Throughout the history of the franchise, Memphis Grizzlies games have been somewhat of an acquired taste. Outside of Tennessee, there weren’t many people seeking out Mike Miller and Pau Gasol highlights in the mid-aughts. As the decade rolled along, the team’s infamous ‘Grit and Grind’ style did garner them national recognition, but in a highlight driven league, nobody was circling their calendars to watch their squad play one of the slowest teams in the NBA. Even as the Grizzlies turned away from their crawling pace at the decade’s end, there wasn’t much country-wide interest in seeing the games going down in the FedEx Forum.
Enter the next decade, and suddenly the Grizzlies seem to be growing into a team that’s gained the eye of sports fans around the country. This is in large part due to the heroics of Ja Morant, selected with one of the franchise’s two top-three picks in the last decade. I could wax poetic about Morant’s game for hours–his explosiveness reminds the viewer of Derrick Rose’s MVP form, his heart calls back to Russell Westbrook’s prime, and though he’s still developing as a downhill playmaker, he reminds me of a young Gilbert Arenas in that department.
But in order to break nearly two decade’s worth of ignorance from the spotlight, the Grizzlies needed more than just the play of one star player. In Wednesday’s win over the Charlotte Hornets, Memphis demonstrated that they may have found their recipe for round-the-world attention in the most unlikely of places. The Grizzlies found strength in their squad’s historic achilles heel: shooting. Each year of the last decade, the Grizzlies haven’t finished higher than 21st in threes attempted. Flash forward to their recent win, and Memphis found themselves taking 49 (!!) threes, and making 24 of them–both franchise records.
The consequences from the career night have tremendous potential for the Grizzlies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to rally the squad to make upwards of twenty threes per game or shoot at their previous 45% clip. That’s far too much of a tall task–both of those would shatter the NBA’s all-time records. However, the Grizzlies were previously making only 11.7 threes per game, at a meager 32.3% from distance, far below league average. If the team manages to land somewhere in the middle of those two poles, the NBA could be in for a rude awakening.
So, where’s this uptick in shooting supposed to come from? Taylor Jenkins and company provided as good a demonstration as any against the Hornets. His philosophy? Shooting in numbers. Four Grizzlies cashed in on four or more triples, all on 40% efficiency or higher. Many of these threes came from the roster’s ‘designated shooters’. Don’t get me wrong, guys like Desmond Bane and Grayson Allen are talented slashers who can more than hold their own on the defensive side. But let’s be real: their greatest asset to the team is their shooting. Bane especially has been a flamethrower this year (shooting 48% from three), and with more minutes coming his way in the starting lineup, expect Bane’s production from deep to keep skyrocketing.
That being said, if Bane and Allen have been on the roster for the whole season, why the sudden explosion? Improvement, improvement, improvement. Kyle Anderson is the obvious example here–before the 2020-2021 season, Slow-Mo wasn’t even making a three every other game. He’s since more than tripled his attempted three-pointers to the tune of career-high efficiency, and notched a personal best six triples against the Hornets, including an impressive stretch of four threes in a row. Anderson’s been grinding to become a legitimate threat from three, and now is finally getting to reap the rewards. “It’s a dream playing in this league, [experiencing] moments like that you thought of as a kid”, said Anderson after the game. “I’ve came a long way as far as shooting the ball…tonight was a little validation that I’ve put the right work in”.
Anderson isn’t the only player to have worked on his shot. Virtually the entire roster seems to have improved from deep–Dillon Brooks has found a recent rhythm (making my pitch for him look all the more appealing), Tyus Jones is leading the league in pullup shooting, and Gorgui Dieng is shooting 50% from three–a career-high and the second best mark in the league. All the signs are there for the Grizzlies to start bombing away, and come Wednesday, it seems as if they’re beginning to.
Heading into a matchup with the reigning Los Angeles Lakers, the Grizzlies’ confidence from deep couldn’t come at a better time. It’s obvious that hot shooting makes any game more manageable, opening up extra space for Morant and Jonas Valanciunas to work their magic in the paint. However, it has to be a little sweeter for Memphis given that they’ve found their swagger in the buildup to their toughest matchup of the season. The contest is one of four nationally televised Grizzlies games, so there has to be some allure to win over the hearts of basketball fans worldwide with their newfound sparkle–call it showtime if you will. After all, what better way to make a statement than knocking off the league’s defending champs? It may seem like a tall task, but with the winds of momentum firmly behind them, the Grizzlies may just be equipped enough to pull off the upset.
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