Discover more from SubTsakalidis (SubTsak), a Memphis Grizzlies Substack
3 lessons the Memphis Grizzlies could learn from NBA Finals
The NBA Finals is set. What can the Memphis Grizzlies learn from the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat?
It’s finally come down to 2 teams for the NBA Finals. Though history was looming, the Miami Heat prevailed past the Boston Celtics last night to meet the Denver Nuggets for a chance at NBA immortality.
With the NBA being a copycat league, people will ponder how their teams could emulate similar success with the same result. It’s surely on the minds for followers of the Memphis Grizzlies.
Winners of 50+ games for consecutive seasons, the Grizzlies’ playoff results didn’t signal progress. Injuries and consistency hampered them and trigged a first-round exit with a brutal elimination game as a lasting memory. Now, offseason questions and decisions are on the horizon, with those intensifying and materializing over the next 2 months.
As the Grizzlies aim for the “North Star” of a NBA championship, there are a few lessons they can learn from the Heat and Nuggets — even a couple things they’re already doing but need to build upon as they enter this new phase of “Grz Nxt Gen.”
Go-to, multi-faceted scoring inside the arc
The playoffs get incredibly grimy. The game slows down, the officials usually allow more physicality, and the defense becomes tighter. More often than not, you just need your star players to go get a bucket, regardless of the defensive pressure or the level of difficulty.
Nikola Jokic and Jimmy Butler are those dudes in the NBA Finals.
Granted, both of those players possess a different skillset and archetype on this roster. Butler is an old-school, “smash mouth” wing — utilizing footwork and physicality to hit tough shots in the midst of pressure. Jokic is the best player in the world that can dissect the defense in every facet of the offense.
The translatable element of their offensive skillset is their emphasis on 2-point scoring, and the versatility within it.
Both players have healthy volume splits between shot frequency at the rim, in the “short mid range” (4-14 feet), and “long mid range” (15 to the 3-point line) this postseason.
The efficiency is solid. Jokic is shooting 55.2% on 2’s this postseason (69% at the rim, 52% on short mid-range shots, 34% on long mid-range), and Butler is making 50.9% of his 2’s (59%, 46%, 40% on rim-short-long shots — per Cleaning the Glass). Efficiency decreases are expected with all the elements within postseason basketball compared to regular season ball, but they’re still counted on to get buckets.
The Grizzly it resonates the most with is Ja Morant.
When it comes to scoring inside the arc, Morant is the head of the snake for them. He’s made a bunch of tough, clutch buckets in the playoffs the past few seasons. He blends his physical traits (vertical pop, flexibility, gear-shifting) with skill (soft touch in the floater zone, ambidextrous finishing, great footwork, an array of dribble combos and ball fakes) to create offense inside the arc. In the ‘21-22 season, he averaged the most points inside the paint (16.0 points per game).
While he’s a potent interior weapon, Morant has room to grow as a scorer. This playoffs, his efficiency dipped from 51.9% to 42.7% on 2’s. Yes, his hand injury was an obvious factor. For what it’s worth, he only made 47.8% of his 2’s in 2022 postseason. Teams crash on Morant’s drives to provide a wall for slim shooting and passing windows.
In regards to his 2-point scoring, the main thing to watch with Morant is improving in the mid-range. He will likely never be a 3-point super-launcher like Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, or Trae Young. However, can he sprinkle in more with the mid-range to add some more optionality in his skillset?
He’s relentless attacking the paint, as at least 70% of his shots have come at the rim or in the floater zone each season — per Cleaning the Glass. Adding a reliable mid-range jumper forces the defense’s hand in their coverage. If they drop in his drives to wall up the rim, there’s a shot around the elbows. Creating more in the mid-range opens up more passing windows for drive-and-kicks as well, as the defense looks to trap and force Morant to commit to the drive. A mid-range jumper alleviates the pressure and opens up the rest of the floor when things get gritty.
It could also improve the team’s halfcourt offense. The struggles here are well-documented, ranking in the bottom 10 in the league the past 2 seasons. The Nuggets (1st) and Heat (6th) are in the top-10 in points per 100 halfcourt plays this season, per Cleaning the Glass. It goes deeper than just multi-faceted 2-point scoring, but it helps spice up the offense and improve its efficiency.
Granted, it’s not all on Ja Morant. Desmond Bane is still growing as a 2-point scorer when teams run him off the 3-point line. It should be an emphasis on Jaren Jackson Jr., the coaching staff, and his teammates to tap into the All-Star big man’s scoring package as well. However, with his role in the team’s pecking order, his go-to scoring skillset, and his areas for improvement, Ja is the catalyst for growth inside the arc.
Value from downtown
Want to know the two teams that are 1st and 2nd in 3-point percentage? That’s right — the Miami Heat and Denver Nuggets.
In today’s NBA, 3-point shooting has become paramount for success. As of May 26th, the team with the higher 3-point percentage is 61-15 this playoffs.
Both the Heat and Nuggets are showing it’s pivotal to get value from beyond the arc with its stars and its supporting cast.
The Nuggets, in particular, have received stellar 3-point shooting from its core of Nikola Jokic, Jamal Murray, and Michael Porter Jr.
Jokic: 47.4%, 3.8 attempts per game
Murray: 39.8%, 7.9
Porter: 40.8%, 6.9
(Not including Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who’s shooting 41.1% from 3 on 4.9 attempts per game this playoffs).
The Heat don’t have similar firepower from its stars, but hot shooting from its role players served as a catalyst for their huge run to the Finals.
Duncan Robinson: 44.6%, 5.1 attempts per game
Caleb Martin: 43.8%, 4.9
Gabe Vincent: 39%, 6.2
Max Strus: 35.9%, 5.7
3-point shooting is key for success, and the Grizzlies have a heap work to do in this department. They only hit 31.2% of their 3’s (38.5 attempts per game) this postseason, but what’s most jarring is their efficiency on “wide open” shots. They made 31.4% of their “wide open” 3’s — defender 6 feet or further away from the shooter — which was last among all playoff teams this postseason.
That won’t cut it, but there’s a promising foundation.
Desmond Bane and Luke Kennard are two of the best 3-point shooters in basketball. Bane had a rough outing from downtown this playoffs — just 32.6% on his 3’s. The offseason toe surgery should help him progress to the mean. With Kennard, they need to make him more of a priority within the offense to generate more looks from 3.
Jaren Jackson Jr. can be key here, as his shooting can stretch out the defense to open driving lanes for himself and for his teammates. The young wings — Ziaire Williams, David Roddy, and Jake LaRavia — can emerge as consistent rotation players with willingness and accuracy from 3. The Heat’s success off the bench offers hope for the Grizzlies’ youthful depth.
Similar to the aforementioned point, the Grizzlies need to improve their offense for the postseason. Given the trends in success this postseason, becoming a better 3-point shooting team is essential for the Grizzlies’ championship odds.
Work around the margins
The Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat have worked around the margins in different aspects. This past offseason, the Nuggets traded for Caldwell-Pope and signed Bruce Brown. You couldn’t go a single national broadcast without a commentator mentioning the Miami Heat’s plethora of contributors that were undrafted — Martin, Vincent, Robinson, Strus, and Haywood Highsmith.
The Grizzlies have done well around the margins to accumulate and develop talent, then gauge their fit with the team going forward. Phase 2 of this approach is underway, as their Big 3 all are approaching deals north of $100M by opening night of 2024.
With a crucial offseason underway, the margins are even more vital for team success.
The biggest question will be how the team approaches the starting 3 spot. There may not be a massive splash, but when looking at the NBA Finals squads, the Nuggets trade for Aaron Gordon may be the best comparison.
Aaron Gordon for Gary Harris, RJ Hampton, and a 2025 protected first-round pick.
The Grizzlies have done well identifying and trading for veteran talents that fit the team’s composition in the moves for Steven Adams and Luke Kennard. A trade(s) for veteran talent is likely on the way.
Even with the need for veteran talent, development shouldn’t be abandoned. They should still make room in the rotation for young players to be empowered and blossomed into key parts of the system.
Both on and off the court, the margins are paramount for a team to win a championship.
The Memphis Grizzlies’ status in its path to contention can be boiled down the cliche line of “so close, yet so far away.”
There are necessary ingredients in place for a championship recipe: a superstar offensive engine (Morant), 2 co-stars with an elite skills in their repertoire (Jackson and Bane), role players that “star in their role” (Kennard, Adams, Clarke, Jones), a front office building a track record of savvy moves and scouting, and a system in place that’s fostered positive development and yielded an elite defense.
Teams like Denver and Miami are showing that the days of acquiring a “Big 3” through trades and free agency aren’t the ultimate paths to a championship. Piloted by elite talents in Jokic, Butler, and Murray, a strong culture predicated on great halfcourt offense, a sturdy defense, development, and continuity can help teams achieve immortality in today’s NBA.
That’s a positive sign for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Improvements are needed in their path to a championship, and there will be margins they have to work around to build upon them and grow into a championship team.
We’re about to see how the Grizzlies improve and shape the roster and the system around Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and Jaren Jackson Jr. to bring a NBA championship to Memphis.
If you choose to support my Substack, SubTsakalidis — aka “SubTsak” — follow this link to my St. Jude fundraiser page for my wife’s fundraising team, “Allie’s Allies.” If you choose to subscribe, all proceeds will go towards St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
SubTsakalidis (SubTsak), a Memphis Grizzlies Substack is a reader-supported publication with proceeds going to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. For a monthly or yearly donation, subscribe today.