The Memphis Grizzlies once expected Rudy Gay to carry them to the NBA Finals with his scoring, but they now expect no individual to do that. The Grizzlies can run through the West without a clear-cut scoring leader, as anachronistic as it seems.
A balanced scoring attack has helped them along. Since the trade, Mike Conley is putting up 17.1 points per game, Marc Gasol is averaging 15.1 per game, Zach Randolph is amounting 14.7 per game and Jerryd Bayless is throwing in 12.3 per game.
Not only that, but they also score more efficiently than they did before the Gay trade. Since the deal, the Grizzlies have upped their offensive rating from 104 points per 100 possessions to 105.
Gay could have been pictured next to the dictionary definition of "inefficient." He shot 40.8 percent from the field and 31 percent from three-point range. His offensive rating was a paltry 97 points per 100 possessions. The Connecticut product even produced -0.2 offensive win shares.
All that for 17.2 points per game.
Whereas Gay needed 16.4 field-goal attempts per game to reach that average, Conley has required just 13.2 shots per game to put up almost as much. Gasol's 15.1 come on just 11.7 shots per game. Both had effective field-goal rates around 50 percent, compared to 43.8 percent for Gay.
As long as the Grizzlies have scorers who make good on their shots, they don't need one guy to take a high number of shots to score a ton.
The Grizzlies have also shot better as a team since the trade. Since Feb. 1, they're knocking down 46.1 percent from the field, 2.6 percent better than before the trade.
Memphis also became a respectable three-point shooting team after the trade, even though they still take fewer threes than any other NBA squad. Since Feb. 1, they're shooting 35.4 percent from downtown, which would put them 0.3 percent below the league average.
Not only have they shown they can score efficiently without their longtime scoring leader, but Memphis has also demonstrated a greater ability to win in the clutch.
As The Memphis Flyer writer Chris Herrington pointed out, the Grizz are 6-1 in games decided by five or fewer points or in overtime since dealing Gay, compared with 4-7 before then.
Putting a strong, efficient scoring front together with a bloodthirsty defensive attack makes the Grizzlies more dangerous than before the Gay trade. Only four teams have better offensive rating-to-defensive rating differentials than that of the Grizz (4.4 per 100 possessions).
The Grizzlies are the only team in the league with four players in the top 20 in defensive rating.
Some had worried about who would hit game-winning shots with Gay gone. That's immaterial when every other rotation player wearing the three shades of blue shoots better than he did for them this season.
In the playoffs, Memphis may face several high-volume scorers if they go deep. That includes high-efficiency guys like Tony Parker, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry.
The Grizz don't need to have one guy match those high scorers point for point to beat them. Having a cast of efficient scorers match them while containing opposing shooters on the other end will do the job for Memphis.
Generally, teams make the NBA Finals with high scorers. The 2001-02 New Jersey Nets were the last team to make the finals without an active player averaging 16 points per game.
That Nets team combined decent overall offense with stellar defense to slip through a horrid conference. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies can overcome beastly conference leaders with a fairly efficient offense with a few reliable scorers supporting an impenetrable defense.
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