Grizzlies

Grizzlies Finding Their Identity During Key Stretch

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The Grizz Lead team took some time off for the holidays, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The Grizz went through what was easily their ugliest stretch of the season, as they lost four of five games—including one to the Thunder—and looked like a shell of the team that fans had watched for most of the season.

True to the Memphian mentality, though, they quickly picked themselves up and righted the ship with a win in Toronto. Including that road win/Dillon homecoming party, the Grizzlies have rattled off seven straight wins by sweeping three straight back-to-backs, and they have a chance to extend that streak against the Spurs tonight.

As the Grizz have found their form and played great basketball, we’re going to draw upon the last remnants of holiday spirit and only focus on the positives for the Grizz from the past few weeks.

There’s plenty of it.

The Gang’s All Here

Going back to the beginning of last season, fans have been left to wonder what a fully healthy Grizzlies team looks like. Dillon Brooks was out for over half of last season, and Ja Morant missed 25 games during the regular season before missing the last three games of their series against the Warriors.

They then began the season without both Jaren Jackson Jr. and Zaire Williams before losing Desmond Bane for 17 games to a toe injury.

It was starting to feel like the Grizz may never get fully healthy.

Well, it’s only been a handful of games, but the Grizz have their full starting lineup healthy, and the eye test looks promising. Morant doesn’t have to shoulder as much of the load, allowing him to flourish when the team needs him most. Brooks is able to play within himself on offense and remain a defensive menace.

And finally, Bane and Jackson are able to be the X-Factors Memphis needs them to be.

The Bane Train is Movin’

Des took a few games to get going, but over the last few games he has gotten back to the borderline All Star play he flashed at the beginning of the season.

Over his last three games, Bane is shooting 44.0% from the field and 50.0% from three on six attempts per game, and he is averaging 19.3 points per game over that span.

Des is doing all of the other little things, as well. In the game against Charlotte, Bane recorded his first career double-double with 19 points and 11 rebounds. He then flirted with another double-double against the Jazz, recording 24 points and nine assists. He has been all over the floor these past three games on both ends, averaging one steal per game, as well.

But what lets fans know Des is really back, and what he has become known for over the past couple years, is that he is playing with an edge.

Against the Jazz, Bane was stepping into logo threes, taking guys off the dribble and dishing out assists left and right. He got back to talking, too, yelling “I’m back!” after crossing up Jordan Clarkson and nailing the deep three. He must’ve said plenty more, too, as he had Clarkson doing his best “Hold Me Back” dance before getting ejected from the game.

It will take some time for Bane to be fully reintegrated and back to basketball shape, but he’s already making an impact for the Grizz.

It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s Block Panther!

Holy Jaren Jackson.

That’s about all that can be said to describe his defense since returning from injury. Even his basic defensive statistics are incredible, as he is averaging one steal and 3.3(!) blocks per game. For reference, the players tied for the second-highest average in blocks per game are Nic Clayton and Brook Lopez with 2.6.

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The man is an absolute menace at the rim, but it’s not just the blocks that reflect Jaren’s defensive prowess.

With Jaren off the floor, the Grizzlies allow 112.6 points per 100 possessions. WIth Jaren on the floor, they allow only 105.8 points per 100 possessions, a difference of almost seven full points. In addition, opponents have a two point effective field goal percentage of 53.7% without Jaren on the floor, but that plummets to 44.5% with him on the floor. It’s not just shots by the rim, either, as opponent’s overall effective field goal percentage drops from 53.5% to 47.9% with Jaren on the court.

Block Panther Bonus

Jaren’s been living up to his Block Panther title, but what should have fans really excited is his expanded game on offense. On the season, Trip is averaging 16.7 points on 51.3% shooting from the field (career-high) and 36.6% shooting from three. Over his last five games, though, Jaren is averaging 19.4 points per game on 58.1% shooting from the field and 47.4% shooting from three.

Jaren has always had potential, but now he is showing consistency. Rediscovering his three point shot after a couple of down seasons is obviously great, but he is showing even more consistency with his offense in the paint. He is averaging 59.6% on two point attempts this season, easily the highest mark of his career. And the reason he is averaging this is because he has expanded his post game while refining his ability to take defenders off the dribble.

In the past, Jaren had no comfort zone in the post, and he would often pick up an offensive foul on the rare occasion he went down there. He really only liked driving to the paint, and that really limited his game.

This year, he has definitively changed that.

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Trip’s defense will always be his calling card. But his three-level scoring is what makes him Memphis’ ultimate X-Factor.

Kiwi Power

Steven Adams may be the definition of “Not All Heroes Wear Capes.”

He does all of the intangible dirty work night in and night out, and he doesn’t typically get all of the box score stats that draw viewers’ praise.

Recently, though, he’s gotten his flowers.

Over his last five games, Steve-O has averaged 9.4 points per game, and that would be 10.8 if not for a four point dud in Orlando. Most impressively, though, Adams has averaged 16 rebounds over those five games, and that jumps up to 18.5 if you take out the Orlando game. He had back to back 20+ rebound games (21 and 23, to be exact) against elite rebounders in Jonas Valanciunas and Domantas Sabonis on back to back nights.

The man has been an absolute force of nature. He impacts the game every night for Memphis, and it’s great to have a stretch where the box score shows it.

And if you need an advanced stat to convince you of Adams’ impact: he is currently eighth in the entire NBA in total plus/minus at +204. His impact on this team is very real, and it can be undervalued even by the most conscientious of Grizz fans. But he is currently putting up career type numbers, and the team is reaping the benefits.

Plus, the dude just fits.

Back to Business

There are many honorable mentions. Tyus Jones has stepped up as he always does. Both Xavier Tillman and Zaire have been producing fantastic minutes. Brooks and John Konchar are both also in the top ten of total plus/minus (Brooks fourth, Konchar ninth), and Dillon has been playing elite defense that could rival Jaren every night. And of course Morant has been phenomenal.

But the play of Des, Jaren and Steve-O has taken the cake as of late, and their play will be huge determinants of the Grizzlies’ season. The month of January will be a big factor in Memphis’ final standings, and they don’t have the luxury of letting off the gas. They have one more matchup with the Spurs before facing a feisty Pacers team on the road, and they have matchups against tough teams like the Cavs, Suns and Warriors coming up.

Memphis has gotten back to playing Grizzlies basketball as of late, and it’s made for a fun ride. Now, they just have to keep it consistent and set themselves up for a playoff picture that runs through Beale Street.

CRAVING MORE GRIZZLIES?

Check out the first of our Grizz Moves series by Luke Hatmaker (@luketeno), Deck the Halls with Memphis Draft Picks. And be sure to check out the Grizz 901 Podcast, where the Grizz Lead guys get on to discuss the most recent games and much, much more!

About Nathan Qualls

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