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Memphis Grizzlies need space

The Memphis Grizzlies have lost three of their four games since trading Rudy Gay, and in that time the offense has struggled. Because Gay led Memphis in scoring and shots per game, it's easy to connect their issues with Gay's absence. But the truth is that the Grizzlies' offensive woes are more systemic than they are rooted in personnel. For example: In January, when Gay was still on the roster, they went through a seven-game stretch in which they failed to score more than 85 points.

When you watch Memphis, you might notice a relative lack of movement on the offensive end. But a lack of spacing is a big problem too, and one that stems from problems besides a lack of 3-point shooting.

  • With Memphis trailing Phoenix 88-86 and 2:30 left Tuesday night, Mike Conley drove the lane and was apparently fouled by a Phoenix big man coming over to help. Except the foul was on Marc Gasol, who backed his way into the defender and caused the contact with Conley. This is something Memphis' two starting bigs, Gasol and Zach Randolph, do regularly, presumably to establish good position for an offensive rebound. Though both Gasol and Randolph can shoot, they spend most of their time on the low block, jockeying for position. As a result, there's very little space to drive in the first place, and when a player does drive, both Memphis bigs have a habit of crowding toward the paint rather than floating to the short corner. This allows the help defender to bother the driving player without leaving his man. The problem facing Memphis is that offensive rebounds constitute a vital part of their offense. The Grizzlies must find a way to open space without completely abandoning their effective rebounding.

  • When Gasol or Randolph isolates in the post -- something Memphis really likes to do -- keep an eye on how many Grizzlies are beyond the 3-point line. On many occasions, that number is one. Memphis doesn't have many shooters, but just because a player doesn't intend to shoot a 3 doesn't mean he can't stand out there. It's a much better place from which to start a cut to the basket and opens up passing angles out of the post.

  • Generally, the Grizzlies seem unsure of the plan when they get into those post isolations. This could be a result of Tayshaun Prince's unfamiliarity with the offense, but the timing and routing of their cuts often seem improvised. That can work, but often two Grizzlies will cut at the same time or, in anticipation of a teammate's cut, no one at all will cut. In addition to complicating the post-up player's job as a passer, it also prevents Memphis from quickly moving into secondary actions on the weakside when the post player passes out.

  • Prince has played two full games (66 minutes) without shooting a 3-pointer. You can't be the small forward alongside Tony Allen and not shoot 3s. This is related to the previous bullets: Prince doesn't hunt 3-point shots by waiting a stride behind the line so that he can step into a 3. He either waits with his toes on the line or creeps toward the paint, where a long 2-pointer is his only option. This should be an easy fix for Memphis.

  • The second unit runs a lot of double pick-and-roll action early in the shot clock in which the point guard, either Tony Wroten or Jerryd Bayless, comes off two screens in the middle of the court. One of the screeners will pop for a 18-footer, the other will dive to the rim. This movement takes advantage of one of the fundamental principles of basketball movement: You have to go away from the space you want to use. For most teams, and certainly in Memphis' case, that space is the paint. Sets that begin with both bigs away from the paint might sacrifice some offensive rebounding opportunities, but they also create space to post up for the big who rolls to the rim. This is a dynamic the San Antonio Spurs take full advantage of, even when they play Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan at the same time. Neither can shoot 3s, but they are so disciplined in their spacing that they keep out of each other's way.