The Memphis Grizzlies don't have the raw ingredients to be an elite defensive team, at least on the surface. Zach Randolph is known as a lackluster defender who struggles to follow his man out onto the perimeter and isn't great on help defense. Marc Gasol, Memphis' center, is better, but still lacks the elite defensive skills great defensive teams need out of their big men. The guards are better, relatively speaking; Tony Allen is a shutdown guard, and Mike Conley is really actively in the passing lanes and can pressure the ball with his great quickness.
But this is a team that finished No. 9 in defense in the NBA, an impressive mark. Memphis' defense has a huge challenge in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, though, as the San Antonio Spurs' elite offense lines up across the court. The Spurs finished a shocking No. 2 in offense this season, chasing only the incredible Denver Nuggets.
The Spurs earn their points by shooting the ball better than any other team in the NBA, and by limiting turnovers. Memphis' defensive success, though, is predicated almost entirely on an insane turnover creation rate; Grizzlies' opponents turn the ball over on 15.7 percent of their possessions. Memphis is just average in other defensive factors.
So, theoretically, for Memphis' defense to succeed against San Antonio, either the Spurs will need to shoot much poorer than usual despite the Grizzlies' average shot defense, or Memphis will need particular success in creating turnovers against a particularly sure-handed team?
We have some data from the teams' four games this season. In three of the games, the Spurs were completely surehanded and turned the ball over less than even their own season average. In the teams' March 1 meeting, though, Memphis forced 21 turnovers -- six by George Hill, who started for an injured Tony Parker -- and won by 16. Hill will likely start in place on Manu Ginobili in Game 1. Drama!
All data from the incredible Basketball-Reference.com.
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