clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A lack of shooting killed the Grizzlies once again

In what has become a yearly tradition, the Memphis Grizzlies have once again fallen short in the postseason because they lack consistent outside shooting.

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

The Grizzlies had fought back from a 15-point deficit to make it a game in the third quarter on Friday. Down five as the clock was winding down, Jeff Green dribbled up court for the last shot and had a three-pointer blocked by Andre Iguodala. The ball found its way to Stephen Curry, who gathered the ball and nailed a shot from beyond half court that hit nothing but net. The Warriors comfortably led the rest of the way and advanced to the conference finals.

As fortuitous as Curry's make was, it was fitting that Memphis' futility from outside and Curry's excellence decided the battle between the two teams. According to ESPN's Tom Haberstroh, Curry connected on one more three-pointer than the entire Grizzlies squad in the series and on six more since April. Curry contributed 78 points from beyond the arc to Memphis' 75 and it took him 28 fewer shots to get there.

Granted, Curry could end his career as the best shooter ever if he continues at this pace, so the comparison might seem unfair. Yet, it's just one of many ways to illustrate how challenged the Grizzlies are as a team when it comes to three-pointers. Another way is to point out that they averaged almost half of the attempts that the Clippers, Rockets and Warriors have in the second round, or that their 27 percent conversion rate in the series ranked dead last among the teams that made it past the first round.

This is not exactly news. The Grizzlies have ranked in the bottom three in three-point attempts in the past five regular seasons and have been dead last on three of them. They've built an identity around it as a grit and grind team that plays old school, smashmouth basketball. Clearly their reluctance to take and make threes is not an endearing quirk but a huge handicap that has been directly responsibly for their limited success in the postseason.

In their first-round elimination last season, the Thunder made 25 more three-pointers than Memphis in seven games. In the sweep at the hands of the Spurs the year before, the Spurs made 10 more threes. That might not seem like much but it adds up to put the Grizzlies at a huge disadvantage. It's not a coincidence that the five teams that are still alive in the postseason ranked in the top seven in the league in total three-pointers attempted during the regular season. Three-point shooting correlates with team success.

There's no easy solution here. Tony Allen and Zach Randolph, arguably the biggest culprits for the lack of outside shots, are the team's linchpins. When Allen was benched in favor of Jeff Green, the starting lineup was a disaster. Z-Bo recently signed a two-year extension and it's unthinkable to see him coming off the bench. That puts tremendous pressure on Courtney Lee to be always on as the designated shooter, especially this season when there was no one off the bench who could replace his production. Unsurprisingly, when Lee shot under 40 percent on at least three attempts from outside, the Grizzlies lost 18-of-28 games.

Vince Carter was supposed to be their backup shooter but he suffered a down year, and Quincy Pondexter struggled right up until he was traded to the Pelicans. Jon Leuer never developed as a rotation piece in that much-needed stretch four role. It's not all bad roster construction. There was some back luck involved in the struggles. Yet, there has never been a real desire to address the issue by the front office. The team has needed reliable shooters for years and those timid attempts to find them have clearly not been enough.

The Grizzlies will never be the Warriors because there's only one Stephen Curry. Not a lot of guys out there can outshoot an entire team. That shouldn't be their goal, either. If they manage to retain Marc Gasol, they should continue to be an inside-oriented team that punishes opponents in the paint with their physicality. But if they ever hope to get over the hump and come out of the West they will need to integrate the three-pointer to their identity somehow because not doing so has limited the team's ceiling long enough.

There are marksmen who can grit and grind and the Grizzlies better find them soon, before their stubbornness to do so closes their window of contention for good.