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Getting rolling from range with the Grizzlies

The Memphis Grizzlies’ offense has taken a massive leap this season, and a 3-point surge could help the team’s postseason aspirations.

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Memphis Grizzlies v Denver Nuggets Photo by Ethan Mito/Clarkson Creative/Getty Images

The Memphis Grizzlies have established themselves as an elite team this season. They rank in the top-10 in both offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency — with an offensive rating of 112.1 and a defensive rating of 108.1. The offensive part sticks out the most, since the Grizzlies have never been upon the league’s upper echelon in this area of the game.

The Grizzlies are currently 1st in fast-break scoring (16.9), points in the paint (56.8), and second chance points (18.0). They possess a good blend of assertiveness in creating defensive opportunities and on crashing the offensive glass, while utilizing the talents of their other-worldly point guard and highly-efficient paint scorers to drill opponents in the restricted area, all creating a well-oiled offensive machine.

The Grizzlies have executed quite well on these areas of offense to propel themselves into the home-court mix in the Western Conference. However, there’s always room for improvement, and that offensive improvement comes with 3-point shooting. A tale as old as time for Grizzlies faithful, there have been some woes from beyond the arc. On the season, the Grizzlies rank 23rd in 3-point percentage (33.9%) and 24th in 3-point attempts per game (32.7). Since Christmas, they’re 28th in 3-point percentage (32.5%) and 27th in 3-point attempts per game (30.6).

That isn’t to say the Grizzlies need to start just hoisting 3’s. They have a formula that’s been working. However, when the game slows down, teams are going to pack in the paint to limit activity from there — whether it’s downhill attacks from Ja Morant and Tyus Jones, or from efficient, but perimeter-limited, finishers like Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke. So when there needs to be a kick to a shooter, the Grizzlies need to level up their 3-point game a bit.

Luckily, the Grizzlies do have good perimeter shooters. Desmond Bane is one of the league’s elite marksmen. Dillon Brooks can, and will, shoot from downtown. The two biggest keys in this potential 3-point surge in the last third of the season and into the postseason are Jaren Jackson Jr. and De’Anthony Melton.

Memphis Grizzlies v New York Knicks Photo by Rich Graessle/Getty Images

These two shooters are tied together because they do have something in common. They are two volume shooters that happen to be streaky as well.

Jackson’s attempts have tailed down since his explosive sophomore year, down to 5.4 from 6.5 3’s per game. However, he still possesses a 3-point attempt rate near 40%, and he ranks in the 77th percentile among big men in 3-point frequency per Cleaning the Glass. For Melton, you can see how the “let it fly” mantra has resonated with him year after year, as he’s up to 4.8 attempts per game, while having a 3-point frequency of 48%.

The only players that fall within this tier of 3-point volume, when accounting for attempts per game and percentage of shot attempts, are Desmond Bane and Ziaire Williams.

With volume and streakiness comes the potential to pop off for massive 3-point explosions. This season, Jackson and Melton each have 13 games of 3+ made 3’s — only Bane and Morant have double-digit outings doing so, per Stathead. Those performances serve as a good icing on the cake when the Grizzlies are clicking in the paint and when teams are keying in on that.

These two are also brought up as major factors because their streakiness hasn’t been in their favor recently. Since Christmas, Jackson and Melton have shot 28% and 32.4% from 3, respectively.

As the Grizzlies need to turn it around from downtown, the easiest ways to turn it around are getting two of your highest volume shooters to start trending upward in their 3-point percentages. Good news — they have the track record to do so! Jackson shot 35.9 and 39.4% from 3 in the two seasons before his knee injury. Meanwhile, Melton took a huge leap as a shooter last season, connecting on 41.2% of his triple attempts last season.

To get the numbers out of the way, Jaren Jackson Jr. and De’Anthony Melton are the biggest keys to a potential 3-point surge, because of how it alters the dynamic of the team’s offense.

Jackson’s impact here probably affects the team’s dynamic the largest. His skill-set is unique as a 7-foot floor-spacer. It was more evident in his sophomore year, where he joined Karl-Anthony Towns as the only players 6’11” or taller to shoot 38% or better from 3 on 6+ attempts per game. He’s cut down on his volume to sprinkle more 2’s in his shot diet. In the process, he’s becoming an efficient post player, shooting 57.1% on post-up’s — ranking 7th among players with at least 1 post-up field goal attempt in 25+ games.

Since he’s fared well a majority of the time, despite a dip in efficiency Jackson’s shooting gravity makes him a threat. He’s benefitted from last-minute dishes off Ja Morant drives to deliver the Grizzlies a victory in crunch time. He provides a great outlet in pick-and-roll actions when he’s fading out to the 3-point line. In most situations, there’s a double screen with a roller and a popper, which generates multiple advantage points for the Grizzlies.

While Jackson’s shooting adds a dimension to the Grizzlies’ system, especially in screen movements, it adds more layers to his own offensive repertoire. He’s finding his groove inside the arc, especially in post-up’s or attacking closeouts. When his 3-point game is on, the Grizzlies could deploy him in various ways. He can catch and shoot out of pick-and-pops, or they can run him off movement where they have him running off screens. It also poses more of a threat to the defense, where if they close out too hard, he could attack the closeout for something at the rim.

More importantly, it adds more unpredictability to the Grizzlies’ half-court offense. That’s been a priority for them — whether it’s utilizing Steven Adams as a playmaking hub, running Bane off screens, getting Morant off ball, or creating matchup advantages for Jackson. When Jackson can find his mojo from downtown, it just opens up the floor for Ja Morant, and adds extra layers to the Grizzlies’ offense whenever teams key in on drives or paint scoring.

For De’Anthony Melton, he gives them a wing (well... in his case, combo guard) that’s a volume 3-point shooter. Between Brandon Clarke, Kyle Anderson, Tyus Jones and John Konchar, there isn’t a ton of 3’s being fired up. That’s fine at this moment, because they currently rank 11th in bench scoring (36.6) and 2nd in assists (9.6). The reserve unit is a productive one, as they’re a unit predicated on defensive playmaking, sharing the basketball, and finding opportunities in the paint.

Again, it goes back to adding dimensions to the bench, and that’s where Melton comes in.

There isn’t anyone off the pine with the ability to heat up from beyond the arc like him. We’ve seen Clarke generate tons of momentum through relentless attacks in the paint, and Jones and Anderson are more methodical in their attacks. Melton can be a microwave scorer when he’s on, capable of popping off a quick flurry of 2-3 three’s. One thing that’s really stuck out there is his willingness to fire 3’s, as there is barely a hesitation in letting it fly.

As the primary wing option off the bench, Melton’s 3-point prowess is going to be important. With his event creation defensively, his rebounding, and his tertiary playmaking, he’s an asset for this team in big moments. His 3-point efficiency will play a factor in how many minutes he’ll get in these spots, and the level of play when the Grizzlies begin to stagger more with their starters and bench players.

While the popular thing this time of year would be trading for shooters, the Grizzlies don’t necessarily have to do that. Again, people could point to the immaculate vibes. However, it’s also could point to having confidence in their current players finding their rhythm at the right time. Though they should make a move for the right shooter at an opportunistic cost, internal improvement is a viable route for them to choose.

And that level of belief is tied in large part to Jaren Jackson Jr. and De’Anthony Melton. They are two shooters that embody Taylor Jenkins’ vision of a spread-out offense with players willing to attack the paint and to let it fly. They have the track record of being knockdown 3-point shooters, and they’re trending in the right direction at this moment. Jackson and Melton are shooting 36.4 and 41.2% from 3 over the past 10 games, per basketball-reference.

If those two players in particular can find their rhythm from the outside, it should help the Grizzlies’ offense become more potent in half-court situations. In turn, it should give them a deeper bag of options to deploy in the playoffs, where the basketball turns more and more into a chess match.

The law of averages tend to come into effect at some point, and when it fares for Jackson and Melton could be pivotal for the Grizzlies’ postseason aspirations.

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