5 Memphis Grizzlies Weaknesses to Exploit in the NBA Playoffs

Tom Firme@TFirmeAnalyst IIApril 14, 2014

5 Memphis Grizzlies Weaknesses to Exploit in the NBA Playoffs

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    Basketball minds should steer away from writing off the Memphis Grizzlies for their low seed. That doesn't mean the Grizzlies are as invincible as any title heavyweights, though.

    The Grizzlies struggled even after they came closer to their full form with Marc Gasol returning from injury. Teams have outgunned the Grizzlies from three-point range and pounded their way to the free-throw line.

    The defense hasn't been perfect since Gasol's return. Memphis tumbled on that end with Tony Allen in a funk.

    Also, a clear disadvantage for the Grizzlies in the playoffs will be their rookie coach, David Joerger, roaming the sidelines.

    Read along for a full breakdown of each potential area that a playoff opponent could pounce on. This will focus mainly on what the likely first-round opponents may use against the Grizzlies. Also, inconsistencies are of less concern than wholesale weaknesses.

    Statistics are current through April 12 games. Unless otherwise noted, advanced metrics come from Basketball-Reference.com.

The Grizzlies Can Be Outgunned Beyond the Arc

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    The Grizzlies are staring into the eyes of last year's Western Conference Finals failure. The San Antonio Spurs crushed them on the perimeter, hitting 37.6 percent of 85 three-point attempts to Memphis' 34.9 percent of 63 attempts.

    Most of Memphis' makes came from Quincy Pondexter, who acted as a decoy.

    Since then, the Grizz have worked to address the lack of outside shooting. They signed Mike Miller and re-upped Jon Leuer in the offseason while acquiring Courtney Lee and Beno Udrih during this campaign.

    In a Memphis Flyer piece, Matt Hrdlicka broke down how well the Grizz have addressed the sweep. In discussing the biggest difference between the two teams, he said:

    It's that the Grizzlies have no secondary perimeter player the caliber of Manu Ginobili. While the Grizzlies have aggressively added shooters like Miller and Lee to bolster their offense to championship standards, the less publicized (and harder to fill) gap is finding another player capable of breaking down the defense.

    Indeed, Miller is a three-point threat, standing sixth in three-point field-goal percentage. However, his 2.8 threes and 5.3 shots per game aren't off the charts. 

    Lee stretches opposing defenses by taking 25.6 percent of his shots as long twos and 31.3 percent as threes, but his 35.4 percent downtown average isn't strong enough to force opponents to plan around him.

    Still, the Grizz take fewer threes than any other NBA team. Taking only 17 percent of their field-goal attempts as threes, they're one of only two below 20 percent. The Grizzlies, who have the 21st-best three-point clip, may not make it out of the bottom third in this category for the first time since 2007-08.

    The Spurs and Thunder both can separate themselves from Memphis with an outside attack. Once again, San Antonio is the preeminent three-point shooting team at 40 percent, with six regulars shooting 37 percent or better from long range.

    The Thunder rank 12th in the category and have four shooting at least 36 percent, with Thabo Sefolosha likely to come back stronger than his first-half form.

They Struggle When They Don't Score

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    The Grizzlies are thought to be capable of grinding out low-scoring wins, but it isn't as easy as it seems for them this year. They're 12-22 when scoring 92 or fewer points.

    Inefficient scoring performances are equally fruitless, as the Grizz go 13-23 when they score fewer than 105 points per 100 possessions (with 106.6 being the league average).

    Memphis is dependent on decent shooting. It's 12-23 when shooting below 45 percent from the field.

    Last year, the team in the three shades of blue was a first-to-85 squad. It lost 17 of 22 games in which the failed to reach that total and won 55 of 60 when it did.

    The need for shooting wasn't great last year since the Grizzlies didn't encounter costly injuries to key defenders. Memphis maintained a top-five defense throughout the 2012-13 season.

    Also, they couldn't rely on shooting like this year since it wasn't good enough. The Grizzlies shot 1.9 percent worse and finished 14 places lower. Eight of their 10 wins with Marc Gasol on the shelf came with Memphis hitting 47 percent from the field. Indeed, they also scraped together reasonable defensive efforts in a few of those games.

Inexperienced Coaching

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    Dave Joerger is one of several coaches in their first season, but is the only rookie leading a team in the Western Conference's top eight. Also, each of the other coaches in the Western playoff picture have shepherded teams in the postseason.

    In the first round, Joerger is guaranteed to face someone with veritable playoff success.

    Gregg Popovich has four titles and 133 playoff wins. Scott Brooks has coached in the NBA Finals once and owns 29 playoff wins over four appearances.

    The criticism of Joerger has been moderate at best. In December, SB Nation's Tom Ziller raised the idea that the Grizzlies defense relied more upon Marc Gasol than Joerger's schemes, questioning whether Memphis' defense should have sunk as low as it did with the Spaniard out.

    The Memphis Flyer's Kevin Lipe expressed concern about Joerger's rotations, calling the newcomer's tendencies identical to those of Lionel Hollins, his predecessor, and based on feel. Lipe lamented the inordinate playing time given to Tayshaun Prince.

    Brooks or Popovich, not to mention opposing coaches in later rounds, may capitalize on Joerger's shortcomings. They may go deeper than rotations to strategies on either end.

Take Key Defenders out of the Game

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    No Grizzlies players make a bigger impact defensively than Marc Gasol and Tony Allen.

    The Grizz have been much better defensively since Gasol returned from injury, allowing 103 points per 100 possessions5.2 fewer than beforehand.

    Ron Tillery of The Commercial Appeal pointed out that the Grizzlies struggled defensively in a six-game stretch between March 28 and April 6 with Allen taking poor shots, having his playing time reduced and feeling cold vibes from Joerger.

    This requires no capitalization on a possible injury to either one. Getting Memphis' rim protector back can compel Joerger to sit him. Gasol is one of the more foul-prone players in the NBA.

    He's committed a career-low 2.8 per 36 minutes this year, but has been in the top 10 in fouls four times. Gasol had four or more fouls seven times in the 2013 playoffs, including three times in the Western Conference Finals.

    Sending Allen to the bench is as simple as goading him into ill-fated shots. That's not too difficult. He made half of his shots on at least five attempts 24 times, but made fewer than 45 percent on 17 occasions.

Get to the Free-Throw Line

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    Generally, the Grizzlies have kept opponents from reaching the free-throw line. They're 11th in opponent free-throw-per-field-goal-attempt rate at 20.2 percent. Also, the Grizz commit the fifth-fewest fouls in the league.

    However, most of the Grizzlies' losses have seen their opponents force their way to the charity stripe. The Grizzlies are 10-18 when allowing a rate of 22 percent or higher, which is higher than the league average. Fourteen of those losses came against playoff teams.

    Two of the Oklahoma City Thunder's three wins against Memphis came with free-throw-per-field-goal-attempt rates of 35 percent or higher. In a Feb. 28 game when the Thunder claimed a 35.1 percent rate, the Grizzlies rallied in the fourth quarter after they stopped OKC from reaching the line.

    The Thunder had made 20 of 25 free throws before taking just three in the first 10 minutes of the final frame, as the Grizzlies closed a 16-point deficit to three before Kevin Durant closed them out.

    One would be remiss to forget James Harden's legendary game of 27 points, with 22 coming at the free-throw line in an eight-point Houston Rockets victory.

    Allowing either the Thunder or Spurs to bang away inside and take numerous free throws would be harmful for Memphis. The Spurs are fourth in free-throw percentage and Oklahoma City is second.

    Durant, who has drawn the most fouls in the NBA this year, is an all-time great at the line, hitting 88.2 percent for his career and 87.3 percent this season.