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Memphis Grizzlies: Ooo’s and Ehh’s from preseason

Let’s break down some of the good and bad from the Grizzlies preseason

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Memphis Grizzlies v Detroit Pistons Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

There’s a healthy balance with what to take away from NBA preseason.

It may get ugly here and there, because it’s the first bit of NBA game action in several months. There’s not a whole lot of normalcy when it comes to rotations and minutes distribution — as the coaching staff is experimenting with players competing for rotation or roster spots.

So at times, you have to take it with a grain of salt.

However, there are substantial takeaways to gather from this time, too. Players often use preseason to immediately showcase their offseason work — whether it’s 3-point shooting, playmaking, scoring arsenal, or the ripple effects of body transformation. And from there, players utilize the preseason as a launchpad to a strong start to the regular season.

For the Memphis Grizzlies, it was a positive overall. They finished with a 3-2 record, as they continued their brand of basketball of turning defense into offense. They were some sore spots that need cleaning up for the regular season as well.

So to analyze them a bit differently, I wanted to look at the Grizzlies’ preseason from a different standpoints — things that make one go “ooo” or “ehh” upon watching.

Memphis Grizzlies v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Ooo: Desmond Bane hoopin’ inside the arc

So, is Desmond Bane about to take a leap?

If preseason is foreshadowing things to come, then Bane might be the next Grizzly to make an All-Star leap in his 3rd year.

Bane played with a noticeable burst in the preseason — navigating his way downhill and in the open court with more acceleration. In 4 preseason games, he connected on 22 of his 33 (66.7%) of his 2-point attempts, a massive rise from his 48.4% mark last regular season. Is his 2-point percentage about to spike by 20? It’s tough to foresee, but his actions indicate a sizable leap in this department could be on the horizon.

His improved burst shows through his drives in the halfcourt. Over the preseason, he displayed more confidence off the bounce, leading to quick decision-making into his actions.

Probably the most tantalizing bucket in Bane’s early improvement inside the arc was this fast-break lay-in over Franz Wagner.

To focus on the defense first, it’s absolutely riveting to watch Grizzlies swarming the passing angles as Paolo Banchero sought to kick out of the drive. Bane’s relentless at the basket was the clearest sign of his improvement inside the arc — not shying away from contact over the taller Wagner, and finishing straight up at the rim.

Desmond Bane may not shoot 67% on 2’s in the regular season, but he also won’t shoot 24% from 3 either. If he transforms into an above-average scorer inside the arc, and couples it with his elite 3-point shooting, Bane is set for a leap as a 20-PPG scorer and as an All-Star reserve candidate.

Orlando Magic v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Ehh: Dillon Brooks’ shot woes

Dillon Brooks made it known he’s on a mission for more efficient shots. His offense this season will be a development to monitor, as this year will be his first one with a more ideal, clear pecking order. Now, it’s about how he adjusts to it.

Brooks started off on the right foot. His shot volume dipped slightly, as he averaged 15.4 field goal attempts per 36 minutes (10.1 FGA per game) — for reference, that mark hasn’t been lower than 18 since his injury-riddled sophomore season.

While the volume descended, his efficiency didn’t ascend. He only connected on 32.6% of his field goal attempts and on 27.3% of his 3’s. It’d be interesting to see how his shot diet and efficiency trend in the regular season with more of a sample size. However, it was a mixed bag for the veteran wing.

For the most part, he played within the offense and didn’t force too much. Granted, there were some instances where he generated the looks and shots he’s been used to. It will be a fruitful process though.

Some of his roughest looks this preseason came from past offensive mistakes — doubling down on his mid-range and early clock shots. He tends to neglect 3’s for mid-range jumpers, the opposite of modern day “efficiency.” He shouldn’t totally go away from the mid-range shot, but he flashed a good sense of identifying advantages in getting to his spots.

Here, Brooks dribbles off the screen and drives with methodical patience — using his bod and physicality to muscle his way into a layup.

Brooks flares and circles around the Tillman screen. Once he receives the ball, he capitalizes on the advantage on his defender to get downhill towards a sweet shot off the glass.

Those shots are the ways Brooks can find efficient offense without totally taking away from his strength — and preference — in the mid-range.

The preseason served as a good barometer of how Dillon Brooks could look like in a scaled down role. If he catches his groove from the outside, he will be the most optimized he’s been on offense in his career — generating looks off the gravity of the Grizzlies’ star backcourt.

Memphis Grizzlies v Detroit Pistons Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Ooo: Rookie stock watch

In the 2022 draft, the Memphis Grizzlies made it a clear objective to acquire talent that rack up defensive events. All 4 of their draft picks finished in the top-15 in stock (steal + block) percentage among the draft class.

Stock % among 2022 draftees
Twitter / @DMacNBA

We quickly saw the defensive talent and upside from the rookies in preseason.

  • Jake LaRavia, 1.3 steals and 0.8 blocks
  • Kennedy Chandler, 1.5 steals (4 steals against Milwaukee)
  • David Roddy, 0.8 steals

As the Grizzlies lost two agents of chaos defensively with Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton, making up for that in the aggregate is pivotal for them. The rookies showed they could add value in the stocks department.

Jake LaRavia has shown he could be a plus defender within the constructs of team defense and event creation already, and it could net him playing time to start the season. In preseason, he used quick hands to muck up actions for the ball-handler. However, his shot-blocking was interesting as well. He doesn’t possess overwhelming size or athleticism, but his senses as a help defender lead to recovery blocks.

Kennedy Chandler won’t play with the Grizzlies a whole lot this season — as he’ll likely run floor general responsibilities with the Hustle in the G League — but his defense sticks out as the most intriguing element of his upside as a NBA point guard. Though only standing at 6’0” tall, his 6’5” wingspan, quick hands, and lower center of gravity benefit him on that side of the floor.

The play that encapsulates his defensive potential is this sequence on All-Star guard Jrue Holiday.

Holiday seeks out a post mismatch on the smaller Chandler. Because of Chandler’s recovery and aggression at the point of attack, he deflects an errant dump-off pass to rack up a steal.

For the first time in the “Grz Nxt Gen” era, there isn’t a rookie guaranteed for consistent rotational minutes. However, with a spot in the rotation open through Jaren Jackson’s injury, any rookie — particularly LaRavia or Roddy — could make an really impression by wreaking havoc defensively.

Ehh: 3-point shooting

The Memphis Grizzlies made their halfcourt offense and their 3-point shooting a priority this offseason, and they did not get off to a strong start in preseason.

The Grizzlies connected on 27.9% of their 3’s — 33 attempts per game and averaged only 9.2 makes per game. In addition, only 3 potential rotation players (Ziaire Williams, 41.7%; Santi Aldama, 40%; John Konchar, shot above 30% from 3.

Yikes.

Fortunately, the Grizzlies should trend up. Desmond Bane won’t shoot 24% from 3. He’s more likely to double that number than actually shoot that poorly from 3. Ja Morant and Tyus Jones should also fall in the 30-percent range.

Jake LaRavia and David Roddy — the main two players competing for a rotation spot on opening night — didn’t generate any separation from each other for that spot, and one way it could’ve been accomplished was shooting. With these two players in particular, they had plenty of clean looks with “in and out” results. I’d put odds on them shooting better than 30% from 3, and whichever one catches their groove from 3 quicker will lock up an early-season rotation spot.

The ehh isn’t really about the percentages here. Yes, it’s a putrid number, but it’ll normalize with a regular-season sample size. My unease comes from where their percentage ranked. The Grizzlies finished 4th-to-last in 3-point percentage, while also falling in the bottom 10 in volume. If they seek to boost their halfcourt offense, they’ll need to be average as a 3-point shooting team — similar to last season (17th). They have shown they could be an elite offense with their paint scoring, second-chance opportunities, and transition excellence. The 3-point shooting though is paramount in unlocking a new dimension for the Grizzlies’ offensive ceiling.

Memphis Grizzlies v Orlando Magic Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Ooo: Santi Claus is coming to ... the starting lineup!

Preseason was supposed to serve as an open competition for the starting power forward spot. Coming in, it was expected for Taylor Jenkins and his coaching staff to toy around with different lineup combinations ahead of opening night.

Jake LaRavia or David Roddy starting in their NBA debuts? Dillon Brooks transitioning to the 4-spot, while Ziaire Williams or John Konchar manned the 3? Roll with 2-big lineups with either Brandon Clarke or Xavier Tillman featured alongside Steven Adams?

Anything was on the table until it wasn’t anymore. In the first game the Grizzlies played with its full starters, second-year forward Santi Aldama received the first crack at auditioning to become Jaren Jackson Jr.’s replacement as the starting 4. He sprinted away with the opportunity, as the coaching staff didn’t waver off to any other option.

This preseason, Aldama averaged 12.2 points on 57.8% shooting from the field and 40% from 3 — on volume averages of 8.0 field goal attempts and 3.0 three’s per game. Alongside the starters, he looked more poised offensively, searching for his spots on the floor rather than forcing them.

In the first game, he exuded confidence with his jumper, drilling 4 of his 5 triple attempts. His perimeter performance will be vital to replacing Jaren Jackson, and to sticking in the rotation upon his return. However, he utilized his size well to make himself a lob threat and to crash the offensive glass for second-chance opportunities.

Defensively, he served as a weak-side rim protector, crashing the scene of drives to swat away shot attempts.

Santi Aldama won’t be expected to replicate Jackson’s level of production and amount of responsibilities. However, if he continues to let it fly with confidence and to provide a two-way impact with his size, Santi’s presence will be a gift for the Grizzlies — and he should sharpie himself in the rotation.

Quick Hits

  • Ooo: Ja Morant’s defensive activity. Ja Morant made it a point to set the tone defensively for the Grizzlies, as he averaged 2.6 stocks (1.8 steals and 0.8 blocks) per game in the preseason. He darted through passing lanes that led to easy transition opportunities. If one of the league’s most electric transition players is also igniting those chances with defense, it’s a tough scene for any opposition.
  • Ehh: Steven Adams’ assist-to-turnover ratio. Steven Adams’ playmaking is important at the top of the key — as his screening presence is pivotal in dribble handoffs, and he has nifty precision on his passes to cutters. In preseason action, he turned the ball over (12 turnovers) more than he generated an assist (8 assists). It shouldn’t be a common theme in the regular season, but it wasn’t a pleasant takeaway from preseason ball.
  • Ooo: Brandon Clarke’s playmaking. Brandon Clarke averaged 2 assists in preseason (3.8 per 36 minutes, up from 2.5 last season). He showed patience around the elbow to dart passes over to cutters for shots at the rim. His roll presence makes him a key part in dribble handoff’s — exposing any sort of over-help with a slip to the basket. This trend will be something to slightly monitor off the bench for the Grizzlies, as it’d add a new dimension to Clarke’s offensive impact in the halfcourt.

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