The Clock is Ticking on the Grit ‘n’ Grind Grizzlies

Justin Ford/USA TODAY Sports

The Grit ‘n’ Grind Memphis Grizzlies have consistently been one of the better teams in the NBA over the past half decade, reaching the 50-win plateau in each of the past three seasons and making the playoffs in the loaded Western Conference in each of the last five seasons. With the NBA trending toward small ball, the Grizzlies have stuck with their ground-and-pound style that features two traditional big men in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, but the clock is ticking on this group.

While that style has led to plenty of regular-season wins and some modest playoff success, the closest these Grizzlies have come to the NBA Finals was in 2013, when they reached the Western Conference Finals only to be swept by the San Antonio Spurs. Last year, Memphis was on the verge of possibly pulling off a major upset when it went up 2-1 on the eventual champion Golden State Warriors in the second round, but as has often been the case with these Grizzlies, the offense wasn’t good enough to keep up the rest of the series.

Even throughout these strong years, the Grizzlies have consistently finished in the bottom half of the league in offensive rating. Memphis finished 13th this past season, per NBA.com, but after a strong showing in the first round against the battered Portland Trail Blazers, the Grizzlies only managed to score 95.2 points per 100 possessions in the second round against the Warriors, the worst mark of all second-round teams.

To the surprise of nobody, three-point shooting played a huge role in that second-round series. Memphis made just 4.2 three-pointers per game against Golden State at a 27.2 percent clip. Meanwhile, the Warriors shot 38.9 percent from three and made 11.3 per game. That’s a difference of over 21 points per game in three-point shooting.

With Gasol back on a new max contract and the rest of the core returning as well next year, the Grizzlies will look pretty similar next season. That’s both a good and bad thing. Memphis should again be very good, but without significant improvement in terms of outside shooting and offense in general, it’s tough to see them making that next step into the NBA Finals.

The Grizzlies made a few nice additions on the margins this offseason, starting with snagging a quality big man in Brandan Wright on a rather affordable deal to replace the departed Kosta Koufos. Wright is an uber-efficient offensive player, but he does basically all of his work around the basket and certainly won’t help the outside shooting woes.

Matt Barnes was acquired for basically nothing, and the veteran shot over 36 percent from three last season for the Los Angeles Clippers. However, Barnes is under 34 percent for his career and shot a wretched 26.7 percent from long range in the postseason. To put it simply, Barnes should help the outside shooting problem, but the jump won’t be that much and he can’t really be counted on when it matters most.

Looking at the rest of the roster, there’s just not much there in terms of shooting. Mike Conley and Courtney Lee are quality marksmen, but they combined to make less than three three-pointers per game last year despite shooting a good percentage. Vince Carter is reaching the end of the road. Jeff Green is an average three-point shooter. Tony Allen is an awful outside shooter. Jordan Adams is still unproven, although perhaps the youngster gets a larger opportunity to make a difference.

This upcoming season will be a big one for Memphis. Conley, Green and Lee are all set to be free agents in 2016. Randolph and Allen aren’t getting any younger and each have two years left on their deals. This could very well be the last chance this group has at making a deep playoff run, and if it doesn’t happen, perhaps the front office looks to make some big changes. Grit ‘n’ Grind isn’t dead, but it’s running out of time.

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