their 4-point lines.

Through a Twitter search for “4-point line,” as well as ESPN’s Malika Andrews’ profile on the NBA’s newest gimmick, these are the franchises that have adopted it: Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, Brooklyn Nets, Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks, New York Knicks, Dallas Mavericks, Detroit Pistons, Boston Celtics, and Toronto Raptors.

When taking into account Offensive Rating — as well as 3-point frequency, attempts per game, and percentage — here’s how certain teams graded out.

OFF Numbers for Teams w/ Practice 4pt Line

Team Season Offensive Rating (+ Rank) 3-point frequency (+rank) 3PA per game (+rank) 3P percentage (+ rank) Winning Percentage Record
Team Season Offensive Rating (+ Rank) 3-point frequency (+rank) 3PA per game (+rank) 3P percentage (+ rank) Winning Percentage Record
Milwaukee Bucks 2019-20 111.9 (8th) 42.9% (4th) 38.9 (4th) 35.5 (18th) 76.70% 56-17
Milwaukee Bucks 2018-19 113.5 (4th) 42.0% (3rd) 38.2 (2nd) 35.3 (15th) 73.20% 60-22
Philadelphia 76ers 2020-21 112.5 (15th) 34.7% (26th) 30.1 (26th) 37.4 (11th) 68.10% 49-23
Brooklyn Nets 2020-21 117.3 (1st) 41.4% (9th) 36.1 (12th) 39.2 (2nd) 66.70% 48-24
Milwaukee Bucks 2020-21 116.5 (5th) 40.4% (12th) 37.1 (8th) 38.9 (5th) 63.90% 46-26
Philadelphia 76ers 2018-19 111.6 (8th) 34.1 (19th) 30.2 (19th) 35.9 (8th) 62.20% 51-31
Philadelphia 76ers 2019-20 110.7 (14th) 36.0% (21st) 31.6 (22nd) 36.8 (9th) 58.90% 43-30
Dallas Mavericks 2020-21 114.6 (8th) 43.7% (6th) 38.1 (6th) 36.2 (18th) 58.30% 42-30
Dallas Mavericks 2019-20 115.9 (1st) 45.6% (2nd) 41.3 (2nd) 36.7 (10th) 57.30% 43-32
New York Knicks 2020-21 110.2 (22nd) 34.8% (24th) 30 (27th) 39.2 (3rd) 56.90% 41-31
Atlanta Hawks 2020-21 114.3 (9th) 38.3% (19th) 33.4 (19th) 37.3 (12th) 56.90% 41-31
Brooklyn Nets 2018-19 108.9 (19th) 40.3% (5th) 36.2 (5th) 35.3 (14th) 51.20% 42-40
Boston Celtics 2020-21 113.1 (10th) 40.9% (11th) 36.4 (10th) 37.4 (10th) 50% 36-36
Brooklyn Nets 2019-20 108.7 (22nd) 42.3% (5th) 38.1 (5th) 34.3 (26th) 48.60% 35-37
Chicago Bulls 2020-21 110.4 (21st) 38.3% (18th) 34 (17th) 37.0 (13th) 43.10% 31-41
Toronto Raptors 2020-21 118.6 (16th) 44.4% (4th) 39.3 (4th) 36.8 (15th) 37.50% 27-45
Atlanta Hawks 2018-19 107.5 (23rd) 40.3% (4th) 37.0 (3rd) 35.2 (16th) 35.40% 29-53
Brooklyn Nets 2017-18 106.1 (22nd) 43.6% (2nd) 35.7 (2nd) 35.6 (20th) 34.10% 28-54
Chicago Bulls 2019-20 105.8 (29th) 39.9% (11th) 35.1 (11th) 34.8 (22nd) 33.80% 22-43
Detroit Pistons 2019-20 108.8 (20th) 38.1% (15th) 32.7 (17th) 36.7 (11th) 30.30% 20-46
Atlanta Hawks 2019-20 107.0 (25th) 39.8% (12th) 36.1 (8th) 33.3 (30th) 29.90% 20-47
Detroit Pistons 2020-21 107.6 (26th) 38.4% (17th) 32.9 (21st) 35.1 (22nd) 27.80% 20-52
Chicago Bulls 2018-19 104.5 (29th) 29.6% (26th) 25.9 (27th) 35.1 (19th) 26.80% 22-60
Brooklyn Nets 2016-17 103.6 (29th) 39.3% (4th) 31.6 (4th) 33.8 (26th) 24.40% 20-62
OFF Numbers for Teams w/ Practice 4pt Line

There’s something to take here from the teams here that finished .500 or better. Most of these teams finished the top 20 in each of these categories. The only outliers were last year’s Knicks team, who experienced overachieving success due to a remarkable effort of both converting on and defending triples, and the Philadelphia 76ers, who rely on one of the 2-3 most dominant big men of the past 5 years.

Climbing up those rankings is something the Grizzlies will have to do to earn a playoff spot in the Western Conference — and it’s also a reason Taylor Jenkins is wanting to implement a practice 4-point line in the first place. Last year, the Grizzlies finished outside the top-20 in 3-point attempts (31.4, 23rd), percentage (35.6, 20th), and frequency (34.2%, 28th). So while the offense has been pretty solid — 15th in Offensive Rating, 111.7 points per 100 possessions — an improvement in those areas will enhance the spacing and the team’s production.

They have the personnel necessary to attack on this spacing principle.

And it all starts with Ja Morant.

Memphis Grizzlies v Chicago Bulls Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Ja Morant is the straw that stirs the offensive drink for Memphis. He’s the basketball equivalent of a Ferrari with his flash, speed, ooo and ahh style of play, and his ability to shift gears on a dime. Though he doesn’t possesses the same type of heliocentricity as Luka Doncic, Trae Young, or James Harden, Morant resembles a heliocentric star with his wicked passing, his relentlessness attacking the basket, his ability to generate drives, and his pick-and-roll navigation. The Ringer’s Ryen Russillo described as “point guard Giannis” in a recent Bill Simmons Podcast, as someone who ruthlessly attacks his opposition inside the restricted circle with his explosiveness.

This 4-point line should benefit him more than anyone, because it generates those driving lanes, and that’s where he’s in his element.

“Our spacing is a big part for us this year,” Morant said about the newest tactic. “With that, there are a lot of open lanes on the floor, which I like to play in.”

Morant is already one of the most frequent drivers in basketball. Only Doncic and Young drove more than Morant, who finished with 1158 drives last year. He was a success in those situations too — 6th in scoring (597) and 4th in assists (139) off of drives. The spacing should also help his driving efficiency as well, as he finished 55th out of the 65 players with 500+ drives in field goal percentage (45.1%).

The extra spacing on the floor can only enhance Morant’s game off of the drive. It gives him more of a runway to beat his defender off the dribble.

Even with Steven Adams in the dunker spot, LaMelo Ball and Terry Rozier have to pay mind to Ziaire Williams and De’Anthony Melton (out of the frame) in the corners, giving Ja a good kick-out if the defense collapses. In addition, Anderson’s placement within the offense pushes his defender closer to the 3-point line. What’s left? Ja Morant leaves poor rookie big Kai Jones just stranded on an island, while he’s stuck in the riptide of a Big 12 masterclass.

In the same way, it’s also going to aid the pick-and-roll offense with Morant at the head of the snake. Jaren Jackson Jr. talked about how things get clogged when you play a lot of pick-and-roll, and the 4-point line is a way to start that action earlier to give the ball-handler, roller, and the surrounding players rooms to operate. This should enhance Morant and the Grizzlies offense. Morant was 4th in total pick-and-roll possessions (646), but only generated 0.81 per pick-and-roll possession — 48th out of 58 players with 250 or more PNR possessions. Getting to those actions higher up in the half-court should increase that efficiency, especially with the added mid-range jumper.

In an example of a higher screen and roll, Morant attacks off the Steven Adams pick further out from the 3-point line. There’s more of a launch pad for Morant to attack Stewart all the way to the basket. However, he attacks the drop coverage to hit the mid-range shot in rhythm.

(Note: This partnership should be very beneficial to 4-point line pick-and-roll action. Steven Adams has been in the top 20 in screen assists in each of the past 5 seasons, including serving as the league leader in 2017-18).

Ja Morant has the makings of a generational talent to make defenses pay with his ability to create offense when attacking the basket — either for himself or others. While he elevates his teammates in that way, the 4-point line tactic wouldn’t be effective without players that can make defenses pay from outside.

Memphis Grizzlies v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jeff Haynes/NBAE via Getty Images

Dillon Brooks and Kyle Anderson are league-average shooters, and defenses have to respect what they do from the outside. They should continue to do so this year. The players the 4-point line could really benefit are Desmond Bane and De’Anthony Melton.

This offseason’s trade involving the newly-extended in Milwaukee Grayson Allen was designed to free up time for these two wings. While Allen got a smidge more credit for his marksmanship, Bane and Melton both shot better than him from beyond the arc — 43.2 and 41.2% on 4.0 and 4.1 attempts per game, respectively.

They picked up where they left off with their sharpshooting ways in the preseason, as Bane shot 39.3% and Melton shot 38.5% on their triples. Though there’s a small percentage (remember: small sample, bad shooting nights could ding a percentage just as much as an awesome one), there was more of a clear consciousness when letting them fly. There was never a hesitation, as they just peeled it from 3 whenever there was an open opportunity to do so.

In addition, as the 4-point line spacing is designed to create better driving angles, Bane and Melton have done a good job attacking closeouts. They either created better looks for their teammates, or they stepped in a little bit for a mid-range jumper.

As Bane starts the action further out, it pushes Adams out past the 3-point line. It gives Bane more spacing to attack the dribble hand-off, pinning the defender on his back for a jumper at the elbow.

The offensive placement here is marvelous. Melton gets to the off-ball screen at a higher point. Since Josh Jackson and Luka Garza are ball-watching past the elbows, and Killian Hayes is helping the drive, Morant has the spacing to cut backdoor.

As those two players are taking on bigger roles, through both the Allen trade and the Brooks injury, they are two players that can thrive within this new 4-point line spacing with their outside shooting prowess and their off-dribble creation.

Memphis Grizzlies v Chicago Bulls Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

The biggest x-factor in all this is the newest member of the $100M club, Jaren Jackson Jr.

His shooting at his size is bonkers. The only bigs in NBA history to make 100 3’s in a season at clip 39% or better and at a frequency of 5 attempts per game in a single season: Nikola Vucevic, Lauri Markkanen, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Jaren Jackson Jr — per Stathead.

Jaren Jackson Jr.’s shooting is a game-changer for the Grizzlies. If they decide to go big with him and Adams, they can still deploy an effective 4-out, 1-in offensive set without sacrificing spacing. In addition, if they want to run Jackson at the 5, say hello to optimal floor spacing.

With Jackson at the 5, it’s a form of going small while still having someone with a legit center’s size still on the floor. When that happens, his shooting gravity forces opposing centers away from the basket, leaving floor wide open.

Coupling that with a point guard like Ja Morant? Good luck.

With Vucevic tasked with Jackson, look where he initially starts. As he pulled out to the top of the key, Tyus Jones has the driving room on the left open for him. Instead, he whips it to Jackson for the impressive 3.

It should also bode well for Jackson’s budding perimeter game too. Whenever someone is tapping into their games off the dribble, it’s best to do so in optimal spacing. This 4-point line principle does that for Jackson.

Given the floor spacing on the right side of the floor, and with the placement of the players on the left, Jackson finds the mismatch advantage to hit some dribble combinations to finesse his way into the finger roll layup.

Jaren Jackson Jr. is the swing factor for the Grizzlies’ season. Within this “4-point line” foundation, he could play to his strengths and expand on his game to fuel his comeback season, and to take the Grizzlies where they want to go this season.

2021-22 Memphis Grizzlies Media Day Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

While there may be a segment of basketball connoisseurs out there that scream to the sky about the yearly uptick in 3-point numbers, this 4-point line is not solely for that reason.

“It just enforces how we want to be spread out and play in space,” Jackson said of the new line. “So the more we can value spacing and getting to the corners, and just creating lanes for people, the more other people can get open.”

Under this 4-point line spacing, the Grizzlies could play to the strengths of the franchise cornerstone — Morant’s wizardry inside the arc as a passer and scorer, and Jaren Jackson Jr.’s marksmanship from the outside. In addition, they have the complementary pieces to take advantage of it with shooting steadiness, driving generation, and secondary/tertiary playmaking.

Those in turn could elevate the Grizzlies’ offense to solidify a playoff spot — and maybe without a play-in game.

Thanks to Taylor Jenkins and the coaching staff’s newest tactic — Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., and the rest of team have the space to operate and propel this team to the next level.

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