Quantitative & Qualitative look at Spurs vs Grizzlies Series


The San Antonio Spurs will face a familiar playoff opponent Saturday in the opening round of the NBA playoffs, the Memphis Grizzlies. The two teams split the season series 2-2, with the Grizzlies finishing with a +2.0 Net Rating against the Spurs. Defense wasn’t necessarily the Spurs’ problem against Memphis, as they held the Grizz to 100.2 Points Per 100 Possessions on average in the four meetings. However, it was the Spurs’ offense that was contained by the Grizzlies, as San Antonio only scored 98.2 PP/100 against Memphis.

Just before the playoffs, the Grizzlies’ roster took a major injury hit, as Tony Allen suffered a right lower leg injury, and he could be out as much as a month from basketball. Allen will join Chandler Parsons (left knee) as the Grizzlies’ two inactive players on the playoff roster. Just how important was Allen against the Spurs? The eye test shows he was their best perimeter defender on MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, as he made it difficult for Leonard to get to his sweet spots in the pick-and-roll, in isolation, and in the low post. The numbers also back up how important Allen is to the Grizzlies.

With Allen off the floor this season against the Spurs, the Grizzlies were outscored by San Antonio by 1.1 PP/100. When Allen was on the floor, the Grizzlies outscored the Spurs by 6.7 PP/100. That’s like saying with Allen on the floor, the Grizzlies were outscoring the Spurs near a level that the Houston Rockets outscore their average opponent.

Let’s first begin by looking at the Grizzlies’ projected depth chart. It looks like the Grizzlies will run a 10-man rotation, with Baldwin, Martin and Davis being active, but probably not logging many minutes unless someone gets in foul trouble or an adjustment is needed.


The next chart looks at the Grizzlies’ core playmakers, based on their usage percentage for the season. As you can see, Conley and Marc are their primary weapons in the starting unit, while Randolph and Daniels anchor the second unit in the playmaking department.


This next chart shows where the Grizzlies mainly get their points from this season when Allen isn’t on the floor.

Points in the Paint 38.2%
3-Pointers 29.7%
Free Throws 19.3%
Mid-Range 12.8%

Based on the metrics of the Spurs’ defense this season, as written in the Spurs season review, San Antonio is equipped to limit the Grizzlies’ looks in the paint, from 3-point range and at the free throw line. Meanwhile, the Spurs’ defense is ranked 5th best in the NBA at making teams take mid-range shots, which is the shot the Grizzlies want to take the least in a series.

Knowing that Allen will be out for the majority, if not the entire series, I’ve adjusted the data below to reflect this situation. Using the metrics at NBA.com/stats, I gathered the Grizzlies’ 2067 minutes this season with Allen on the bench, and separated his 1914 minutes when on the floor. The data without Allen is provided in per 48 minute samples.

Grizzlies Offense without Allen   Spurs Defense  
Offensive Rating (PP/100) 103.9 PP/100 Defensive Rating (PP/100) 100.9 PP/100
Field Goal % 42.8% OPP Field Goal % 44.3%
3-Point % 34.9% OPP 3-Point % 34.4%
Points in Paint 38.3 OPP Points in Paint 40.8
Second Chance Points 12.2 OPP Second Chance Points 12.4
Transition Points 9.3 OPP Transition Points 12.6
Assists 20.4 OPP Assists 21.4
Turnovers 13.0 OPP Turnovers 14.4
Free Throw Attempts 24.5 OPP Free Throw Attempts 20.8
Offensive Rebounds 10.2 OPP Offensive Rebounds 9.8

Without Allen, the Grizzlies score at the efficiency level of the 22nd rank offense of the Phoenix Suns (103.9 PP/100). Defending the Grizzlies hasn’t been a main problem for the Spurs this season and the numbers show that the Spurs’ defense should be ok in keeping Memphis near their usual averages without Allen. The two areas the Spurs should watch on defense are the Grizzlies’ increase in free throw attempts per game (24.5), as the trio of Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and Zach Randolph can put pressure on a defense with Conley’s driving ability, and Marc and Randolph’s post-up ability and on putbacks.

The other area on defense where the Spurs should stay attentive is on the glass, as Manu Ginobili pointed out Friday in his interview with the media, where Ginobili said limiting the Grizzlies’ offensive rebounds is key in the series. When I went back and watched the tape of the Grizzlies’ offensive rebounds without Allen on the floor against the Spurs, the film showed the players who mainly grabbed rebounds off the glass were Zach Randolph (9 offensive boards), Brandan Wright (4 OFF REB) and James Ennis (4 OFF REB). Randolph is a physical player who plays near the rim and if his shot doesn’t go in the first time, he’s got a good feel to anticipate his own miss and collect his own rebound for another possession. Randolph also has good anticipation skills in being a player who gets position under the rim as soon as one of his teammates is getting ready to shoot the ball. Since Wright isn’t a floor spacer, he’s constantly around the rim seeking putbacks on misses. Since Ennis isn’t a playmaker, he does make himself useful on the offensive end by usually running from the 3-point line to crash the glass. Since Marc and JaMychal Green are the Grizzlies’ floor spacers, with their ability to shoot from the outside, they don’t collect too many offensive boards, though Green does average 2.2 offensive rebounds this season.

Since the Grizzlies play at a slow pace and don’t have a lot of fire power on offense, extra possessions on offensive rebounds are very crucial for them to keep pace with the Spurs, or, if they’re playing really good defense, to keep separation from the Spurs. For San Antonio, putting a body on the Grizzlies’ big men when shots are taken will be key to limiting the Grizzlies’ offensive boards.

Now we’ll switch over to the Spurs’ offense. First, let’s look at the projected depth chart. While the Spurs have a fully healthy roster, the expectation is Joel Anthony and one of Bryn Forbes or Dejounte Murray will be listed as inactive. Meanwhile, it’ll be interesting to see if Kyle Anderson or Jonathon Simmons get the 10th spot in the Spurs’ 10-man rotation for the playoffs.


As for the Spurs’ playmakers, they rely on Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Pau Gasol as their big three on offense.


The next chart shows where the Spurs’ points come from in the average game.

Points in the Paint 37.6%
3-Pointers 26.2%
Free Throws 16.7%
Mid-Range 19.6%

Friday, Tony Parker and Pau both mentioned how the Grizzlies’ defense is very good at collapsing the paint, which is where most of the Spurs’ points come from. Even with Allen off the floor this season, the Grizzlies’ defense still made it difficult for San Antonio to score inside the paint, as they held the Spurs to 55.3% shooting in the restricted area, which is 4.6% below league average.

The next chart shows some of the Spurs’ offensive numbers for the season, and the numbers of the Grizzlies’ defense with Allen off the floor this season.

Spurs Offense   Grizzlies Defense without Allen  
Offensive Rating (PP/100) 108.8 PP/100 Defensive Rating (PP/100) 104.7 PP/100
Field Goal % 46.9% OPP Field Goal % 43.8%
3-Point % 39.1% OPP 3-Point % 35.4%
Points in Paint 39.6 OPP Points in Paint 37.4
Second Chance Points 13.0 OPP Second Chance Points 11.3
Transition Points 12.1 OPP Transition Points 14.2
Assists 23.8 OPP Assists 18.9
Turnovers 13.4 OPP Turnovers 13.0
Free Throw Attempts 22.0 OPP Free Throw Attempts 28.0
Offensive Rebounds 10.0 OPP Offensive Rebounds 8.8

Even with Allen off the floor this season, the Spurs were held to an offensive rating worse than the Philadelphia 76ers, who were ranked last in offense among all NBA teams this season. That right there tells you just how difficult the Grizzlies made it for the Spurs to score in the four contests this season. The two areas where the Spurs can try to attack the Grizzlies defensively are in transition, by increasing the tempo and attacking the defense before they’re set early in the shot clock, as Parker mentioned Friday, and at the free throw line. Ennis fouls opponents 2.6 times per game, so this could be where Leonard becomes more aggressive, and JaMychal averages a team-high 3.2 fouls per game, which could benefit Aldridge when he posts up or drives on JaMychal.

One of Leonard’s primary ways to attack a defense is with the pick-and-roll. I went back and watched all his shots out of the P&R with Allen off the floor, and after watching the tape, you can see how the Grizzlies’ bigs chose to guard Leonard off the P&R. The video below will detail how Randolph dropped back on screens, how Marc hard-hedged on picks, and how JaMychal and Wright were ok with fully switching onto Leonard.

The one player who Leonard attacked in isolation multiple times was 40-year old Vince Carter. Leonard had no problem not needing a screen to attack Carter off the dribble, and Leonard usually got a good shot attempt when that scenario was presented to him. This is where Ennis becomes even more important with Allen out, as the Grizzlies can’t afford for Ennis to get into foul trouble and leave Carter as the primary defender on Leonard.

Looking at Aldridge, most of his looks against the Grizzlies with Allen off the floor came from the mid-range area. Of his 20 mid-range shots, 12 of Aldridge’s shots came against 35-year old Randolph guarding him. Aldridge used a variety of ways to score from the mid-range against the Grizzlies, as the video below will show his use of the face up, post-up, spot-up, pick-and-pop, and driving shot.

Outside of Marc, the Grizzlies don’t have a lot of answers for Aldridge, especially if his mid-range jumper is going in at a high percentage.

With Pau, most of his shots against the Grizzlies with Allen off the floor came with Randolph and Wright guarding him. Pau got most of his mid-range and 3-point looks off pick-and-pop action, as the video will show below.

For the Spurs to open driving lanes and take away double teams in the post and traps on the pick-and-rolls, Aldridge and Gasol will have to make the open outside shots the Grizzlies give them. If not, then the Spurs will continue to struggle to score in the series against Memphis like they did in the regular season. One adjustment that might be needed later in the series is for Davis Bertans to get some minutes. While he would have trouble defensively guarding Randolph in the post, Bertans could bring more spacing to the Spurs’ offense than David Lee and Dewayne Dedmon.

Lastly on the Spurs’ offense, Ginobili mentioned that moving the ball will be key for the Spurs to get quality looks against the Grizzlies. This too was true when watching the film. When the Spurs could get possessions where they moved the ball three or four times, they usually ended up getting some pretty good looks. I put a few clips together below to show how ball movement and cutting off the ball move the Grizzlies’ defense side to side and opened up quality looks.

Had Allen been healthy, I was predicting the Spurs to win the series in six games. As the numbers and eye test show, Allen is very critical to the Grizzlies on both sides of the floor, and he especially makes it difficult for the Spurs’ best scorer, Leonard, to get into a flow during a game. Without Allen, I’m predicting the Spurs win the series in a close four games. The Allen injury should allow Leonard to operate more efficiently on offense and even when the Grizzlies do double him, he’s learned more and more how to make the right pass out of that scenario. The Spurs can also increase the tempo and if Gasol and Aldridge make their outside shots, it’ll be tough for Memphis to keep pace with San Antonio.


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