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Secondary skillsets equaling success

Many Grizzlies are showing expanded skill sets in the early going this season.

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Overall, the start of the season for the Memphis Grizzlies should be considered a success. They once again feature one of the top offenses in the league, and this time, shooting three’s and finding the right shot consistently are a bigger part of the success than in the past. There have been some struggles defensively, especially defending the three, but that will likely improve with time. Most importantly, many Grizzlies have given early indications they are ready to “scale up” with their individual production as the season progresses.

From the scoring of Ja Morant and Desmond Bane to the overall contributions of John Konchar and Sant Aldama, for the second straight season, Memphis is benefiting from potential turning into production for many young players on the roster. However, this progression is not just in the primary or main skill that each player possesses, such as Morant scoring at the rim or Bane shooting. Another big factor is that many Grizzlies are finding success in expanding their games, offering value through secondary skills that can lead to victory.

These contributions are not just from players who are clearly in bigger roles this year than last, such as Konchar and Aldama. Veterans such as Tyus Jones and Steven Adams are also finding ways to successfully add value beyond what they are known for. The end result is a roster full of talents that are proving their secondary skills can help the Grizzlies sustain success for a second straight season.

Sure, we are only talking about a six-game sample size. But the key to sustaining success is initially experiencing it. Let’s take are look at how secondary skills are shining for the Grizzlies.

Ja Morant- Sources of Scoring

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Memphis Grizzlies Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

For Morant, his scoring upside has always been clear: he is historically elite at getting to the rim and scoring in the paint as a guard and the key to superstardom is shooting the three. Morant currently is making 77% of his shots at the rim and over half his threes; while regression will certainly come, it is clear he is continuing to improve both his strength and weaknesses.

However, the depth of Morant’s ability to score is also becoming more consistent. In the offseason, Morant discussed relying more on a mid-range game would hopefully help him stay healthy. So far, Morant has increased his shot frequency in the mid-range from 13% last year to 20% this year. Furthermore, he has improved his accuracy from 38% last year to 43% this year, Though Morant is struggling a bit with his short mid-range (floater, etc.) game, it is clear he is becoming more and more comfortable with knowing when to utilize all three levels of his scoring.

And yet, perhaps the most encouraging development for Morant’s scoring is the success from the free throw line. Morant has increased his trips to the line from 7.3 per game last year to 9.6 this year. More importantly, after making 76% of his free throws last year, he is making 87.5% this year.

Last year was a true glimpse that Morant clearly had the potential to lead the league in scoring and potentially win an MVP as he enters his prime. The sources of success when it comes to scoring have added to his game so far this year and continue to support these narratives — and make them more realistic as time goes on.

Desmond Bane- Progression with Playmaking

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Christine Tannous-USA TODAY Sports

A year ago, one of the biggest storylines heading into the 2021-2022 season was the potential progression in Desmond Bane’s playmaking. While there was a bit of a jump from his rookie to sophomore, significant progression did not occur until the second half of last season. This was not just in terms of the number of assists Bane was producing, but also his solid assist-to-turnover ratio numbers.

To start year three, Bane is taking the sizeable leap that rightfully had so many excited. Last year, Bane averaged 2.7 assists per game. This season, Bane is up to five assists per game. And the solid decision-making also remains, as Bane has produced 30 assists to just 13 turnovers. While the turnovers have increased from last year, that is a natural byproduct of a higher usage rate for Bane.

When Bane displays his playmaking, it usually leads to good results for the Grizzlies. In the 21 games that Bane has produced five or more assists in his career, the Grizzlies are 17-4, including 3-0 this season. Bane’s accuracy and intelligence when it comes to his shooting are among the best in the league; his intelligence and instincts are also helping him become an above-average playmaker. This is a big reason why Bane and Morant continue to be among the best backcourts in basketball.

Stones and Jitty- Trust From Three

NBA: Playoffs-Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Entering Monday, the Grizzlies were among the top five teams in the NBA in threes made per game and three-point percentage. This is a big reason why they were top in the league in points per game and offensive rating as well. Even with some of the production last year lost to start the season, the Grizzlies have made a clear effort to become more productive from three. The early results have been excellent.

Obviously, Bane and Morant have been outstanding from beyond the arc. However, a big boost for Memphis has come from Jones and Konchar maintaining above-average accuracy as they have shot significantly more threes so far this season. On a per-36-minute scale, Jones is averaging 7.3 3PA while Konchar is averaging 5.7 3PA. Their previous per-36 single-season highs in their careers are 4.8 3PA for Jones and 3.5 3PA for Konchar. With De’Anthony Melton now gone and Jaren Jackson Jr. out with injury, the Grizzlies clearly focused on Jones and Konchar as ideal candidates to take more threes.

Even with the spikes in frequency, both Jones and Konchar have sustained their success from three last year in the early going this year. They have combined to shoot 22-53 from three (as of Monday), which is good for 41.5% from beyond the arc. If Jones and Konchar can continue making nearly 40% of their threes while attempting 8-10 per night, the Grizzlies will have the shooting depth to logically remain above-average from three compared to the rest of the league.

While Jones is known for his excellent playmaking and Konchar for his all-around contributions, the three-point production from both players proves why the Grizzlies were so focused on investing in each of them this past summer.

Steven Adams- Benefits From Blocks

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

One of the bigger surprises from this past offseason for Memphis may have been the two-year extension they gave Steven Adams to man the middle over the next three years. However, when considering how dominant Adams is on the offensive boards and how he supports the Grizzlies' best players, it becomes logical why Memphis made the move.

Last year, Adams impressed with his offensive rebounding and passing. However, there also was a bit of an improvement with his defensive playmaking, especially when denying shots at the rim. This season, Adams has become even more active, a welcome development with All-NBA Defensive talent Jackson Jr. out with injury.

Adams is averaging 1.5 blocks per game, nearly double the production he has provided over the past two seasons. Last year, Adams produced a steal and block in 21 games. This season, he has already produced four such games. While Adams may not be the defender he once was, increased activity from him in the paint is a welcome development for a team that will need as much interior defense as possible until Jackson Jr. returns.

Without a doubt, the Grizzlies' success will be determined by how effective their best talents are at doing the things they are best at. And when it comes to the names listed above, each player of them is doing just fine in those primary areas so far. However, if each of these players can continue being productive in areas outside of their main skill strengths, plenty of victories will continue to come as the Grizzlies hope to approach full health.

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