Though we are nearly six weeks into the 2022 calendar year, the Memphis Grizzlies continue to sizzle in much of the same way as they did to end 2021. With a few games left before the 2022 All-Star Break, the Grizzlies have a very good chance to earn both 40 wins and be 20 games above .500 over the next 10 days.
The Grizzlies currently sit in third place in the Western Conference, four games above the Utah Jazz and 5 1⁄2 games above the Dallas Mavericks in both the conference and division standings. Now, with the Grizzlies having the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA, they could widen that distance in the standings a bit over time. This is especially true since the Mavericks have a very difficult stretch of games as February turns to March and the Jazz experience the same as March turns to April. The Grizzlies have earned a nice amount of wiggle room to work with as a third of their season remains.
One of the biggest keys to the Grizzlies success since Taylor Jenkins arrived as head coach is that they hardly ever seem to get ahead of themselves. With a frequently referenced approach of “one day at a time”, the Grizzlies seem to have a very solid grasp of staying in the moment and taking care of what they can control. This does not seem likely to change even with all the national attention the Grizzlies have earned so far this year. Yet, while the focus for the Grizzlies will always remain in the present, the Grizzlies are also at the point in the season where being in the best place possible for the playoffs becomes a key priority.
With so much of the season left, many things could change when it comes to who exactly the Grizzlies could face in the first round of the playoffs. Many teams behind the Grizzlies in the standings either are or will be getting key players back for the playoff push. However, it seems that a good chance exists that the Grizzlies will either be facing the Mavericks or Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs.
The Grizzlies are 4-3 on the season against both teams, with one more matchup against the Nuggets in Denver in the final few weeks of the season. Specifically, the Grizzlies are 3-0 against Denver and 1-3 against Dallas in these games. It should be noted that many of these games did not include starters or significant role players for either the Grizzlies or the Mavericks/Nuggets. Being at full strength will obviously have a big impact in any potential playoff matchup.
While it is too early to get into actual roster or individual matchup specifics, there are a few key components that the Grizzlies must either maintain or improve upon, regardless of their opponent, to advance in the playoffs. The performance in these specific areas have been critical in the seven games against Dallas and Denver. The key for Memphis is to maintain why it has been frequently winning over the past few months, but as Nathan Chester mentions, also become more consistent in their half court approach. Here a few specific and needed areas the Grizzlies should improve upon over the next few months:
Three Point Consistency
The Grizzlies ability to win games via production in the paint, via hustle, and turning defense into offense is elite. This activity leads to a possession advantage for Memphis in many games, especially in terms of two point shots. However, the ability for the Grizzlies to shoot the three becomes more critical in the playoffs.
For instance, the Grizzlies are third in points off turnovers, first in second chance points, first in fast break points and first in points in the paint per game in the NBA this season. In the four games against the Mavericks, Memphis produced close to their normal elite levels in these aspects of the game. However, against the Nuggets, the Grizzlies produced at significantly lower levels in these categories.
Based off these results, it would seem as if the Grizzlies would struggle against Denver but do well against Dallas. However, that is not the case. The reason why is because the Grizzlies production from three was more impactful in these games. Overall, Memphis was 29-112 (25.9%) from three against Dallas and 40-93 (43%) against Denver. Specifically, Memphis made 15 less threes than Dallas over four games but 10 more threes than Denver over three games.
The Grizzlies have done well defending the three against both teams. However, while a combination of shooting and defending the three well is crucial in the playoffs, the big thing for the Grizzlies is consistently creating and converting high percentage looks from three. Since December 15th, the Grizzlies are 27th in total three pointers made and 25th in 3P%. This must improve for the Grizzlies to have a good chance of advancing in the postseason.
Another key area of production for Memphis is the ability to effectively create their own shot. This is not just in terms of the quantity of times they are able to do it, but the quality of those shots as well. Overall, the Grizzlies roster has taken a noticeable step forward in creating their own shots this season, though they have regressed a bit over time. Memphis currently produces at a league average rate when it comes to the quality of creating their own shots.
The quality of their self-creation also serves as a barometer of how successful they have been against Dallas and Denver. In four games against Dallas, the Grizzlies struggled quite a bit in gaining value from creating their own shots. However, against Denver, Memphis’s self-creation was at a significantly higher level of quality than it normally is. The Grizzlies ability to create their own shot will play a huge role in how effective they are in the half court in the playoffs. If Memphis is not able to win games via their normal strengths of hustle, causing turnovers, and in the paint, being able to balance creating their own shots, especially from distance, with effective ball movement will be critical to their overall success.
The Grizzlies ability to the shoot the three and create their own shot will obviously play a big part in their overall chances to advance in the playoffs. If they can do both things successfully, the consistency of their offensive output will be at a high enough level of quality to produce successful results even if their opposition makes like tougher on Ja Morant and others individually.
A few other factors certainly will play a part in postseason success for Memphis. For one, Dillon Brooks returning should both help the Grizzlies defense and adds another outlet of self-creation and shooting on offense. The more options the Grizzlies have to utilize in both of these options on offense, the better their consistency should become .
Another key development is the Grizzlies ability to effectively use their ball movement to create high percentage looks. In six of the seven games the Grizzlies played against the Mavericks and Nuggets, they produced less than 25 turnovers. This season, the Grizzlies are averaging 25.1 assists per game. The Grizzlies are 16-13 when they produce 25 or less assists so far this year. They are 21-5 when they produce 26 or more assists. If the Grizzlies can produce plenty of looks off their passing to go along with a bit of quality from self-creation, their chances of winning significantly increase.
The good thing is that the Grizzlies are starting to show signs that they are trending in the right direction in a few of these areas. The Grizzlies have shot 39% or better from three in five of their last ten games. In their previous 15 games before that, Memphis shot better than 39% from three only once. Players such as De’Anthony Melton and Jaren Jackson Jr. finding their grooves once again has helped. The Grizzlies have eclipsed 30 assists in consecutive games for only the second time this season in their two February contests. Being fully healthy certainly helps, but improved passing all around has made the Grizzlies offense quite productive.
If the Grizzlies can continue these trends, along with hitting free throws and maintaining quality through self-creation, Memphis will certainly be in a good position entering the postseason. Regardless of who the Grizzlies play, offensive balance is the key— self-creation and good passing, producing in the paint and from distance, in transition and through efforts in the half court— for Memphis to make this season truly special. Fortunately, they have a full months to find their stride in these areas to accomplish their goals.