Grizzlies’ West-Coast Woes Resurface


The Grizzlies entered last week riding a nine game win streak as they passed the season’s halfway point. As they wrapped up their latest homestead, they faced a five game road trip against opponents that all had postseason hopes.

Ideally, Memphis would have added to the five game cushion they had already built on the three seed.

Unfortunately, a franchise record of twelve wins in a row was not in the cards.

The Good

The City of Memphis

The gravity of Memphis being the site of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination is not lost on this team.

Games played on MLK Day have a higher significance in Memphis. With the games typically being nationally televised, the hope is that the city isn’t just represented, but that it is represented well.

Not only did the Grizzlies win their 20th MLK matchup, but for two halves of basketball they practically played the Suns off the court.

Memphis had six players in double figures. The final score of 136-106 doesn’t make it clear just how much a beatdown this game ended up being.

During the game, every single guy was the best version of themselves, and the Phoenix had no answer for it.

On national television, the entire league saw what this team was capable of. Not a bad way to start the week.

Defense Wins Championships

The Grizzlies currently have the number one ranked defense in the NBA. That honestly fails to do this team justice, as they have been an absolute force defensively.

With an unadjusted defensive rating of 110.34, no other team can boast this level of dominance (the Cavaliers are closest at 111.42).

At the head of Memphis’ defensive juggernaut is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year, Jaren Jackson Jr.

On the season Trip is averaging 4.8 defensive rebounds per game, 3.3 blocks per game, and 1.0 steals per game. He’s also doing this while posting a career-low 3.2 personal fouls per game

These are absurd numbers from the 23 year old, and they don’t even tell the whole story. Jackson Jr. is accounting for 70.1% of the teams blocks and is currently ranked second in the entire league in defensive win shares at 0.146.

Now DWS is a stat that attributes credit to players based on their ability to prevent opposing teams from scoring. You can calculate it by estimating the number of points allowed per 100 defensive possessions. The higher the number, the better the defender.

Desmond Bane joins JJJ in the top ten at 8th with 0.142 defensive win shares.

Des is accounting for 19.7% of all the Grizzlies defensive rebounds and 14% of their steals. What he brings to the table is integral to their defensive success.

Now, you can’t mention Memphis and defense this season without mentioning Dillon Brooks.

Everyone has their thoughts on the Villain. Shot selection be damned, there’s no denying he’s a top-tier defender in this league.

Brooks, like Bane, has his hands in everything the Grizzlies do defensively. He accounts for 12.3% of all of Memphis’ defensive rebounds and 16.7% of their steals.

His play results in 0.136 defensive win shares for Memphis, good enough for 11th in the league.

Frankly, when it comes to defense, this team is operating on a completely different tier than the rest of the NBA.

If Memphis keeps this level of play up, teams will be hard pressed to beat them in a best of seven series.

The Bad

No More Parties In LA

The Grizzlies flew into Los Angeles riding an eleven game win streak. Fresh off a victory against the Cavs (which truly had postseason vibes), Memphis was hoping to continue streaking against Showtime.

A win in LA would have been a franchise record number twelve and keep them within a half game of Denver for the number one seed.

Unfortunately, the Grizzlies played like a team of dudes in their twenties who had the night off in Los Angeles.

Memphis reverted back to some of their sloppy tendencies during the game. They were able to keep their playoff energy up, but they lost the turnover battle by a wide margin.

The Grizzlies have been prioritizing ball security; the last time the team eclipsed their opponents turnover tally by more than two was on Dec. 29th in Toronto. In LA, though, they turned the ball over fourteen times compared to the Lakers’ nine.

Now, when a team reverts back to old habits it has to be cause for concern.

Is the sky falling in Memphis? Absolutely not.

You remove Dennis Schröder‘s steal in the final minutes of the game and the Grizzlies actually probably pull out the victory.

Plus, anytime there’s an incident with a fan, the focus turns away from the game. Especially when that fan is Pro Football Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe.

Video of the altercation made the rounds; Sharpe can be seen shouting at Ja, Brooks, Adams, and Tee Morant. Security ultimately got involved, separated both parties, and escorted Sharpe through the tunnel of the arena.

Sharpe was allowed back to his seat, but only after he gave an “interview” to ESPN. Strange to say the least.

Combine this with the outcome of the game, and it equals a disappointing start to Memphis’ Western road trip.

Go West Young Man

If the first three games of the Grizzlies five game roadtrip were indicative of what to expect the rest of the way, it may be a rocky next two games.

As it stands, there are currently only five games separating the third seed in the West from the thirteenth seed. That’s eleven teams right in the middle of the playoff hunt and the play in tournament.

And so, the Grizzlies find themselves in a mini Western Conference gauntlet, licking their wounds after back to back-to-back losses. Losses they suffered at the hands the Lakers, Suns, and Kings, all of whom are in the aforementioned group of eleven teams.

Now Memphis will face the Warriors and the Timberwolves before returning to the Forum.

The slates of games kicked off with absolutely electric environments in both LA and Phoenix before the debacle in Sacramento. Expect this playoff atmosphere to continue as teams play like their postseason lives depend on it.

The Grizzlies are currently operating from a position at the top of the West. The cushion they built over the past eleven games has allowed them to do so.

The same cannot be said for the five teams scheduled on Memphis’ roadtrip. Each of these opponents will have to claw and scrape their way to the postseason, and they will have no qualms about going through this young Grizzlies team to do so.

The Jury’s Still Out

The Ninth Man Off the Bench

After passing the midway point of the season, it’s time for the organization to shift their mindset towards the postseason. With heightened stakes come shorter rotations (eight or nine guys) and more minutes played.

As it stands, Coach Jenkins will most likely be using a playoff rotation of Morant, Bane, Jackson Jr., Brooks, Adams, Jones, Clarke, and Aldama.

That means there is one rotation spot left and three guys vying for it: John Konchar, Ziaire Williams, and David Roddy.

Let’s compare the three blindly:

  • Player A – 6.6 points/game, 5.1 rebounds/game, 1.5 assists/game, 1.1 steals/game, 5.6 field goals attempted/game, 3.1 three pointers attempted/game, 44.7/36.7/87% shooting splits
  • Player B – 6.6 points/game, 2.8 rebounds/game, 0.7 assists/game, 0.4 steals/game, 6.1 field goals attempted/game, 3.2 three pointers attempted/game, 41.5/29/58.1% shooting splits
  • Player C – 6.2 points/game, 2.8 rebounds/game, 1.1 assists/game, 0.4 steals/game, 5.8 field goals attempted/game, 2.8 three pointers attempted/game, 42.3/24.5/83.3% shooting splits

None of the three has managed to differentiate themselves so far (A = Konchar, B = Roddy, C = Ziaire).

The biggest concern here is offensive production. Since the start of December, two of the three (Konchar, Roddy) only eclipsed double-digit points three times; Z hit the mark five times*.

Memphis needs more consistency from their role players if they hope to win the title this season. If none of this trio can seize these opportunities, the Grizzlies would be wise to upgrade this spot before the trade deadline.

*As I write this I’m watching Ziaire have his best game of the season, highlighted by a 75+ (!!) footer.

The Verdict

It’s no secret the Grizzlies play much better at home than they do on the road. Regardless you never like to see back-to-back losses, let alone three. Plus losing any momentum is never good. Lord knows they had it when they were streaking.

This is a smart team, though, and they will certainly learn from this roadtrip and these losses.

It’s not time to panic in Memphis.


Check out the latest of our Grizz Moves series by Luke Hatmaker (@luketeno), What Role Players Would Round Out the Grizzlies’ Roster?. 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 Luke Hatmaker

Luke is based out of Nashville, TN where he lives with his cat, Dr. Alan Grant. In addition to contributing to Grizz Lead, he is one of the hosts of the No Bluffin' Podcast for the Grizz 901 Podcast Network and is also a cast member the RPG Radio Show Podcast.

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