What's Wrong with the Memphis Grizzlies?

Tom FirmeAnalyst IINovember 18, 2013

USA Today

The Memphis Grizzlies hardly resemble the grinding bunch that reached the Western Conference Finals last season. Back-to-back wins on the West Coast that gave the Grizzlies a 5-5 record placed a facade on a team struggling to compete.

Memphis hasn't played like one of the handful of Western Conference contenders, the group to which it belonged at the beginning of the season. Only one win has come against a .500 team. Even poor opponents have exposed the Grizz.

Collective effort is being called into question.


Scoring is a battle

Dave Joerger's major project is far from being realized. While the Grizz were never imposing offensively in the past three years, they're dysfunctional now.

The field-goal shooting clip (46.6 percent) is anchored by their success on the inside. Also, besides a couple players, no one in the three shades of blue has aimed true. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen are shooting 53.8 and 56.9 percent, respectively.

Mike Conley may be hot at 51 percent, but he has only made 30 percent from three-point range.

The Grizz haven't improved their three-point shooting at all. They're hitting just 31.3 percent from long range. Mike Miller is shooting 44.4 percent. Besides him, Memphis is hitting 26.5 percent.

Hence, the Grizz have very little reliability from the outside. Lacking a second shooter who's making more than a third of downtown attempts, they can't create variety. That lack of outside variety makes it harder for them to persuade opponents to guard them on the perimeter.

Turnovers have undermined the positive inside shooting. Their turnover rate (15.3 percent) is worse than average. 

That's with an offense that isn't much faster than last year. They generate 91.6 possessions per 48 minutes, 2.3 more than last season, but still among the slowest in the NBA.

Finding consistent bench scoring has been an issue, but the inconsistency is problematic. With Jerryd Bayless and Quincy Pondexter hitting below 34 percent, Joerger is stuck playing Mike Miller 24 minutes per game.


MEMPHIS, TN - NOVEMBER 13: Mike Miller #13 of the Memphis Grizzlies shoots a three pointer against Rudy Gay #22 of the Toronto Raptors on November 13, 2013 at FedExForum in Memphis, Tennessee. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by
Joe Murphy/Getty Images

Absent on defense

In the past three years, they were known for a grinding defense that contained leading scorers. Thus far under Joerger, the Grizzlies haven't controlled opponents.

Allowing 105 points per 100 possessions, they're giving up more than most teams after placing second in defensive rating in 2012-13.

They had stifled opposing ball-handlers. This year, they're allowing unusual freedom. That has resulted in fewer turnovers forced for a team that ranked in the top two in each of the past three years. The Grizzlies have a 14.7 percent opponent turnover rate. 

Grantland's Zach Lowe noted the issue that their lack of turnovers forced creates, saying that they need turnovers "just to survive."

Struggling players have rediscovered their touch against Memphis. After shooting 11-of-37 against the Houston Rockets, Rudy Gay went 8-of-18 from the field against his former team. The small forward with a bias towards long two-pointers had a field day from outside 15 feet. He made three of seven long two-pointers and four of six threes.

Jodie Meeks, who hadn't posted 20 points since last December, dropped 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field.


The grind is missing

Under Lionel Hollins, the Grizz were considered a scrappy team that outworked opponents. Now, the work ethic is in question.

As quoted by Memphis sideline reporter Rob Fischer via Twitter, Tony Allen conceded a lack of grind.

The Commercial Appeal's Geoff Calkins asserted that Grizzlies players lack direction, saying, "Now the Grizzlies wander around, without passion or conviction."

Calkins pointed towards a possible difference between Joerger and Hollins, saying, "There was never any way to measure how much of the Grizzlies' take-no-prisoners mentality came from Lionel Hollins."

If effort continues to be an issue, then defensive leaks may go unplugged. The offense might never come around if players don't try to make it happen.


Conclusion: What is Joerger to do?

The Grizz have a limited amount of time to fix their path. In the next week, the Grizz face four Western Conference contenders. If Memphis is to recover their place among playoff contenders, they must compete in each one and win at least a couple of them.

The rout at the hands of the Indiana Pacers can't be repeated or excused as a loss to the hottest team in the league.

Offensive distention might not be fixed. Memphis may remain reliant on inside scoring. Conley should regress to the mean, as a 37.2 percent career three-point shooter doesn't lose his stroke in his prime.

Joerger is largely responsible for pushing his players to produce defensively and play inspired every game. Since he designed the defense that's been implemented for the past few years, he should be able to direct it.

Demanding defensive pressure from every player is necessary to put the "grit 'n' grind" defense in the proper gear.

If Joerger can't bring it out of Grizzlies players, then it would be seen as a coaching failure. Overall, the "grit 'n' grind" would be as much a false brand as the emblem of an unhinged team in danger of missing the playoffs.


Statistics are current through Nov. 17 games. Advanced metrics come from Basketball-Reference.com.