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Memphis Grizzlies Film Study: Repercussions of Spacing Issues

Memphis has struggled with spacing for some time, but teams are now defending the paint more aggressively than ever before in an attempt to force the Grizzlies to beat them from outside. Right now, the Grizzlies can't do that, and it's killing them.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies are not trendy. Everything about them is hard-nosed and screams old school, and it's been that way for the entirety of the Grit and Grind era. In the modern NBA where pace and space is the name of the game, it's interesting that the Grizzlies have not wavered from their post-oriented approach.

For the most part, this clear offensive identity has served the Grizzlies quite well over the years, responsible for giving the franchise its best run of success in its young history. However, there is not a team in the league that has not figured out exactly what the Grizzlies are going to attempt to do offensively, and there's a pretty clear blueprint for stopping the Grizzlies attack built around sheer force in its tracks.

Teams fully understand that the Grizzlies don't shoot the three ball well — 27% from deep so far this season — thus there is no need for perimeter defenders to hug their man as he spots up on the three-point line. Rather, opposing wing players have started to cheat off and dig down into the paint more than ever before, and the Grizzlies aren't making teams pay for it by knocking down good looks once the ball is inevitably kicked back out because there is no space to work down low.

Here are several stark examples that demonstrate how teams are exploiting the Grizzlies weaknesses to completely stifle the offense for long stretches of play.

A third quarter possession during the Grizzlies game against the Indiana Pacers exemplifies what is ailing the Bears of Beale Street. Beno Udrih attempts to drive into the lane after coming around a side ball screen from Jeff Green, only to be met by a wall of defenders. Take one look, and it's easy to see the three reasons why Beno has nowhere to go.

  • Teams don't respect Jeff Green's shooting ability
  • Teams don't respect Matt Barnes' shooting ability
  • Marc Gasol fell asleep on the play and gummed up the spacing for Beno by leading his man directly to the ball
It's not uncommon to see all five opposing defenders in and right around the paint right now like we see in the play pictured below. It's impossible to get easy shots around the rim if you can't even get to the rim in the first place because the defense has formed a brick wall. As long as the scouting reports says the Grizzlies won't beat you from three (rightfully so), teams will continue to play the Grizzlies this way. Also, when you're shooting as bad as the Grizzlies are from three, you simply can't afford to have offensive breakdowns like the one between Gasol and Udrih. Spacing redundancies are deadly to an offense struggling to create more room to operate any way possible.

Matt Barnes corner 3

This is not a good play, but Matt Barnes still gets a decent shot from the left corner that he needs to knock down. When he doesn't that reinforces the defense to continue playing the way they have been, eating up interior space and making it nearly impossible for the Grizzlies to play to their offensive strength, which is to pound the ball down low to Gasol and Zach Randolph.

The Grizzlies looked better against the Brooklyn Nets, and the second unit showed some promise with some refreshing ball movement. The play below is an example of that nice ball movement, but there's a problem. If the Grizzlies were respected on the perimeter, Green would have never had to kick the ball out. Rather, he should have been able to go straight up and challenge his man for a bucket at the rim once he received the dump pass from Brandan Wright, but he couldn't because of how far Courtney Lee's man is cheating off of him.

Jeff Green pass

Once the defense has committed to Green, he makes a heady play to keep the ball moving, swinging it to Udrih at the top of the key. From there, Udrih makes the right play to swing the ball one more time to Barnes on the wing. Once again, Barnes gets a pretty open shot that he misses by a mile.

matt barnes wing 3

This is one of the best possessions the Grizzlies have had so far this season in terms of ball movement and spacing, but their inability to shoot from range plagues them here as it so often does.

The next play is perhaps the one we see the most often. So often, the Grizzlies nonchalantly walk up the court, dump the ball in the post, then wait for one of the bigs to go to work in the post without moving off the ball to even pretend like there is another option the defense should worry about. The Grizzlies cannot allow Joe Ingles to double Randolph on the block when his man is all the way out at the top of the key.

ZBO can't move

This play, much like the one against the Pacers, is full of spacing redundancies. There is no reason for Gasol and Green to both be standing on the other side of the lane, and Mike Conley shouldn't be standing behind both of them. This mishap is likely Green's fault, because Gasol has every right to stand around the elbow and Conley would typically be in the corner to create the option of a baseline kick out for a corner three. Green standing on the opposite low block is dumb because it brings his defender into the play, giving Randolph one more defender to miraculously get through before even having a chance to put up a shot. Oh, and need I say that Matt Barnes missed another wide open three?

While the Grizzlies clawed their way back into the game against the Utah Jazz late, they ultimately weren't able to overcome the deficit because of how laughably bad their offense was at times in the earlier stages of the game. Here's another example of how teams don't respect the Grizzlies on the perimeter at all right now.

The Jazz have three (THREE!) guys directly guarding a side pick-and-roll between Conley and Gasol. It should be said that teams don't do this against every Grizzlies wing pairing, but when Tony Allen is on the floor it really is like the Grizzlies are playing four on five offensively. Gordon Hayward is guarding Allen, and he smartly realizes there is no reason to follow him to the weak side of the floor. Instead, the Jazz have Alec Burks cheat off of Lee and zone the weak side.

Not only does Allen make things bad because his man doesn't even have to guard him, but he makes the situation even worse by creating a spacing redundancy that I've already talked about. Rather than head down in the same general area of the floor as Randolph and making it easier for the Jazz to zone that side of the floor, he should recognize that the best move for him at the point when Hayward leaves him is just to spot up on the wing opposite the ball. Then, he should pretend like he's ready to shoot if the ball is delivered to him out there for some reason yet to be determined.

Lee misses three

The aggressiveness of the Jazz's defense creates a wide-open look for Lee once Gasol skips the ball to the opposite wing, but he can't hit the shot.

Lee misses 3

Spacing redundancies and the inability to knock down an open outside shot sink the Grizzlies once again.

Given the Grizzlies current roster construction, it's hard to see how they can completely fix the spacing issues that plague them. After all, this is an issue that they haven't been able to solve over the course of multiple seasons. However, the spacing conundrum is alarmingly more pronounced than ever before, and the Grizzlies have to at least find small ways to mitigate how defenses are playing them.

Whether that means working on spacing the floor properly to eliminate spacing redundancies, simply praying that open threes start to go in, or playing less traditional lineups with only one post player on the court at any given time, it's obvious that the Grizzlies must do something, or else we *could* be watching the Grit and Grind era come to a painful end, good performance against the Clippers Monday night not withstanding.

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