The Memphis Grizzlies regular season has hit the double-digit mark. They’re 6-4 so far, playing a plethora of strong competition — only 1 opponent is currently below .500, and that’s the Minnesota Timberwolves. They’re doing this without their perimeter stopper, and another 15-20 point scorer, Dillon Brooks.
So I’d say that’s pretty good.
With that, I’ve seen a lot of overreactions with early samples on both sides in the early season. Not just on the Grizzlies side either. We’ve seen it with the early struggles of James Harden and Damian Lillard primarily. 3-point percentages tend to be insanely higher, given the sample — lookin’ over at 58% 3-point shooter Jonas Valanciunas.
Nonetheless, the 10-game sample is here, and now is around the time we’ll likely seen progression or regression to the means. It’s the normalizing period.
As we enter that time, there are several stats that I’m willing to buy, sell, or at least monitor throughout the season.
Ja Morant’s scoring average: 26.0
Ja Morant is out to an electric start scoring the ball, and he’s doing so in a variety of ways. He’s relentless attacking the basket (2nd in points in the paint at 15.0 a game!), adding a mid-range to his game, and expanding his range to hit pull-up 3’s. His scoring average right now would shatter franchise records — fun tidbit: since the Grizzlies moved to Memphis, the gap between him and 2nd (Mike Conley, 21.1 in 2018-19) is as wide as 2nd and 31st (Dillon Brooks, 16.2 in 2019-20), per Stathead. He’s putting on a show scoring the ball, and he’s simply finding more ways to score outside of just attacking the basket. Because of that, he should sustain this level of scoring prowess. I don’t see him falling below 23 points a game.
Team Defensive Efficiency, DEF Rating 112.7, 28th in the league
The Grizzlies’ defense just hasn’t been good this season. Luckily, the offense is out to a blistering start — more on that later.’ They’re getting torched at the point of attack, and they’re giving up a lot of easy points in the paint. Getting Dillon Brooks back should help them out a lot, getting Desmond Bane and De’Anthony Melton back to their comfort zones of secondary defenders that thrive more in help defense situations. They’ve trended near that 109-110 mark over the past 2 seasons, but even that mark this season would have them trending towards the bottom, as we’re in a (early-sample) defensive renaissance with the new foul call rules. Teams are also blitzing them from 3 — 38.6%, 28th in the league.
I’d bet they return to more normal defensive impact, but you could still be concerned about the defense going forward.
Team Offensive Efficiency, OFF Rating 108.5, 10th in the league
The offensive efficiency number doesn’t really capture how the offense has simply looked so far. Blow-out losses where you didn’t eclipse the 100 mark will do that to the numbers. Their offense looks to have taken a solid step in terms of the eye-test. They have a go-to scorer, Desmond Bane and De’Anthony Melton are taking leaps and filling the void left from injured Dillon Brooks and departed Grayson Allen, and they’re firing more 3’s across the board. There will be growing pains in this realm, but there’s still room for improvement — primarily with Jaren Jackson Jr.’s efficiency.
I think the ranking is legitimate, but the offensive rating could go either way.
Verdict: Buying the league rank in offensive efficiency, holding on the actual number.
Ziaire Williams’ 3-point percentage: 32.5
Ziaire Williams has gotten off to a better start than probably many of us projected. He’s firmily in the rotation, which wasn’t necessarily a given before the season. Though there are times of shooting struggles and rookie lapses on both sides of the ball, he’s done a pretty solid job of fitting into his role — holding his own defensively, attacking closeouts to get to the rim or make the extra pass, and finding his shot in the corner.
So let’s dive into that last part super quickly. Ziaire Williams is a paradox when it comes to his shooting — his form can be picture-perfect, but the percentages don’t back it up (29.1% at Stanford). Recently, he’s been a 3-point boost, shooting 38.1% in his last 4 games, and having 2 games with 3 made 3’s. That’ll be the vibe with the rookie this year. He’ll have high high’s and low low’s when it comes to offensive production, through the ebbs and flows of the NBA season, as well as the inevitable rookie wall.
Verdict: Buying. There will be promise with this too.
Tyus Jones’ 3-point percentage: 50.0%
Yes, I’ve probably spoiled this answer already by choosing a 50% 3-point percentage, given that there have only been eight 50% shooting seasons with decent volume in NBA history. I’m highlighting this for a specific reason though. Tyus Jones was lasering 3’s in his first season in Memphis. From December 1st onto the rest of the season, he hit 43.8% from 3 and 49.2% on catch-and-shoot 3’s. Last season, he regressed from 37.9% to 32.1% from downtown.
Even if he doesn’t remain at 50% from 3, a Tyus Jones that shoots extremely well from 3 is a really good player to have off the bench. And this shooting could propel a bench that has experienced up’s and down’s this season. With the confidence Jones has exuberated on his jumper, he should be one of the team’s top 3-point shooters by the percentages, while smashing his career-best mark.
Verdict: Selling 50%, buying Jones being a legitimate threat.
Jaren Jackson Jr.’s block average: 1.9
There are still growing pains with Jackson this season — offensive inconsistency, 2-point efficiency, and foul trouble here and there. One thing that’s been impressive thus far is his defense, primarily at the 5. The Grizzlies give up 11.8 fewer points with Jackson on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass, as he’s using his versatility to his impact. I’m going to narrow this down to his blocks, but he’s done so in a variety of ways. He’s sticking with his man on drives to alter their shots, closing out on 3’s, protecting the rim, and helping on defense.
His fouling is slowly getting better, and there’s some inclination that he may see even more minutes at the 5. It wouldn’t be surprising if he’s one of the league’s leaders in blocked shots.
Fastbreak points: 14.7
So when asked about different stats in this sample size that have stuck out as points to improve on or build upon, Taylor Jenkins mentioned transition frequency. Their transition frequency has increased this past season — from 18.1% to 19.4% — which is a good sign. However, their fastbreak scoring is down 3 points per game. They’re generating more steals, on average, than last year (9.1 to 10.2). To pin it to one thing, since their defense is loosened up, they’re not getting transition opportunities off rebounds.
As the defense (hopefully) improves, they should return to being an elite transition team that trends closer to 15-20 fastbreak points per game rather than 10-15.
Verdict: Cautiously selling
Desmond Bane shot volume: 13.3 field goal attempts per game
Desmond Bane has been the Grizzlies’ most improved player. His confidence off the dribble has skyrocketed, as he’s letting pull-up 3’s fly and attacking inside the arc as well. His aggressiveness has been a massive plus for this offense thus far, as he’s really stepped his game up to provide an additional scoring punch next to Ja Morant.
Now the sustainability is interesting going forward. With Dillon Brooks coming back soon, whose shots are going down? Brooks has averaged at least 15 field goal attempts the past 2 seasons, and he’ll likely flirt with 12-15 shots per game. Someone’s going to see a decrease in shot attempts. De’Anthony Melton moving to the bench will cut his volume down a bit, but the biggest question is what happens to Bane’s shots and touches. If it decreases, look for an efficiency spike, especially from 3. If it stays the same, Bane has deserved that sort of responsibility.
Do you think these stats are going to sustain as the sample size grows? What are some other statistical spikes or deflations will we see going forward?
Stats found on basketball-reference and NBA.com/stats