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Finding multiple avenues to victory in Memphis

While the Grizzlies emphasis on threes is evident, creating advantages based on the natural strengths of their roster matters as well.

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NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Many folks in Memphis have talked about it, including the Grizzlies themselves.

“Let That (this is a family blog) Fly” #LTMF

The players have bought into the philosophy. Dillon Brooks, with his full-time return now imminent, has discussed it being a mentality that will alter his game. The Memphis Grizzlies made moves this offseason, and established emphasis and preferences during training camp, that success from beyond the arc will need to become a bigger part of the process.

And it has.

Through Monday, the Grizzlies made 133 threes this season. This is the most in franchise history through the first 10 games of a single season, with 104 threes being second. Desmond Bane’s 27 threes through ten games is the second highest amount a Grizzlies player has ever made over over this stretch to start the season. Jaren Jackson Jr. and De 'Anthony Melton are not far behind.

Overall, the Grizzlies are on pace to shatter their previous franchise record high of 811 threes in one season. This progress is certainly relevant and a positive development. However, while the Grizzlies must continue evolving, they also must make sure to play to the current strengths of the roster to create advantages that will keep them competitive in the present.

While Memphis’ emphasis and focus on the three should remain a priority, maintaining their success through “Grizzball” also matters. Specifically, creating advantages on the run and in the paint, aspects of the game that align very well with the skill set strengths of this roster. The goal is not to revert back to ways that worked in the past and deter progress in areas of the game the Grizzlies must get better at to become a sustainable winner in the modern NBA. The key is being able to create multiple avenues this roster could take to earn victories based off how games play out.

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Under Taylor Jenkins, arguably the two most consistent areas where the Grizzlies have created advantages against their opponents is on the run and in the paint. Last season, the Grizzlies were third in the NBA in points off turnovers per game and ranked first in the league in second chance points, fast break points and points in the paint. The Grizzlies had a clear advantage in each of these aspects of the game over their opponents:

Here is the per game advantage for Grizzlies over their opposition during the 2020-2021 season

Points off Turnovers: +1.9

Second Chance points: +2.6

Fast Break Points: +3.6

Points in the Paint: +8.3

This total resulted in the Grizzlies having a 16.4 point advantage per game over their opponents in regards to production on the run and in the paint. While the actual advantage and math is not that simple, a consistent way the Grizzlies remained competitive and won games last year was due to their production in these areas. With a young/athletic roster, and talents who were better at getting into the lane and scoring than shooting from distance, Jenkins and his staff were right to utilize the strengths of their best talents.

This season, these advantages have all but disappeared. Before the game against Minnesota, the Grizzlies ranked 13th in points off turnovers, 8th in second chance points, 14th in fast break points, and 7th in points in the paint. Overall, the Grizzlies had regressed from being clearly elite to above average in many of these categories. While that may not seem to be a big deal, for a team still considered to be in a rebuild with less overall current talent than many other teams in the league, it is a significant development.

A major reason why is because it removes opportunities for the Grizzlies to create more points than their opposition in order to win games. Compare the lack of advantages in hustle and paint production this year compared to last year:

Per Game advantage for Grizzlies over opposition during 2021-2022 (through 11/7)

Points off Turnovers: -0.8

Second Chance Points: +2.6

Fastbreak Points: -1.6

Points in the paint: -0.7

The total result this season of -0.3 points per game in terms of the overall advantage, or lack there of, this season compared to +16.4 points per game last season is certainly startling. Again, the math is not that simple, but is certainly eye-opening nonetheless. In games in which the Grizzlies have not been able to shoot the three, their usual way of staying competitive via hustle and paint production has been less impactful early in the season. This is one reason why three of the Grizzlies five losses this season have been blowouts.

One reason for the Grizzlies decline in these areas is simple personnel changes. The transition from Jonas Valanciunas to Steven Adams has been as expected: the rebound advantage has maintained while the paint production has declined. Without Dillon Brooks and with Kyle Anderson in a smaller role this year, the Grizzlies have not been as consistent turning defense into offense. While these developments were logical and foretold all along by Memphis, their immediate impact has been less than ideal.

NBA: Denver Nuggets at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

However, a big theme to the start of any season for a young team is to go through growing pains. In other words, struggle, then adjust to find success. The Grizzlies have done exactly that in terms of balancing out their hustle and paint production and three point shooting to earn wins over the past ten days. In their two games against Denver, the Grizzlies were outproduced in both hustle and paint production:

Points off Turnovers: Denver 23 Memphis 18

Second Chance points: Denver 21 Memphis 20

Fastbreak Points: Denver 32 Memphis 28

Points in the Paint: Denver 100 Memphis 104

Combined, the Grizzlies experienced a five point deficit in these key areas against a very good Denver team. Yet, the Grizzlies won both games. The reason why is because Memphis limited Denver to 17 threes over these two contests while making 29 of their own. The 36 point advantage in three point production for Memphis in these two contests played a significant role in them earning both wins. Though the Nuggets beat the Grizzlies in areas of the game that had helped Memphis win last year, the Grizzlies progression from beyond the arc this year still allowed for them to prevail.

This past Monday night against the Timberwolves, a different story emerged. Minnesota made 17 threes and shot nearly 38% from beyond the arc, a stark contrast from a team that entered the game in the bottom five of the NBA in three point accuracy. The Grizzlies only made 11 threes, and Minnesota gained a +18 advantage from beyond the arc. However, the Grizzlies were able to find success out on the run and in the paint. 28 points off turnovers, 23 fast break points and 56 points in the paint resulted in advantages of +10, +8, and +16 in these areas of the contest. The Grizzlies were able to find a way to overcome their struggles defending the three by relying on the natural strengths of their roster. A come-from-behind victory was the result.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

It is certainly a great development when a team can rely on multiple ways to win on any given night. If one area of the game is not working for Memphis, success in other aspects of the game will make them competitive. Most of the time, this will allow the Grizzlies to remain competitive and have their chances to win. Even on Wednesday against the Hornets, though the Grizzlies lost by ten they still had their chances throughout the game due to their production in the paint.

The key for the Grizzlies is to eventually find balance. From one perspective, this balance means finding enough success in shooting the three or through hustle and paint production to over come struggling in the other to win games. However, the ultimate goal is being able to do both things at a competitive level consistently. The Grizzlies are already comfortable at winning games on the run and in the paint. They are becoming more comfortable at winning games beyond the arc due to their three point improvements.

The key now is patience and persistence. Many individual Grizzlies players are continuing to upgrade their ability to shoot threes while also becoming better at knowing when it is better to focus on that approach or default back to their natural strengths of producing in the paint. As a result, the Grizzlies are becoming a more balanced offensive team. This has been, and will continue to be, one of the most critical areas of progression for Memphis now and into the future. Because as things become more balanced, the ability to feature multiple areas of strengths to win games is a key component of sustainable winners and contenders in the NBA.

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