Watching the Memphis Grizzlies this season is not unlike spending some time at the Roulette table. You gather around the table with friends, full of hope, waiting eagerly to see favorable results. Much like your anticipation at the table, you never know what results are going to be at the end of a Memphis Grizzlies game in 2021.
There have been some deflating, inexplicable losses that the Grizzlies’ fan base has been left to deal with, but there have also been Mt. Everest apex-like highs this season as well. When Memphis loses to the obviously tanking Oklahoma City Thunder, it’s maddening, but there are other games on the schedule that make up for it. In reality, many of the results this season are a mirage that tell us the opponent does not really matter.
On any given night, the Memphis Grizzlies can beat any roster in the NBA.
But they have also proven they can lose to any roster as well. Be careful to not go schedule diving without context. For instance, the Grizz are 2-0 against the Brooklyn Nets, but completely missed James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. They are also 2-0 against the Philadelphia 76ers but never saw Joel Embiid, who is having a monster season. So while they drop games against OKC, the depleted Magic and Pistons, they have had their share of luck throughout the season to counter those losses.
*They were widely projected to be outside the top 10 in the Western Conference and being .500 headed to the play in was always considered a win heading into this season.
Take away the maddening losses and the good fortunes against other teams, there are games in this season that showed great promise — which make the bad losses feel a lot worse.
The Grizz pounded a fully healthy Los Angeles Clippers (current 3 seed) on February 25 122-94, beat a healthy Phoenix Suns(2) squad —albeit they were still finding their chemistry, handled a fully healthy Miami(6) squad twice left Milwaukee(3) with a 13 point victory. Memphis is an outstanding 8-4 against the top 6 teams in the East, with 2 of those losses coming at the hands of the surging New York Knicks.
This all points to one conclusion:
It does not matter who is dressed out or in street clothes for the opponent, the Grizzlies’ greatest obstacle is themselves.
As this team continues to develop — they are the third youngest team in the league — there will be the expected ups and downs from both the players and their sophomore head coach. The Grizzlies most likely don’t fall into the injury report trap as the fans do, but on the nights where the opponents shouldn’t be able to hang on paper, Memphis has allowed them to.
So what does this team look like at their best?
Ja Morant - 17.1 points 7.8 assists 26% usage, 109 Defensive Rating
Dillon Brooks - 29 minutes, 17.8 points, 26% usage, 55.4% true shooting 3.3 rebounds 2.4 assists
Kyle Anderson- 13.5 points, 6.3 rebounds 3.9 assists 42% from 3, 102 defensive rating
Jonas Valanciunas- (stats are almost identical in wins and losses)
Desmond Bane - 10.3 points 3.4 rebounds, 17% usage, 46.5% from 3
De’Anthony Melton - 11.5 points 51.9% from 3, 102 defensive rating
Grayson Allen - 11.9 points, 41.1% from 3
Brandon Clarke - 12 points, 6.3 rebounds, 59.7% true shooting
Tyus Jones - 6.7 points, 4.6 assists, 35.8% from 3
These are the stats for 9 of the 10 current rotation players in games that the Memphis Grizzlies have won in the 2020-21 season. Clearly there is not enough data for Jaren this season to include him. Compare those to these stats during losses:
Ja- 21 points, 6.7 assists 123 defensive rating 28.8% usage
DB- 15.1 points, 2.1 rebounds 47.5% true shooting, 94 offensive rating, 121 defensive rating
Kyle- 11 points, 27.9% from 3, 117 defensive rating
Bane- 8.3 points, 15.6% usage
Melton- 7.6 points, 32.2% from 3
Allen- 9.3 points, 15.7% usage, 36.6% from 3
Clarke- 8.7 points, 50/5% TS
Tyus - 3 assists, 26.9% from 3
These individual stats make a few things quite obvious for the Grizzlies. For starters, this team is thriving when the wings are thriving. At their peak, which we saw for a stretch in early April, the wings contribute a tad over 50 points per game. Their success correlates to another glaring fact: Memphis is better when Ja does not have to shoulder the offensive load. In losses Morant’s usage and points go up while his assists go down and it is often in the second half.
Individual stats just do not paint the whole picture. The extreme swings in some stats for the Grizzlies as a team are jarring.
Wins: 118.5 points (+12.6), 9.6 steals (+2.3), 28.8 assists (+4.2), 48.9 rebounds (+5.5), 48.8 fg% (5.4%), 12.2 3pm (+.5)
Losses: 107.7 (-11.7), 44.1 rebounds (-2.0) 24.7 assists (-1.3) 44.1% shooting (-5.4%) 10.1 3pm(-4)
It should be quite obvious by now that the Grizzlies must win the rebounding, turnover and fast break points battle most nights in order to win. It is no coincidence that they are top 2 in second chance points, points off turnover, fast break points, and points in the paint. They have found their formula for success and in their 33 losses, those areas are the first to point to, other than the defense.
Memphis was a top 10 defensive team for much of the season, but while still 8th in defensive rating, they are 18th in points allowed. If the Grizz are not disrupting things on defense and getting easy buckets and instead are having to rely on jump shots to get back in the game, they are going to struggle. What amplifies all of this is that Memphis is in the bottom half of the league in both 3 pointers allowed and opponent 3p%. If they don’t defend, they rarely have a chance to stay in a game.
Memphis is #1 in steals in the NBA, #2 in offensive rebounds and #8 in turnovers. Why do these stats matter? The Grizzlies lead the league in Field Goal Attempts this season. While being 24th in 3pt attempts, Memphis has to make up for it in quantity by creating more offensive opportunities for themselves through steals, offensive rebounds and taking care of the ball. They must create these easy attempts as they rank 27th in true shooting % on the season as well.
The best version of the Grizzlies is a team creating chaos on defense, getting out on the break and getting easy buckets. They must aggressively attack the paint in the half court, creating offensive rebound opportunities and eventually opening up kick out lanes for shooters. On nights the shots aren’t falling, they must rely on Jonas to carry them as he is capable of doing.
This team is developing. It was a stated goal from day one. That goal has shown the flashes of greatness and the cringing losses, but in the end its led to the play in tournament, another notch on the experience belt for this young team. On any night, the Grizz could hit big or stumble massively. Following this team, this season may not be for the faint of heart, but the growing pains will be worth it. This team could be dangerous in a play in scenario.