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The Curious Case of Courtney Lee Passing Up Open Shots

Courtney Lee is struggling mightily from the three-point line this season. It's gotten so bad that he is blatantly passing on wide-open shots, which benefits nobody. Why does Lee continue to pass up clean looks, and what does this habit do to the Grizzlies offense?

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

What did you do the last time Courtney Lee received the ball in an open catch-and-shoot situation behind the arc? You probably screamed something like "SHOOT", but odds are Lee curiously did exactly the opposite and you ended up screaming "SHOOT" again but with anger and expletives this time.

It's troubling to watch Lee's mind betray him as he overthinks more of his actions on the court with each passing game. However, that's not happening for no reason. Lee is having the worst season of his career in terms of perimeter shooting (30.8% beyond the arc), and his slump has caused him to be even more gun-shy than normal.

Lee was the team's best perimeter threat just a season ago, and head coach Dave Joerger relies on him a great deal to play off of the big men when they have the ball in the post. It's Lee's job to slide around the perimeter and find open pockets of space so he can be available to receive a pass when the defense inevitably collapses on the post. Of course, Lee sliding into space only matters if he's willing to shoot the ball once he receives the pass.

The most well-documented issue for the Grizzlies over the past several seasons has been the lack of perimeter shooting. The Grizzlies have consistently ranked near the bottom of the league in both three-point attempts and makes for several seasons now, but Lee is hurting the offense because he's not ready to shoot too often, he's passing on open shots, and those two elements combined are making it easier for defenders to cheat more and help on other players. Here's a breakdown of the three glaring issues.

Not Ready to Shoot

Plays happen all the time where it seems pretty obvious who is going to shoot the ball, but there are countless breakdowns in designed plays over the course of every game. That means that all five guys on offense have to be mentally and physically prepared to shoot the ball on every possession, because you never know.

This play against the Indiana Pacers is clearly going to be a side pick-and-roll with Mike Conley and Marc Gasol as the primary scoring options. Lee would be the third option on this play though as a kick out to the corner would be the easiest pass for Conley to make after rounding the corner and heading into the paint. The problem with this is that Lee is not remotely ready to catch and shoot.

The proper thing for Lee to do in this instance would be for him to bend his knees slightly, get into his shooting stance, and lift his hands to rest in his shooting pocket to make the process of getting a shot off much more fluid and quick if the play comes to that.

This bad habit is not going to help Lee pull out of his shooting slump. Not only does it hurt his shooting rhythm if he receives the ball how he's standing during this play, but him standing with his arms by his side is pretty much a dead giveaway that he's not planning to get the ball in a shooting situation on this play.

Standing this way allows Lee's defender to do what he does on this play, which is sink far enough towards the basket to enable him to have one foot inside the paint. This limits the space for Conley and Gasol to work in the side pick-and-roll and is generally going to make the Grizzlies work harder for even semi-decent looks around the rim.

Lee not ready to shoot

Lee got caught doing the same thing during an earlier game against the Chicago Bulls. Conley could have a nice driving lane here with the option to kick the ball to Lee in the corner for an open three if Jimmy Butler decides to dig down and go for the steal. But as Conley's primary passing option, it's completely unacceptable for Lee to be standing in the corner with his hands on his hips. Lee playing the role of passive bystander on this play makes it impossible for this play to be effective.

This habit of not being ready is especially frustrating because Lee is an excellent rhythm shooter, and standing like this basically guarantees he won't be in rhythm if he ends up needing to shoot.

Lee standing

Passing on Open Shots

As one of the team's best perimeter threats, Lee has to take open threes. Even when he's shooting poorly as he has been this season, there is no excuse for him to do what he does on this play against the Pacers and pass up an open three with under three seconds left on the shot clock. The only option on this play should be for Lee to step into a three, because there is neither enough time for a drive or a pass.

Here's when the mental aspect of the game comes into play. Lee's always been too passive, but he's never been this passive. There's not a guy within five feet of him, but it can be easy for a shooter to think about missing another three during a slump. The old cliche is that the best shooters have a short memory, something with which Lee is apparently not blessed.

Again, Lee has to take this shot. There's not another option, and when he doesn't take this shot it allows the defense to continue to key on the big men down low and take away the area of the floor the Grizzlies most want to get to throughout the game.

Lee shot clock

The same thing applies on this play against the Bulls. Butler temporarily loses Lee after he sets a back screen and flares out to the top of the key. As soon as he receives the pass, there should be no hesitation. He must remember how good of a shooter he has been his entire career, and he must remind himself how important it is for him to take open threes to help the offense maintain some semblance of balance.


Defenders Cheating

When a spot-up shooter like Lee is oddly not ready to receive a pass and regularly won't shoot if open when the ball is kicked out to him, it makes it much easier for his defender to help on other players and further bog down an already mediocre offense.

There is no reason in the world for Aaron Brooks to be able to cheat that far off of a shooter like Lee, but Lee is the one who makes it not only possible, but also not very scary for the Bulls so to do.

Zach Randolph sees Lee in the corner on this play and naturally skips the ball to him over the crowd. Randolph made the right play given the circumstances, but if Lee can get to a point where the scouting report no longer reads "frequently passes up open threes" then Brooks can't (or shouldn't) help like he does here. That gives the three players in the middle of the floor much more room to perform their actions and create good offense in a variety of ways, too.

Lee's man cheating

When Lee receives the ball, he has plenty of space to get a clean look off despite Aaron Brooks recovering pretty well. If he's not going to shoot the ball in this situation, the other option would be for him to use his defender's aggressiveness against him and execute a blow by on the baseline for an easy bucket.

Lee neither shoots nor drives around Brooks. Rather, he's frozen by indecisiveness and chooses to do the worst thing possible, which is stop the ball and hold it in the corner.

Lee must pull

A 38.1% shooter from beyond the arc for his career, Lee isn't all of a sudden a bad shooter. His bad habits are causing him to slump, and his slump is making him lose confidence and perpetuating the bad habits. But there's no excuse for him to be a bystander on the perimeter, and there's no reason for the coaching staff to allow his passiveness to continue.