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Improving Self-Creation, Part 1

For the Grizzlies to take a sustainable step forward on the competitive timeline, they must create their own shots from deep.

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Denver Nuggets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

One thing teams should have knowledge on when it comes to any NBA trade deadline is what they do well and where they struggle. For the Memphis Grizzlies, it is well known that we can pass, produce in the paint, score on the run, and create turnovers. It is also pretty obvious that the Grizzlies have to get more consistent at shooting and defending the three. Fortunately, the Grizzlies have seen recent improvement in one of these areas.

Since Justise Winslow returned on February 20th, the Grizzlies are 15th in the NBA in opponent’s 3PM per game and 10th in opponent’s 3PFG%. However, before Sunday, they were 10th and third since 02/20/2021. The truth is that while their depth of defensive talent has certainly improved at defending the three since February, their effectiveness is still highly inconsistent. The silver lining is that as Winslow, Dillon Brooks and others play more minutes together, they have shown the potential to be above average at defending the three in the second half of the season.

Unfortunately, while the Grizzlies have improved defending the three, in the same span of time since Winslow returned, they have regressed in shooting the three. Since 02-20-2021, the Grizzlies are 30th in the league in 3PM per game and 29th in 3PFG%. Memphis is allowing 12.8 threes per game while making only 8.7 threes per game on their own. A net negative of four threes per game is 12 points that the Grizzlies routinely have to make up elsewhere, which is hard to do if they are not creating turnovers or getting offensive rebounds. This is a tough task to take on on any given night, and is a key reason as to why the Grizzlies are 5-7 over their past 12 games.

Denver Nuggets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

It should be acknowledged that this Grizzlies’ roster has more shooting talent from distance than they did last year. Desmond Bane and Grayson Allen are legit threats from deep, while Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton have significantly improved their ability to shoot beyond the arc. However, natural regression and teams figuring out how to make looks tougher are obviously making an impact. As a result, the Grizzlies have to find a way to adjust in order to regain a needed element of their offensive success from deep.

The issue is, it is fair to question rather or not the Grizzlies have the ability to make the needed adjustment that is once again a clear weakness for a Memphis roster: the ability to create shots from distance.

If this seems to be a “same story, different era” scenario, it should. Featuring a player who can consistently create their own shot from deep has always been a need for the Grizzlies. However, the need for that trait in order to succeed today is much greater than it was even a decade ago as the Grit and Grind era was beginning. Once again, when the Grizzlies offense flows effectively, it starts from the inside and flows out. The Grizzlies ability to shoot from distance largely depends on their ability to produce in the paint, getting defenses to react, and then passing out for good looks for Bane, Allen and others to convert.

At the end of the day, the Grizzlies are simply playing to the strengths of their roster, which is finishing in the paint through floaters and at the rim. Numbers certainly back this up, as 67.5% of their shots are within the arc and 32.5% are from three. These numbers rank 2nd and 29th in the NBA, respectively. The problem is, only five of the 15 teams in the NBA that shoot two-pointers most frequently have winning records. Furthermore, four of those five teams feature legitimate MVP candidates (something Memphis does not have at the moment), which makes their offenses more than effective enough to succeed and be a sustainable winner.

Beyond a heavy concentration of their shots being inside the arc, another logical aspect of the Grizzlies shooting and scoring is that most of their shots are created through effective passing. Memphis has been a top five team in terms of assists in the NBA since Taylor Jenkins became head coach. Currently the Grizzlies rank eighth in the NBA in terms of percentage of their overall field goals that are assisted. They are fifth in terms of two-point shots and third in terms of three-point shots. While there are many contending teams who also generate a large percentage of their shots off assists, those teams also shoot significantly better from distance than Memphis.

Denver Nuggets v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

A byproduct of the Grizzlies being so reliant on their passing to create looks from distance is that producing points via pull-up shots is not a significant source of success for Memphis. In fact, the Grizzlies are second to last in the NBA with only 6.9% of their field goal attempts being pull-up three point shots. The Grizzlies are 23rd in the league in pull-up 3PFG% at 31.5%, which is an improvement from being last in the NBA at 29% last year.

The Grizzlies inability to create their own shots from beyond the arc is simply not a recipe for success when it comes playoff hopes. Of the 11 teams with the lowest percentages of their shots being pull-up threes this season, only four have a winning record. Of the 12 teams with the lowest 3PFG% on pull-up attempts, once again, only four have a winning record. Rosters that can effectively create their own shots are simply more consistent at finding offensive success. Meanwhile, seven of the top 10 teams in both of these categories have a record of .500 or better.

Again, the lack of production on pull-up attempts from deep should not come as a surprise. The skill is simply not a strength of the current Grizzlies’ roster. Memphis is one of only two teams in the NBA that does not have a single player on its roster who averages 2 or more pull-up 3PA per game. The two players who do attempt the most per game, Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks, are shooting 17.9% and 29.8% on these specific attempts, respectively.

The basic truth that the aforementioned numbers validate is that the Grizzlies offense is simply not as resourceful as other NBA offenses are at shooting the three. Memphis has to work off another strength to create high percentage looks, and nearly all of those looks are created via passing. In general, the less a team has to do to make threes, the harder they are to stop. For the Grizzlies, if they are limited in the paint, such as they were Wednesday against the Miami Heat, the likely ripple effect is they will also struggle to find consistent production from beyond the arc. For the Grizzlies to truly reach their goal of making the playoffs this year, their ability to defend the three is likely gonna be more sustainable than their ability to shoot it.

In time, internal improvement could certainly help the Grizzlies ability to shoot the three more effectively, especially with the eventual return of Jaren Jackson Jr. Allen and Melton have both shown improvement on their own self-created field goal attempts. However, a clear truth is that for the Grizzlies to significantly improve in this critical area of production to take the next step on their competitive timeline, they are going to have to continue to add talent that is specifically productive in this skill area.

Fortunately, there are multiple ways that the Grizzlies can add this exact talent. Furthermore, they have a good amount of assets to make this happen.

In Part 2 of the Self-Creation Series, I’ll explore how the past shows the Grizzlies can find solutions that can eventually make their shooting a strength in the near future.

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