Memphis Grizzlies Success Is About More Than Just Playing "Bully Ball"
A lot of the reputation they get is that they win games by playing a rough and tumble style of ball that cuts down the athletic warriors and bullies their opponents into submission.
On the surface, that seems like a pretty apt assessment what with the game running through Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol in the post. That, combined with Tony Allen's rough perimeter play, Mike Conley's peskiness on the ball, Rudy Gay's athletic defensive ability, Jerryd Bayless' improving on-ball defense and Marreese Speights' manly post defense has given them a reputation, and for the most part that reputation is earned.
Memphis allows just 92 points per game, they force more than 16 turnovers per game, block a handful of shots, hold opponents to 44 percent from the field and just play a game based on knocking their opponents out before they can hope to put up a huge fight.
It comes together as a team effort, one immovable object in between the offense and the basket, and they make it a trial for any team to score a single basket.
Besides the defense, they're among the tops in the league in offensive rebounds with 13 per game and boast a positive rebound differential. They fight for loose balls and live and breathe rebounds, they know it's what a basketball team survives on.
Sure, the Grizzlies are going around and pummeling teams into submission, making them work for every single point possible, but that's not the only thing that has them looking like one of the best teams in the NBA.
The fact is, these Grizzlies play a pretty good defensive game, but they're not ready to be called the best in the league yet. They're not far off, but they rely on a lot more than bully ball to win games.
Memphis plays an incredibly sterile game, one that's clean enough to give them the best shot to win each game.
They're turning the ball over at one of the lowest rates in the NBA, turning the ball over on just 12.4 percent of their possessions, good enough for third in the league. That kind of ball protections means they're able to get off more quality shots in each game they play.
Beyond that, their offensive rebounding is based around good old fashioned basic basketball. They position themselves nicely, box out cleanly and end up with a 30.9 offensive rebound rate, also third-best in the league.
Going further, Memphis relies heavily on their big men on the offensive end. That means, with Randolph and Gasol shaking and baking down low, fouls are going to come more often than most teams. That's why it's not surprising to see them averaging a free throw just about every four field goal attempts, good enough for sixth in the league.
One of the most obvious examples of their use of skill ball over bully ball comes in Marc Gasol's offensive game. Gasol is slowly morphing into one of the best big men in the game. He's relying on a lot of the finesse that his brother Pau has, but he's doing so with a much wide, stronger frame. This allows him to put stronger guys in the torture chamber and dish some low-post moves at him, but overpower the smaller defenders.
The thing that everyone on this team has been excelling at as a group has been free throw shooting. Just one player on Memphis is shooting below 75 percent, and that's the rarely used Quincy Pondexter. Collectively they're shooting 82.4 percent from the line, good enough for second in the league.
There's a lot more to this team than them trying to beat the tar out of their opponents. They've got a reputation because of how they rely on their big men, and the sometimes ill-tempered Randolph, but that's not all they're made of.
Of course, it's always nice to have a bit of nasty to fall back on.
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