If you are currently having a ton of fun watching the Memphis Grizzlies, I feel two truths exist regarding this recent feeling of enthusiasm and enjoyment: you are not alone and you have every reason to cherish a brand of basketball rarely seen before in Memphis. The Memphis Grizzlies, as of April 20th, have the highest offensive rating in the NBA this month. Their recent stretch of offensive success has allowed them to produce a 7-4 record over their past eleven games, a run of success that has significantly solidified their playoff pursuits.
While it is true the Grizzlies have had previous runs of equal or better success this season (a seven-game winning streak in January and February that lasted over three weeks due to the COVID-19 hiatus), that success was due to the familiar low-scoring, defensive-oriented basketball that has become synonymous with this franchise during its time in Memphis. This was done out of necessity due to playing to the strengths of the players who were available at that time. Without a doubt, the Grizzlies certainly have emerged as one of the better defensive teams in basketball this season. However, this recent surge of offensive success has made this version of Grizzlies’ basketball in April the best version we have seen from this franchise in quite a while.
In fact, this may be the best we have ever seen this franchise play in terms of offense. This statement is supported by a variety of reasons, mainly through the Grizzlies consistently producing at elite levels in ways that highly correlate with winning. The end result is a style of basketball that is both historic and fun.
Let’s take a look at just how historic this run has been.
In January of 2020, the Grizzlies led the NBA in scoring with 119 points per game, going 11-4 that month. That is the Grizzlies best offensive month to date. Memphis currently leads the NBA with 122.7 points scored per game in April. They are tied for second in the league in shooting at 49.6% and are third in the league from beyond the arc at 41%. Memphis is currently producing just under 98 points per game combined from three and in the paint, proof that the balance Coach Taylor Jenkins has consistently emphasized is finally shining through.
The Grizzlies have scored above 100 points in every game they have played this month, including 120 or more points in eight of their 10 games. In fact, the Grizzlies have scored 125 or more points six times in April. Before this month, in 2,038 total games in franchise history, the Grizzlies scored 125 or more points 45 times. They now have done it 51 times in 2,049 games. In other words, 11.7% of the total games in franchise history in which the Grizzlies have scored 125 or more points have occurred this month.
The previous high for the number of games in which the Grizzlies have scored 125 or points in a single month was four, which occurred in January of 2020. The Grizzlies frequency in scoring 125 or more points in a game is a significant indicator of just how much Jenkins’s approach to the game differs from previous regimes in Memphis. In less than two seasons under Jenkins, the Grizzlies haves scored 125 or more points 23 times. In the first 24 seasons of the franchise before Jenkins arrived, the Grizzlies scored 125 or more points only 28 times combined.
The Grizzlies ability to win certainly increases the more they score. When the Grizzlies have scored 125 or more points under Jenkins, Memphis is 19-4. Though Memphis will likely experience regression in the near future, an overall increase in their scoring production per game moving forward will certainly improve their chances to win against quality opponents.
Whether it is referred to as a calling card, identity, or strength, the first clear trait that emerged as an advantage for Memphis under Jenkins was the ability to produce assists. During media sessions, the most frequent stat that Jenkins discusses is assists, especially after games when he comments about the success of the offense. The end result is a Memphis roster that was second in the NBA in assists per game last year and is third per game this season.
In April, the Grizzlies lead the league with 29.7 assists per game. They have produced 30 or more assists seven times this month, setting a new franchise record for most games with 30 or more assists in a month. In fact, the Grizzlies have produced 30 or more assists in five or more games in a single calendar month on four separate occasions in franchise history. Each of those months have occurred under Jenkins.
Similar to when the Grizzlies score 125 or more points, when the Grizzlies achieve 30 or more assists in a game, they significantly improve their chances to win. Memphis is 32-8 under Jenkins with they produce 30 or more assists in a game, including 25-4 since the start of the 2020 calendar year. When the Grizzlies are passing the ball effectively, they are playing their best basketball. When that effectiveness is occurring as frequently as it is right now, Memphis is generating a winning brand of offensive balance that has the chance to beat anyone.
THREE POINT SHOOTING
It has been a night and day difference for the Grizzlies in terms of shooting beyond the arc in April compared to their struggles in March. In March, the Grizzlies were 29th in 3PM per game and 28th in 3PFG%. In April, Memphis is 5th in 3PM per game and 3rd in 3PFG%. A few reasons for the Grizzlies improved success from three is featuring Grayson Allen and Desmond Bane more and the improved shooting of Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant.
Memphis is averaging 14.5 threes per game in April, including seven games in which they have hit 15 or more threes. They established a new franchise record for most consecutive games with 15 or more threes when they did it in four straight contests earlier this month. As was the case with scoring 125 or more points in a game, making 15 or more threes in a contest was a rare occurrence for Memphis before this month. The Grizzlies achieved this feat only 35 times in franchise history before April. In hitting the mark seven times this month, 16.7% of the games in which the Grizzlies have made 15 or more threes in franchise history have occurred in their eleven April games. The previous single-month high for Memphis in achieving this feat was five games in December of 2020.
In terms of the now 42 total times the Grizzlies have hit 15 or more threes in a game in the history of the franchise, half of those games have occurred with Jenkins as the head coach. Memphis is 17-3 in those 20 contests, and have now won their last 13 such games, including a 9-1 record this year. As a result, it seems logical to suggest that the Grizzlies are shooting the three better right how than they have at any previous point in franchise history.
A fun summation of how rare and good the Grizzlies offense has been this month in terms of their franchise history, and how well it correlates with winning, is illustrated when you combine the three aforementioned thresholds together. In franchise history, the Grizzlies have produced 125 or more points, 30 or more assists, and 15 or more threes in a single game 12 times. They have done it nine times under Jenkins, including five times in April. Memphis is 8-1 in these games.
It is also important to point out that this rate of shooting and scoring is highly unlikely to continue over time. Simply put, the Grizzlies did not suddenly become the best offensive team in basketball overnight when the calendar switched from March to April. The league will adjust, and the Grizzlies will continue facing good perimeter defenses over the next few weeks. While this may be the best few weeks of offense this franchise has ever experienced, it is far from the best overall stretch of basketball this franchise has played. Memphis, at 29-27, is still an average team at best simply fighting for a playoff spot.
However, while this level of play may not be sustainable or all of the sudden make the Grizzlies a true contender in the West, the significance of this recent offensive success is the confidence it has allowed the team to play with. Improvements in scoring up and down the roster are the driving force behind this offensive outburst, and the Grizzlies now have proof they can find multiple ways to win in response to the schemes defenses throw at them. That becoming a clear trait of this team is the next logical step in the evolution of this franchise into a sustainable winner and true contender for the future.