7 Statistics That Are Defining the Memphis Grizzlies' Season So Far

Tom Firme@TFirmeAnalyst IIDecember 15, 2014

7 Statistics That Are Defining the Memphis Grizzlies' Season So Far

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    Joe Murphy/Getty Images

    The Memphis Grizzlies boast an array of attractive numbers in their run among the title contenders through the early part of the season. Naturally, a team with the NBA's second-best record at 19-4 has statistics that jump off the page.

    Two of the Grizzlies' most impressive figures are Marc Gasol's scoring average and Courtney Lee's shooting accuracy. Gasol's posting more than he did any time before. Lee is opening the floor with some of the best perimeter shooting in the league. One must wonder if he can keep up three-point marksmanship that soars above his career mark.

    Similarly, observers must wonder if the Grizzlies can stay among the best three-point shooting teams in the NBA.

    Most importantly, head coach Dave Joerger is guiding a balanced team that stands among the top 10 offensively and defensively.

    Here, we analyze several key statistics and discuss the significance of a few striking numbers.

Team Offensive Rating

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    The Grizzlies could have remained a dangerous team in the middle of the Western Conference playoff bracket by relying on defense. But they're emerging as a balanced team near the top with a stellar offensive attack.

    Memphis ranks sixth with 110.6 points per 100 possessions. It's fourth with a 47.2 percent field-goal clip and holds the third-best three-point mark at 37.9 percent.

    The old Grizzlies would have needed to grind the Dallas Mavericks down in a slow, low-scoring game on Tuesday. While the pace was slow at 90.2, the Grizzlies outshot the highest-scoring team in a 114-105 bout. Besides shooting 48.2 percent, 3.5 better than Dallas, the Grizzlies had five turnovers while forcing 16.

    Careful ball-handling has been a hallmark of Mike Conley's floor leadership. They're seventh with a 12.7 percent turnover rate, placing in the top 10 for the third straight year.

    The Grizzlies maintain a smooth offense while raising their pace by 1.9 to 91.8 possessions per 48 minutes. 

    SB Nation's Mike Prada analyzed how they quickly get into the offense and make passes to set up quality shots, saying, "Now, there's rarely a Grizzlies possession that doesn't feature great flow."

Reaching the Free-Throw Line More Often

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    Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

    After struggling to reach the free-throw line last year, placing next to last in attempts, the Grizzlies are attacking the basket more and reaching the line often. They're 10th in shots from the charity stripe (25.2 per game) and ninth in free-throw rate (30.9 percent).

    Gasol and Conley have career highs in free-throw attempts per game. Gasol's 6.9 per game are 2.8 beyond last year, and Conley's 4.6 are 0.8 higher than his 2013-14 average.

    Regarding Gasol's jump in this area, The Commercial Appeal's Peter Edmiston (subscription required) said, "Clearly trading one midrange jumper for two free throws as often as possible is the right thing to do, and that's a big reason Gasol's scoring is up by almost 50 percent over his career average."

    Zach Randolph's 4.7 are his highest in four years.

    The Grizzlies are making good on their frequent trips to the line, ranking 10th at 77.4 percent. Gasol has bounced back from a poor stretch run of last season in which he shot 72.8 percent to hit 83.5. Four other Grizzlies are draining better than 80 percent.

Marc Gasol's Scoring Average

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    Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

    A big reason why the Grizzlies are on a tear offensively is that Gasol is scoring more than ever. He's at 19.4 points per game, topping his previous best by 5.2. His 13.7 field-goal attempts per game are his highest by 1.6.

    After posting 30 once in his first six seasons, Gasol has four 30-point games through 23 games.

    Following Gasol's 30-point affair against the Mavericks, NBA.com's Sekou Smith said, "When he's aggressive offensively, the way he was against the Mavericks, there is no big man in the league capable of dealing with him on his own."

    He's back to being one of the best free-throw shooting big men, even while ranking fifth in attempts.

    The Grizzlies needed someone to step up as a volume scorer, and Gasol is shedding a bit of his pass-first mentality in accepting the role.

Team Three-Point Field-Goal Percentage

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    No one could have fathomed the Grizzlies' third-place ranking behind the three-point line. The last time Memphis finished in the top half in the category was 2006-07.

    The Grizzlies have a few proven long-range shooters, such as Lee, Conley and Vince Carter, but Carter hasn't found his mark yet.

    Lee and Conley are making up for Carter and others with unbelievable starts in this area. Lee leads the NBA with a 55 percent three-point mark. Conley's 10th at 44.9 percent.

    Tayshaun Prince has been more active than usual from downtown thus far, shooting 1.6 threes per game, compared with 1.3 the past two seasons, and making half his attempts.

    On Saturday, the Grizzlies keyed a comeback win against the Philadelphia 76ers with 7-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc after the seven-minute, 35-second mark in the fourth quarter when they trailed by 18. That included two threes in the last minute of regulation by Conley to force overtime.

    "I just got done seeing all of their threes. Some of them you shake their hand—Mike Conley is Mike Conley. ... Some of it was defensive mistakes," 76ers head coach Brett Brown told the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey.

    The big question is whether they can sustain their three-point stature. Conley and Lee, who are 7.3 and 16 percent above their career marks, respectively, will drop off to some degree. Carter, whose 29.7 percent clip is 9.7 off last year, will improve, but one must wonder if that will offset their regression.

Team Defensive Rating

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    While the Grizzlies' offensive growth spurs their rise, they retain their defensive mettle.

    The "grit 'n' grind" defense is seventh at 102.6 points allowed per 100 possessions. Tony Allen, Kosta Koufos, Gasol and Randolph are giving up fewer than 100.

    Allen is having a quintessential year on this end while attacking ball-handlers. He's second in steals rate at 3.9 percent.

    After grabbing two steals and two rebounds in the fourth quarter of the Grizzlies' 103-87 win against the Miami Heat on Dec. 7, Allen told The Commercial Appeal's Ron Tillery (subscription required), "I told myself if I get back in this game, I am going to try and get some rebounds, get a steal, do anything I could to help my team."

    Sporting News' Tim Faklis noted the effect of Allen's defensive intensity, saying, "The Grizzlies' calling card is their defense. The face of their defense is Marc Gasol, but Tony Allen is the jaw line."

    Allen's among five Grizzlies players picking up a steal per game as the Grizzlies rank 10th in opponent turnover rate at 14.5 percent.

    Koufos anchors the second unit's defense. The Grizzlies allow four fewer points per 100 possessions with him on the floor. Hardwood Paroxysm's Matt Cianfrone noted that Koufos holds opponents to 48.8 percent at the rim.

Modest Playing Time for Small Forwards

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    Before the season, Joerger resisted the traditional mold by starting Allen at the 3 spot instead of at small forward.

    Since then, the lack of productivity by Memphis' small forwards has given Joerger little reason to change course. Prince is scoring 7.6 points per game on 43.3 percent shooting. Carter and Quincy Pondexter are hitting 33.1 and 32.6 percent, respectively.

    Hence, the 3s haven't seen much action. Prince is playing 22.4 minutes per game but has appeared in 14 contests. He started six but hasn't been in the lineup since Nov. 21.

    The Commercial Appeal's Chris Herrington (subscription required) suggested that his reduced playing time, which is his lowest since his rookie year, is a good thing, saying that "not playing every night has seemed to keep Prince fresh."

    Pondexter and Carter are getting 17.8 and 14.8 per game, respectively. Both have only missed a couple games.

    After sitting out against the Mavericks and receiving nine minutes in the two games prior, Pondexter played from the end of the third quarter until late in overtime against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday with the directive to contain Kemba Walker, as Tillery reported (subscription required). The 26-year-old held Walker to five points during that time.

    "Whatever our team needs. Whatever Joerger needs for us to win. That's all we care about, every single guy on this team. And so my name was called upon and I just tried to play my hardest for the team," he said.

    The Grizzlies need three-point shooting from Pondexter and Carter, who are making 25.9 and 29.7 percent, respectively. Once they find their aim, they'll earn more time. Prince, who can't do much in regular action in his 13th season, won't have many 30-minute games.

Courtney Lee's Field-Goal Percentage

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    Like last season, Lee is blazing through a hot start. For the first two months of 2013-14, Lee shot 50.6 percent from the field and 47.6 percent from long range. This year, he's hitting 54.4 percent overall and 7.4 percent better from downtown.

    But this year is different. Instead of inflating his trade stock while coming off the bench for the struggling Boston Celtics, he's pushing the Grizzlies' contender status. 

    The 29-year-old is furthering himself as a perimeter specialist, taking a slightly higher share from outside 15 feet (57.9 percent, a 1.1 percent increase). He's largely a spot-up shooter, with assists on 74 percent of his shots made and 8.6 attempts per game.

    Even as he slumped in the second half of last season with Memphis, Lee helped space the floor since he managed to hit 52 percent on long two-pointers, as shown by his NBA.com shot chart.

    This year, his floor-spacing ability is stronger due to his tremendous three-point stroke.

    Grantland's Kirk Goldsberry noted that he is "keeping those perimeter defenders more honest" and shared Lee's thoughts on how he stretches defenses.

    "We have two traditional post guys and usually when they get in the post, people double them," Lee said. "But now, our shooters keep their defenders attached to our bodies, so it opens so it opens up the floor for our big guys—our opponents are respecting the three-point line more."

    Statistics are current through Dec. 14 games. Unless otherwise noted, advanced metrics come from basketball-reference.com.