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The defense let the Memphis Grizzlies down

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I will talk about Memphis GrizzliesBut first, let me tell you about a place called Tony’s Tacos.

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It’s a small taco place inside a gas station between Piperton and Collierville in Memphis that’s run by a local family, and they have the best tacos you’ll ever eat in your life. They have friendly staff too; Anyone who gives me free sauce is a friend of mine.

Anyway, this older man has been there for the longest time I’ve seen him every time I’ve been there. He always wore the same black T-shirt and faded jeans. Every time I saw him, he would ask me the same question: “Do you enjoy racism?”

Now if you’ve made it to this point in the article, you’re probably starting to get a little nervous (as well as probably my editor!). I know I was, as I literally had no idea why this guy I didn’t know Adam kept asking me such an annoying question, especially since I kept ignoring him. So one day, I finally got tired of it, and in a moment of frustration asked him why he kept asking me that.

He almost got hurt by the question. Then after a long pause, he pointed to Jeff Gordon’s “24” hat on his head, and I almost laughed at the absurdity of it all. He was asking me if I had fun a race, Because it was his way of making the conversation, and I was misunderstanding him this whole time.

Sometimes, the problem isn’t what you think it is.

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Wendell Cruz USA Today Sports

With the Memphis Grizzlies plagued by injuries early in the season, it’s easy to assume that their problems so far and in the near future are a direct result of that reality. However, while they would obviously benefit from a quite healthy roster, it probably won’t alter a badly-suffering matter of their defense – in a way that I doubt even Jaren Jackson Jr. can fully fix.

Over the past four seasons, the Grizzlies under Taylor Jenkins have employed an aggressive “risk and reward” defensive scheme. They usually swarm opposing drivers and assist excessively, confident that their height and athleticism will wreak constant havoc and havoc on the opposing attack. The “bonus” in question is that the scheme is designed to create turnovers, which then result in an easy transition offense. The “risks” are that over-assisting often leads to opening threes, as the defense has to spin quickly to compensate if they can’t force a turnover.

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Petrie Thomas, USA Today Sports

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To their credit, this scheme has enabled the Grizzlies to grow into one of the league’s best defenses over the past several years. They led the league in each of the past two seasons, finished eighth in defensive efficiency during the 2020-21 season, and were third last year. They also didn’t suffer much from this scheme’s supposed weaknesses, ranking 11th in 3PT-Defense last year (34.9%).

However, it all fell apart over the course of 17 games this season. The Grizzlies are currently ranked 21st in defensive efficiency and 24th in three-point defense (36.9%). Even more troubling, their brand of defensive aggression is no longer producing strong results, slipping from the number one ranking in steals last year to one of the worst this year at 24th (6.8).

Of course, some would optimistically point out that the Grizzlies got off to a similarly horrible start on defensive end last year. This is a valid point. At the end of November of last year, the Grizzlies ranked 28th in defensive efficiency, and the opposing team outright eliminated them from three. It’s also worth noting that Yaren Jackson Jr. – perhaps the best defender in the league – was present for those struggles last year, while he’s mostly been plagued by injury this year. So it’s fair to think that this season’s Grizzlies can bounce back like last season’s team and once again become one of the best defensive teams in the league, especially since Jarin has only recently made a comeback.

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Jesse Johnson – USA Today Sports

However, there is a big difference between their struggles this season and last season: context. While the Grizzlies certainly had cleanup issues early last season, their defensive struggles were more the result of an unsustainable opponent collision than anything else. Opponents shot 42% on three and shot crazy with the categorical, “Turn off your game system,” 50% on evasive threes during November; Grizzlies’ opponents en masse turned on Desmond Bunny for a month. Memphis’ defensive approach, however, still worked effectively. Their scheme continues to wreak havoc, ranking fourth in steals during that period.

While the Grizzlies may struggle defensively to a similar degree as last season, they don’t struggle at the same level road. Their struggles are rooted more in their planning process, not just bad luck. Their scheme required them to create consistent turnarounds to succeed, but they simply couldn’t do it.

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Wendell Cruz USA Today Sports

The most important reason for this was that they simply did not have the personnel to attack passing lanes at the elite level. They missed De’Anthony Melton and Kyle Anderson, whose height and forecast allowed them to average 3.7 shares between the two. David Roddy and Jake LaRavia can develop into adequate defenders at the right time, but they don’t have the foot speed or experience to replicate the defensive impact of these two players.

Now there is still cause for optimism. Jaren Jackson Jr. alone cannot fix this problem, but it covers many sins. The reintroduction of the 6’10 Athletic winger in Ziaire Williams should also help the Grizzlies wreak havoc on the lanes. And all things considered, they’ll likely still be in the top three teams in the West when healthy, which they haven’t been this year.

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However, it would be hard for the Memphis Grizzlies to assume their problems on the defensive side are just because they haven’t been healthy this year. If they want to maximize this season, they should consider adapting to a more conservative defensive scheme that focuses on staying home at shooters rather than over assists, while allowing the league’s best edge guard to clean up any messes behind them.

For more Grizzlies discussion, subscribe to the Grizzly Bear Blues podcast network at Google PodcastAnd the Apple PodcastAnd the stitcherAnd the SpotifyAnd the iHeart. Follow Grizzly Bear Blues on Twitter and Instagram.

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