What’s special about the Memphis Grizzlies? They play defense. Exceptional defense, mind you. The level of defense they play fixtures them into an elite band of teams, most of which are pronounced contenders. Yes, even at this still relatively early stage of the season where teams still have time to strike, and fluky starts remain intact for some some squads.
But the Grizzlies don’t appear to be on a fluke start. Defense, which is something they’re playing quite well, doesn’t fade, unlike hot shooting starts that eventually dwindle down to a level of mean. This is a good thing for the Grizzlies, to be sure, but how far can an elite defense take them accompanied by nothing but a middling offense?
Well, thus far, it will take them practically anywhere they prefer to go. A 19-9 record has them clenching the fourth seed in the highly-competitive Western Conference. Better yet, they’re 14-6 against their own conference, and 13-3 at home. Still, one can’t succumb to the defensive numbers Memphis is rendering on a night to night basis.
I could shoot stats at you all day, but here are the more impressive figures: They own the best defensive rating in the league with a 99.3 mark. Their below 100 DRTG is vastly noteworthy because they haven’t broken below the “100” DRTG range since they were the Vancouver Grizzlies. So, it’s been a while. They force the second most turnovers per game in the NBA, and allow a league-low 90 points per game.
The leader of this unit is Tony Allen. He owns the fourth best DRTG in the NBA, and is a big reason why opposing shooting guard tandems only score 19 points per game off Memphis. Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Rudy Gay also own a place in the top 20 in terms of DRTG, but Allen is known solely for his contributions on the defensive end. It’s his niche.
However, let’s shift gears to the offensive side of the ball where things aren’t very pleasurable.
First, let’s get something straight: the Grizzlies’ success is due to their harassing defense, not offense. They’re averaging just 94.7 points per game, which is only better than the Hornets in the Western Conference, and the Hornets don’t play defense or offense.
But what’s tough to perceive is that Memphis’s core flock of players haven’t regressed this season. Rudy Gay is averaging 18 points per game, Zach Randolph is averaging 17 points per game, Marc Gasol is averaging 14.3, and Mike Conley is averaging a career-best 13.2 PPG. If anything, this core four has improved with Conley’s emergence.
So what do the Grizzlies’ offensive woes stem from? Their problematic bench.
This pedestrian bench is averaging just 25.4 points per game. Let it be known that head coach Lionel Hollins doesn’t have a Jamal Crawford-esque scorer at his disposal. The best option he can call upon for instant offense is Jerryd Bayless, who’s barely averaging over five points per game, and has scored in double-digits just three times this season. I wouldn’t exactly call him a source of instant offense, rather a player with considerable upside.
So upon further review, Grizzlies’ starters can’t be blamed for their offensive blunders. They do in fact rank sixth in the NBA in starters points per game with 69.3 per contest, to boot.
Quite frankly, 2012-2013 is shaping up to be a mirror image of the 2011-2012 season for the Grizzlies. At least it has all the same trends; their bench was similarly as mediocre, averaging roughly five points more per game than they have this season, while their starters carried most of the load, albeit not as much as they’ve been tasked with this season.
Now, these 2012-2013 Grizzlies resemble a certain team that was very successful. Any guesses? The 2008 Boston Celtics. Props to those who guessed correctly.
Perhaps the Grizzlies will be the second-coming of that 2008 championship team. That Celtics’ team had a defensive rating of 98.9, yes, the exact same figure that the Grizzlies currently boast. That Celtics’ team also had a nifty 110 offensive rating, whereas the Grizzlies are suffering in this department, sporting a mere 104.4 offensive rating.
This steers us to a broad question: Do the Grizzlies need to add someone with some offensive capabilities?
In the perfect world, yes. But also in the perfect world, this undefined player could execute on the defensive side of the ball as well. Now, to be sure, that’s asking a lot, and there aren’t many notable players available who can execute both of those tasks effectively. If there were, they’d be gobbled up by now. So Memphis’s only other option would be to trade for someone.
Perhaps Monta Ellis, who is likely to opt out of his contract after this year, will become available if the Bucks slide. He’s not nearly the defensive player that Allen is, but the upside is that he can scorer 25-plus points nightly, whereas Allen struggles to compile ten. It’s something to ponder upon, as nothing is imminent.
The other route the Grizzlies could take, would be to sign a cheap shooter. Someone who could come off the bench and consistently knock down shots would do the trick. Signing someone of this caliber likely wouldn’t benefit their defense much, but said player also wouldn’t be playing 30 minutes a night.
While we can sit and grumble about the Grizzlies’ middle of the road offense, their defense is getting the job done. And defense wins championships.
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