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The Memphis Grizzlies paint masterpiece

A thing of beauty...

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NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The beauty of a piece of art is in the eye of the beholder. Getting married has taught me that - among a myriad of other things that I am obviously wrong about. My wife was picking out things to hang on the wall to decorate our apartment in Florida and I was so indifferent about it while she loved them.

One piece of art in particular was handed down to me by my dad. It was given to him after the passing of his father, therefore it was sentimental. My grandfather loved it, my dad appreciated it but my wife and I were more lukewarm about it. Of course we accepted it because of the sentiment, but she was in no hurry to hang it on the wall because she did not find it aesthetically pleasing — although some people do because of the price value it holds.

Memphis Grizzlies fans of the Grit and Grind era appreciated the play on the floor because it was special to them — it represented the blue collar nature of the city itself. In a time where the league was speeding up and the likes of Steph Curry were changing the game completely, Memphis played in the mud. It was not beautiful basketball to anyone but them.

The Next Gen Grizzlies, however, are playing basketball that is aesthetically pleasing to the eye. A shot chart these days would look eerily similar to a Mike D’Antoni Houston Rockets team — threes and lay ups. The crispness of the offense has relied on the ball movement and getting the shots that the offense creates, rather than relying on one player to play hero ball and make something happen.

By now we are all used to hearing the game broadcast make scoring in the paint a key to victory or some stat about where Memphis stands in paint scoring. They currently rank 3rd in the NBA at 53.8. It’s not news anymore. However, the rate at which Memphis does not score at the rim is quite astonishing.

The game plan for Memphis seems to be quite obvious. Get into the paint to score or kick it out for a three. The fast break is also a huge component for them as they rank 4th in the league at 15.7 points per game — some of which could be three point shots. But that’s the game plan for most teams in today’s NBA. What is Memphis doing that is different?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Sacramento Kings Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The way they initiate their offense is a variation from a lot of teams. After a bucket or dead ball, the 5 man will inbound the ball and trot up the floor ahead of the point guard. The options flow from there:

  1. 5 man ball screens for the 1 at the top of the key
  2. 1 passes to wing, 5 screens for 1, 1 cuts to basket off screen
  3. 5 screens off ball for wing, wing clears out if no pass, 5 returns for ball screen on 1, 5 rolls

This creates a 5 out option for the wings and guards to take a mismatch off the dribble. The off ball screen on the wing allows for a shooter to come around for a catch a shoot three, but it also allows for something Grayson Allen does well with — catching the pass on the move and immediately going towards the basket for a PIP opportunity. At worst, it is a pick and roll with Jonas, BC or Tillman or pick and pop with Dieng.

The 5-out look and the off ball screens have led to the Grizzlies being 4th in the NBA at 53.3 drives per game for 22.2 points per game on those drives. Ja Morant is also 4th individually with 19.6 drives per night. Also off the drives is the kick outs, whether to a shooter or to a player making the extra pass. The passing is key to creating the looks in the paint and Memphis is 5th with 300.6 passes per contest.

Once Memphis gets in the paint (from the rim to the free throw line), they look so different compared to most teams. They are 2nd in paint touches, trailing only Cleveland, with 26.4. While Cleveland leads in paint touches and is third in field goal attempts at the rim, Memphis is 24th in FGA at the rim. When the Grizzlies drive, they are not getting all the way to the basket.

They are however, 4th in FGA in the paint outside of the restricted area, a.k.a the floater zone. The only teams attempting more floaters or pull up jumpers in the paint are the Cleveland Cavaliers, Sacramento Kings and Orlando Magic — Not great company to be grouped with (sorry KANGZ).

While the passing and points in the paint are great and have been fun to watch, they are in the company of teams not projected to make the playoffs. Memphis is 25th in 3 point attempts and 24th in 3 point makes per game. Who is below them? You guessed it, the Cavs and Magic are two of them. The insanity of that stat is that Memphis is 12th in 3P% at 37.1%.

If Memphis were to continue to score in the paint at the rate they did, but also attempt 3-4 more threes per night at the same %, their offense would be nearly unstoppable. Grizzlies basketball has been fun to watch not only due to the passing and the looks created, but because it puts players in position to use their skill sets the best. For example, Grayson Allen has shot 39 threes from the left wing, hitting 18 of them, he has no more than 13 at any other three point spot.

This offense will only become more fun to watch in the coming months as the playmaking and driving ability of Justise Winslow is introduced and the sniper mentality of Jaren Jackson Jr. returns. What Taylor Jenkins is doing is art. It’s beautiful to even those outside of Memphis.

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