Understanding The Grizzlies’ Crunch Time Woes

The Grizzlies became everybody’s darling when they started the season off 14-3.  They have been perceived as a “dark horse” title contender by many, but flaws we’ve seen out of Memphis in years past have begun to show themselves.  After coming out blazing with a offensive rating of 104 over their first 10 games, they’ve slowed down posting an offensive rating of 98.9 over their last 20 per NBA.com.  Free throw rate, three point percentage, and fast break points have taken similar dips.  One of the largest flaws with this team is their inability to create offense in crunch time.  Really, just looking at their crunch time offensive stats is sickening.  It even gets worse as the clock ticks toward zero.

Via NBA.com

So what has made them so horrible in these situations?  Well, I’ve watched the tape and there are is one pretty clear problem: there are far too many of these:

Rudy Gay gets the ball, dribbles aimlessly, the other players flatten out, and Gay takes a contested jumper.  No attacking the basket to draw fouls, no play to try to get Gay deep position in the post.  And more than anything, it seems odd to run your crunch time offense through your third best player.  I’ll spare you the whole rant against ISO ball in the final minutes; the point is that this isn’t working for Memphis.  So what are some other options?  We’ll start off simple.  You can always put Marc Gasol or Zach Randolph in post, the 16th and 32nd best post up players in the league respectively per mySynergySports.  A lot of offenses don’t like to go to the post in crunch time, but Memphis is the team to buck the trend.  They have to use their massive size advantage against the small ball teams of the league.

Doesn’t look half bad, does it? Problem is, the two have only combined for 3 shot attempts in the last minute of games with a margin of five or less according to NBA.com.  Rudy Gay has taken 9, all but one of them in isolation (the one that wasn’t Iso was a wide open spot up three – off of a Z-Bo post up).  Gay’s PPP (points per play) in isolation is well below that of either Randolph or Gasol in the post per Synergy.

My second suggestion is still quite simple: a Mike Conley/Gasol pick and roll.  Conley is always a threat to get into the lane and finish or distribute and if you go under the screen look out; he is shooting over 41% on threes as the pick and roll ball handler this season according to Synergy.  Gasol’s pick and pop jumper is as reliable as ever (45% from midrange this year per NBA.com), but the real reason you want him in this set is for his passing ability.  He might be the best big man passing on the move in the NBA.


Here, he draws the help defense from the weakside corner as he rolls unimpeded down the lane.  He gets the ball, but instead of recklessly charging towards the rim, he finds Wayne Ellington in the corner for a wide open three.

These are just a couple, not at all that complex options that Memphis can go to late in games instead of the repetitive Gay Isos.  This doomed the Grizz in the playoffs last year and it’s been hurting them this year.  If Lionel Hollins can’t fix this by playoff time, it will be hard for me to pick the Grizzlies in any series knowing how unreliable they are when a game comes down to the wire.

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