Everyone knows the Memphis Grizzlies are a fantastic defensive team, but in order to become more than just a dark horse contender in the West, to look and play like a team that can go all the way, they need offense, and specifically Rudy Gay playing like one of the best small forwards in the NBA.
Instead of making a surge forward in his scoring, always hovering just under 20 points per game, Gay seemed to be stuck at 18-19. His field goal percentage has been pretty consistent from seasons to season (usually between 45.5% to 47.1%) but not from game to game. This Grizzlies team under Lionel Hollins has terrific play makers on defense, from Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph clogging the paint to Mike Conley and Tony Allen ruining the lives of point guards and swingmen.
Not enough to get through the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2011, not enough to make it through the Los Angeles Clippers in 2012. A stuck offense, with hardly any imagination and creativity after the first simple play dissolved. Relying on Rudy Gay iso’s and Zach Randolph digging in the paint just wasn’t enough.
Memphis has ranked near the bottom of the league in just about every shooting stat, and the numbers from behind the 3-point line dating back to the 2008-09 season have been awful. Against the Oklahoma City Thunder and in general this season, currently on a six game winning streak, things have been a little different.
They’re averaging 101.6 points per game, fifth highest in the NBA. Rudy Gay is leading the team with 20.7 points, while their defense is still top notch, allowing 92.4 points per game, 8th in the NBA. What is particularly surprising is their field goal percentage thus far and especially from beyond the arc.
They’re hitting 39.3% from long range, good for 5th in the NBA. Yes, Wayne Ellington hitting 7 three pointers against the Miami Heat really helped in that regard, but they were a very good 7-17 against the Thunder as well, with Ellington shooting only once from beyond the arc.
Their passing and spacing has certainly changed. Marc Gasol, getting a lot more double team looks in the paint, is averaging 4.7 assists per game. Mike Conley is hitting 36% of his shots from beyond the arc, taking attempting 3.6 per game. He’s not always making them (0-2 against the Thunder), but it opens up so much more for other players, like Rudy Gay. Jerryd Bayless, the backup point guard, has been incredible from beyond the arc this season with 55.6%, averaging 7.3 points in 15.6 minutes a night.
Gay has always been a bit of a confounding player. A 6-8 player with a wingspan of a small center, a guaranteed mismatch in favor of the Grizzlies. But he hardly ever passes or tries to read an offense, and is quite disappointing with his pick n’ roll abilities, both by scoring and in creating for others. On some nights, all those deficiencies disappear. His long range shooting is money in the bank (12-21), and against the Thunder, Gay suddenly looked like the play maker you’d expect him to become, adding 5 assists to his 28 points.
When Gay has nights like these, even teams with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook can’t stop them. The Grizzlies ran a beautiful fast break all night long, especially in the second quarter with a 36-15 demolition that put the game to bed. Their defense is solid, reliable, every night of the week. Their offense, however, from what we’ve known from the past few seasons, isn’t. Rudy Gay being great isn’t. They need those two to be a lot more consistent in order to break the up & coming mold, and be considered a serious and legitimate threat to the title.