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Spurs face peculiar beast in Grizzlies

When the playoffs start for the Spurs they'll be up against an unfamiliar opponent in the Memphis Grizzlies, a team that may lack star power and national attention but has plenty of talent, depth and grit. Memphis is an elite rebounding club that struggles to defend and score in three-point territory. They might be a good preparation for the Lakers for that reason, but that also gives them the potential to counter a Spurs team that is trying to find the perfect balance of threes and the familiar drive and screen games.

Regular season stats help us identify the two areas of the game where the Grizzlies are the strongest: turnovers and rebounding. Memphis forces the most turnovers of any club while taking care of the ball on their own possessions. Once Memphis becomes familiar with our offensive sets they'll try to interrupt them, poke the ball clear and get a fast break going the other way. Tony Allen and Mike Conley get steals on the perimeter while Marc Gasol and Darrell Arthur block shots in the paint.

The Grizzlies are also strong on the offensive glass, mostly thanks to Zach Randolph. Randolph has been gradually polishing his offensive game over the years. Although his jump-shot is still developing he can score it like Barkley or Malone when he gets opportunities close to the basket. This of course includes offensive rebounds, which in Zach's hands either turn into blocked shots or points. Randolph and Marc Gasol are a good defensive rebounding pair as well, but when one is resting the back-ups can't maintain the same level.

On offense the Grizzlies are pretty much the opposite of the Spurs. They rarely attempt a three and can't hit the ones they do. The Spurs have two players who drive and kick to create three pointers for other guys; the Grizz have none. The Spurs' inside game is mostly pick and roll passing and passing between bigs for jump-shots; Memphis scores inside with brute force and offensive rebounds. This version of the Grizzlies will always prefer a close contested shot over an open long one.

And for the players they have, that strategy makes a lot of sense. Tony Allen in 2011 gets 52% of his shots in dunk attempts or 'close to rim' attempts (stats from Tony Parker is at just 41% - somehow their Tony is more reliant on lay-ups, scoop-shots and floaters than ours:

Shot Details Close attempt % Close eFG% Jumper attempt% Jumper eFG%

Tony Parker 41 66% 58 45%

Tony Allen 46 63% 46 34%

If Tony Allen, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol aren't attempting a ton of inside shots, you don't have to ask who's winning. That is the extent of their offense and they don't have the players to create or knock down jump-shots. Here's the same close attempt and jumper attempt breakdown for their other offensive contributors:

Shot Details Close attempt % Close eFG% Jumper attempt% Jumper eFG%

Zach Randolph 38 63% 55 40%

Marc Gasol 41 62% 51 42%

Mike Conley 30 62% 69 43%

OJ Mayo 14 60% 85 45%

Darrell Arthur 18 57% 71 43%

Sam Young 27 56% 66 41%

Most NBA players, even the great ones, shoot about 40-45% on jumpers. How efficient a team or player is often comes down to the mix of jumpers and close shots you can get, and the other easy points you can pick up along the way through free throws and threes. If the Spurs can force the Grizzlies into becoming a jump-shooting team, it's likely that our mix of offense will beat their mix of offense so thoroughly that no realistic amount of offensive rebounds can save them.

This year Tony Parker has shot jumpers as efficiently as any core player on the Grizzlies. This is potentially a problem for them as Tony's our sixth most efficient jump-shooter and they aren't strong at defending the three. The Spurs will need Manu Ginobili to take full advantage here - he doesn't just attempt a lot of threes himself, he sets up teammates for attempts.

With or without the Argentine, the goals remain the same: take care of the ball, defend the paint and rebound on defense. Looking ahead to our likely next opponents (bad habit) I think the focus would remain on those areas. The Grizzlies have the strength and athleticism to compete with any team. We need to draw a stalemate in the struggle down low and turn shooting accuracy into the deciding factor.