The Memphis Grizzlies held opponents to a league-low 89.3 points per game last season, and 15 years ago you might have thought they were the top defensive team in the league; except, their PPP (points per possession) has them ranked behind the stultifying Pacers D. The discrepancy stems from their second slowest pace in the league, placing them behind even the lethargic Nets. But Marc Gasol says that all may change under first-year coach Dave Joerger.
Last season the grit n’ grind crew always seemed to labor across the center court line mere milliseconds before violating the eight-second rule in the backcourt, and if their first offensive set failed to produce a solid look, they were scrambling into forced, low-efficiency shots before the shot clock expired. That’s one primary reason why the Grizz were the third worst team in the league in effective field goal percentage (per NBA.com); although, the dearth of three-point shooting didn’t help.
That all might change with former lead assistant Dave Joerger taking over as head coach for the departed Lionel Hollins next year. 2013 DPOY Marc Gasol sat down with ESPN in-between games with Spain during the FIBA 2013 EuroBasket to discuss the changes Joerger is hoping to make in an effort to increase their tempo next season.
“Coach Joerger has been there for six years. He knows us pretty well. He knows how we play. He knows us personally, how we like to play basketball. He, of course, wants to push the tempo, which has been a problem for us, getting up and down the floor to score easy buckets. Because when you always go inside, everybody collapses on you in the paint and it’s hard to operate down there.
“He’s going to push the tempo and have a lot of plays from his pocket that he’s told me [about]. And I’m excited about next season.”
The Grizzlies had some trouble in the Western Conference Finals last season when the Spurs packed the paint on defense and exposed Memphis’ already-tenuous spacing issues. If Memphis’ backcourt of Tony Allen and Mike Conley Jr. weren’t getting in the passing lanes for easy transition points, the Grizz just weren’t scoring at a high enough rate to even compete against Popovich’s squad.
The summer acquisition of sharpshooter Mike Miller, after he was amnestied by the Heat, should help Memphis’ spacing issues a little, but he’s still third on the depth chart at small forward, backing up Tayshaun Prince (36.6 3-pt shooting last season) and Quincy Poindexter (39.5). Besides that depth at shooting from the small forward spot (Miller can do spot duty at power forward like he did with small ball Miami last season), only the average 3-point shooting of Conley and Jerryd Bayless off the bench is enough to keep wing players from taking an extra step in the lane to help on Gasol’s elbow action and Z-Bo’s earthbound post shuffles.
Whatever changes Joerger makes, the danger is that they’ll mess with the defense-first grit n’ grind philosophy Hollins ingrained in the team over the last three years. Their credo separated them from the other top teams in the West who spread the floor with three-point shooters and played at a much faster pace (five Western Conference playoff teams last year finished within the top third for quickest pace). But while Gasol revealed zero details about Joerger’s game plan, expect some wrinkles to the slow-it-down methods of recent Grizz incarnations.
Whether that means a return to the Western Conference Finals next season is an iffy proposition, but it’ll be difficult for them to play any slower.
What do you think?
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