As the Grizzlies are finishing up their first half of the 2020-2021 NBA season, it is fair to say that this team surely has experienced more than its fair share of ups and downs. Injuries and interruptions have been abundant, and as a result it has been hard to establish consistency with the status quo of the roster in constant flux. However, while there has been plenty of inconsistency, there also has been clear progress.
In general, clear progress is always a desired development. However, clear progress gains significance when it happens in a specific area that continues to grow in priority. In the case of Taylor Jenkins and the Grizzlies, this specific area is Memphis’s production shooting corner threes. As their production from that specific area of the court has improved, their overall offense has benefitted as a result.
A big reason for the strong correlation between the Grizzlies production with corner threes and their production on offense overall is that it compliments their two biggest strengths, which are scoring in the paint and passing. The Grizzlies have consistently ranked near the top of the league in points in the paint and assists per game under Taylor Jenkins. As a result, defenses have focused their attention on stopping these strengths. Over time, the Grizzlies have responded by taking advantage of more high percentage looks emerging from distance. It is no surprise that now that they have become more consistent shooting the corner three, their overall offensive production has continued to ascend up in the league rankings as well.
Here is how that journey has looked over the past 20 months under Taylor Jenkins.
2019-2020 Season before suspension of play
Obviously, with Jenkins as a first-year coach taking over one of the youngest rosters in the league, there were going to be growing pains. It was going to take an extended period of time for the Grizzlies roster to improve and evolve. However, one of the decisions the front office and Jenkins made was to feature the production in the paint and passing with their young roster as a way to eventually open up good looks from three.
Through their first 63 games of last season, before the suspension of play, the Grizzlies ranked 20th in offensive rating. They were also 23rd in 3PFG per game and 21st in 3PFG% per game. As the image shows above, corner threes were not initially a point of emphasis or strength for Memphis, as the Grizzlies were 19th in attempts and 24th in accuracy from the corner during this time frame with 6.8 attempts and 36.8% accuracy, respectively. This makes sense as the players and the coaches were getting acclimated to each other.
However, while the Grizzlies were certainly establishing their offensive identity in the paint and passing, more depth and balance from distance was going to be needed for their offense to improve.
2019-2020 Season in the Bubble
As the Grizzlies were starting their attempt to make the NBA Playoffs in the Bubble, it seemed during their initial scrimmages and games, the Grizzlies were placing a bigger emphasis on working off their paint production to find high percentage looks from distance. However, in part due to unexpected injuries, the Grizzlies certainly struggled more than they succeeded. Out of 22 teams, the Grizzlies ranked 17th in offensive rating in the bubble. The also ranked 19th in 3PM per game and 21st in 3PFG%.
As a I wrote back at the beginning of the bubble, it seemed the Grizzlies’ desire to produce better from distance also added emphasis to finding opportunities beyond the arc in the corner. The Grizzlies were 10th in corner three attempts per game (8.4) and 9th in accuracy (41.7%) in the Bubble. Though this improvement did not make a big impact on the Grizzlies fortunes, it clearly showed that Jenkins wanted to find more areas of success to add depth to his offensive game plan.
2020 Season Before COVID-19 Pause
As the 2020-2021 season started, the Grizzlies were obviously in a less than ideal situation with Justise Winslow and Jaren Jackson Jr. unavailable indefinitely. As the season progressed, several of the Grizzlies better talents have been inactive due to a multitude of reasons, including Ja Morant. As a result, before their season was paused after the MLK Jr. Day game, the Grizzlies were 25th in offensive rating, 27th in 3PM per game and 27th in 3PFG% in the NBA over this span of time.
However, despite the limited roster, Jenkins stayed true to continuing to add depth and different looks to his offensive game plan. The Grizzlies attempted 9.0 corner threes per game, which was the 10th highest amount in the league. However, Memphis only made 30% of those attempts, which was 29th in the league. While the Grizzlies were getting favorable looks, they were not consistently falling. Unfortunately, due to their overall struggles shooting the three, the Grizzlies offense as a whole significantly struggled at times to start the season.
Due to so many absences, there were only a few games where the Grizzlies best finishers, passers, and shooters were playing at the same time. This shows that while the roster was certainly embracing and becoming more comfortable with Coach Jenkins’s schemes, Memphis needed much of its depth to make emphasizing the corner three effective.
2020-2021 Season After Return from Covid-19 hiatus
Fortunately, as the month of February continued, many of these talents that had been in and out of the line up finally got healthy. As a result, the Grizzlies’ offense finally started to show the improvement and progress that they had shown glimpses of before the injuries started to take their toll. Since 1/30/2021. the Grizzlies have ranked 14th in offensive rating, 23rd in 3PM per game and 14th in 3PFG%.
One of the biggest reasons for the Grizzlies improvement is that their plan of using their paint production and passing to setup high percentage looks from distance finally started to payoff once they had their best talents available. Since 01/30/2021, the Grizzlies are sixth in corner three attempts per game (9.5) and fourth in accuracy (46.3%). With his roster finally healthy, Jenkins was able to see his plan come together. And while it did take some time, as he has shown in other ways, Jenkins proved to be correct in that emphasizing the corner three has certainly made Memphis’s offense more productive.
A big reason as to why the Grizzlies have improved overall on offense as they have emphasized the corner three more is due to the impact it has had in making individual players more productive. It certainly seems that both Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton have taken the next step forward offensively due to an improved shot, while Desmond Bane and Dillon Brooks have continued to become more resourceful with finding their shots from distance. The fact that each of these players are shooting 45% or better on corner threes since 01/30/2021 proves that their productivity certainly is a byproduct of becoming more comfortable in Taylor Jenkins schemes.
Without a doubt, the Grizzlies are certainly improving offensively. While it is because of their strengths such as producing in the paint and passing, it is also due to their continued commitment of finding other ways to succeed feeding off of that production. That evolution has resulted in the more effective offense that we have witnessed over the past month; even more importantly, it allows this progression to be sustainable. The connection between Coach Jenkins and his roster is a big reason for this success. However, an ever bigger reason is the proof that Jenkins continues to add value in developing his players individually and through his schemes and strategies overall.
Though Memphis is far from a finished product, they are certainly showing signs that they are well on their way to becoming a highly productive offensive team in time.