The Memphis Grizzlies have developed a reputation over the years as a defense-first unit, a grit and grind bunch that ekes out enough points offensively to survive while they suffocate opponents. Their defense certainly hasn’t slipped, but they’ve quietly begun to change the stigma offensively, posting the league’s ninth-best per-possession offensive figure on the year and really finding a groove in a recent winning streak that continued tonight in Salt Lake City.
This theme was evident from the start against the Jazz. Memphis put up 58 points in the first half, and ended the game with a 114.1 per-100-possessions offensive rating. To put that in perspective, as Utah’s defense has made big strides since the turn of the new year, they’ve allowed just 102.7 per-100.
Before the game, Jazz coach Quin Snyder noted the improvements the Griz have made over previous seasons, where they relied particularly heavily on post behemoths Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph and had little in the way of strong secondary options. “This is a different team – I think they shoot it opportunistically. I think Courtney Lee has really added that dimension to them, Mike Conley’s become a very very good shooter, up above 40% from 3,” said Snyder pregame.
This statement turned out to be somewhat prophetic as the night wore on. Memphis’s bigs did their work, to be sure, with the Grizzlies notching 46 points in the paint to Utah’s 36. But the real damage came on the wings and at the guard position, where Memphis expertly utilized the passing skills and gravity of their big guys to create opportunities elsewhere. Mike Conley ran circles around both Dante Exum and Trey Burke, breaking free on multiple occasions as his defender became preoccupied elsewhere for easy looks. The numbers ended up relatively modest across the board for Memphis’s guards and wings, but their cutting away from the ball was finely tuned, often resulting in easy buckets like this one for Jeff Green:
Snyder had high praise for them after the game, as well: “Those back-doors, and the cutting – it’s like running a [football] route when you know they’re going to throw it to you.” This seemed a particularly apt description; the timing between Memphis’s wings and bigs on these sets was picture-perfect, and one could easily see the benefits of multiple years together for their core pieces.
Gordon Hayward had a rough night here, allowing Green to beat him to the rack on multiple occasions. Fatigue was a factor, both for Gordon and across the rotation1, but he conceded that Memphis simply does an excellent job maximizing the pieces they have offensively: “You’re worried so much about their two big guys that you help over, you kinda turn your head, and their guys do a good job of cutting and they’re willing and able passers,” he told me following the game.
These are natural roadblocks for a young and developing team. They adjusted and weren’t as porous in the second half, a win in and of itself. All that can be asked is for them to treat this as another learning experience and move forward, and this is a team that’s done exactly that sort of thing a number of times already this year. If we know anything about this group by now, expect them to bounce back in a big way Friday night in Phoenix.
|Derrick Favors, PF 30 MIN | 4-7 FG | 3-3 FT | 5 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 11 PTS | -12 +/-Derrick was surprisingly quiet against a team he typically gets up for. He attempted just seven field goals all night in 30 minutes, and collected five of a surprisingly low eight rebounding opportunities – Enes Kanter and Rudy Gobert had 18 and 11 here, respectively.|
|Gordon Hayward, SF 34 MIN | 5-10 FG | 2-2 FT | 4 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 15 PTS | -6 +/-Hayward’s defense was uncharacteristically suspect, particularly away from the ball, and like Favors he was a bit anonymous offensively compared with his usual output. He got to the line only twice and attempted just 10 shots, well under the roughly 14 per game he’s tried on the year.|
|Joe Ingles, SF 20 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-2 FT | 1 REB | 2 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 4 PTS | -18 +/-The Jazz were outscored by a gargantuan 54.0 points-per-100 (18 points overall) with Jingles on the floor, and while this obviously isn’t all on him, he didn’t do a whole lot to change the course of things either. He’s been getting more involved recently, but tonight was a return to his mostly absent ways from earlier in the season.|
|Enes Kanter, C 31 MIN | 8-18 FG | 0-0 FT | 10 REB | 1 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 16 PTS | +5 +/-Kanter was assertive from the jump, with several nifty moves on none other than Marc Gasol in the first quarter. He finished with the most minutes among Jazz bigs tonight and deserved it, continuing his offensive aggression throughout the game. He was the only starter to post a positive per-possession rating on the night.|
|Dante Exum, SG 25 MIN | 0-5 FG | 0-0 FT | 3 REB | 5 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 0 PTS | -15 +/-While he had a couple good passes and finished with five assists, this may have been Exum’s worst game as a pro relative to expectations. He continued his timidness offensively, and even worse was found badly lacking defensively in multiple instances. He was no match whatsoever for Mike Conley, and was yanked under three minutes into the third quarter after several consecutive errors on both ends.|
|Trevor Booker, PF 10 MIN | 1-4 FG | 1-2 FT | 3 REB | 0 AST | 0 STL | 0 BLK | 2 TO | 3 PTS | -3 +/-Booker is firmly entrenched as Utah’s fourth big at this point, but he continues to bring energy when he hits the court. He was mostly swallowed by a big Memphis frontcourt tonight and didn’t have his jumper working, but actually rebounded nearly a quarter of the potential boards on either end while on the court despite a low box score figure here.|
|Chris Johnson, SF 17 MIN | 2-3 FG | 0-0 FT | 1 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 0 TO | 5 PTS | -6 +/-Johnson saw his first meaningful action in a Jazz uniform and looked competent, if not spectacular. He showed good intensity both defensively and on his offensive cuts, though he’s still far away from being a consistent NBA player in any capacity at this point.|
|Rudy Gobert, C 25 MIN | 2-5 FG | 4-8 FT | 6 REB | 0 AST | 2 STL | 2 BLK | 0 TO | 8 PTS | -10 +/-Rudy paraded to the free-throw line tonight as Memphis smartly chose that route rather than allowing him dunks. He remained his usual solid defensive presence, though wasn’t quite the menace he was last night against LaMarcus Aldridge. He’s being forced to adjust a bit more lately as teams scout his strengths, and it’ll be interesting to see how he continues to respond.|
|Trey Burke, PG 31 MIN | 7-13 FG | 4-4 FT | 3 REB | 4 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 3 TO | 21 PTS | +5 +/-This would be a round “A” if not for a few notable defensive miscues. Burke continued to thrive in his sixth-man role (he once again finished with more minutes than Exum), getting his shot going early and hitting several big ones to keep the Jazz within striking distance.|
|Elijah Millsap, SG 17 MIN | 2-5 FG | 3-5 FT | 4 REB | 0 AST | 1 STL | 0 BLK | 1 TO | 7 PTS | +10 +/-Millsap lost a few minutes that may have been his to Chris Johnson tonight, but played well enough in the 17 he did see. He did an admirable job on Conley for small segments when Snyder switched him there to stem the dominance Conley was showcasing against Utah’s points.|
The Jazz could have perhaps made some adjustments to the off-ball game Memphis was going to with such great results, but it’s hard to criticize much. The Jazz were facing a rested team on a back-to-back, and as Quin noted himself, the Grizzlies also just made a lot of shots. He continues to do an excellent job despite a tough outing all the way around for his group tonight.