Memphis Grizzlies: Why NBA Should Be Thankful For Resurgence Of Grind

Nov 7, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) controls the ball during the first half against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 7, 2015; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) controls the ball during the first half against the Utah Jazz at Vivint Smart Home Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports /

The Memphis Grizzlies’ rally after a 3-6 start merits appreciation from all NBA fans, as it ensures style variance amid push for fast, open offense.

The Memphis Grizzlies are surging as Thanksgiving Day dawns, winning six of seven games after starting 3-6, demanding respect from NBA observers who lament Memphis is stuck in the past.

The Grizzlies have jumped into a fourth-place tie in the Western Conference  through a characteristic manner — grinding opponents defensively, playing offense slower than most and not excelling from three-point range.

This clashes with a new NBA era of fast offenses featuring high-volume three-point shooting stars and plenty of halfcourt spacing.

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As the season began, commentators lambasted the Grizzlies’ offseason moves, like signing Matt Barnes and not acquiring a threatening three-point shooter, as antiquated.

Writing for, Shaun Powell described the Grizzlies as “stuck in a nice place” while saying, “By keeping [Marc] Gasol — again, a no-brainer — the Grizzlies chose to keep their identity as a grinding, plodding team that emphasizes muscle and defense and half-court play.”

Powell acknowledged re-signing Gasol was necessary, but ignored the facts that the 30-year-old center has taken 47 percent of his shots from outside 10 feet since 2012-13 and the Grizzlies periodically run on the fast break.

Feeding on their appetite for steals, Memphis averaged 11.7 points per game on the break in 2014-15, 10.6 per game in 2013-14, 12.6 per game in 2012-13 and 15.7 per game in 2011-12.

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The Memphis Flyer’s Kevin Lipe expressed weariness regarding a Grind Era that produces repetitive narratives, but no championships.

Lipe said, “How are we to avoid talking about how the team ‘has got to add a shooter’ or saying that the team has ‘grit’ and that they ‘grind’? … I am ready to drag these words out into a major street and run them over with a truck. I don’t know, I’m just flat-out tired of saying them. I’m not the only person covering the team who feels that way.”

However, the Grizzlies are as eager as their fans to block all necessary avenues to save the precious ideal of “grit ‘n’ grind.”

Style variance

The Grizzlies are bouncing back with tremendous defense, although it didn’t become consistent until recently. They were 28th with 109.1 points allowed per 100 possessions through 12 games, allowing 107 or more per 100 seven times.

They’ve allowed 103 per 100 or fewer the past four contests to jump to 19th at 104.9 allowed per 100.

Generally, the Grizzlies have regained defensive aggression. After getting double-digit steals once in the first seven games, Memphis has done it seven times since then. They’ve jumped to third in steals and second in opponent turnover rate.

Tony Allen, a non-shooter who lives as the bane of anyone who favors a lineup filled with scoring options, is setting the tone while standing third in steals rate at 3.8 percent. He had two steals and an electrifying block of Dwight Howard during the Grizzlies’ 102-93 win against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday.

The Grizzlies, who are making 30.8 percent from downtown, can demonstrate patience with their three-point shooting woes while Allen is obliterating stars.

As mentioned before, the Grizzlies’ steals are fueling fast break scoring. They’re pouring on 13.9 per game on the break, including 20 against the Rockets.

Fans can’t deny the fun of watching a team snatch the ball from opponents’ ball-handlers and then jam it on the break. Such was Jeff Green‘s desire against the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday.

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Not every team needs to constantly play fast and drain threes in order to be worth watching. The Grizzlies are 28th in three-point rate and 22th in pace, and that’s fine.

True to themselves

Every NBA team has its identity. The Golden State Warriors pop threes until the lights burn out. The San Antonio Spurs boast sound defense and fluid ball movement that supports outside shooting. For the Grizzlies, it’s a blue-collar brand that reflects the nature of their city.

The NBA may be a copycat league, but not every team should play the same way. For all the teams like the Spurs and Warriors that hit a ton of threes, there remain those like the Grizzlies that don’t, either because of preference or need. When Zach Randolph returns from his absence nursing a sore right knee, he’ll demand a ton of looks near the basket.

Also, not every star backcourt player attempts more than half his shots from three-point range as Stephen Curry does. For example, Mike Conley, a 37.4 percent career three-point shooter, could save his body by taking a somewhat higher frequency of long-range shots, but will never and should never approach Curry’s formula. After all, Conley’s amazing attacking the basket.

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Finally, no reason exists why fans must demand that the Grizzlies follow suit. Basketball is an art, not a science. Analytics may help teams become more efficient and prevent injuries, but doesn’t requires a sameness in approach.

Also, remember that different basketball people want different playing styles. In the same way some NFL fans and coaches prefer running the ball instead of the fashionable emphasis on passing, which elevates efficiency  like an emphasis on three-point shooting, a segment of NBA fans yearn for inside scoring and hard-nosed defense.

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That Memphis competes among the best while behaving this way deserves enjoyment, whether it eventually results in a title or another second-round exit. NBA fans should be thankful the Grizzlies continues to beat against the tide with a punishing method.