The Memphis Grizzlies are the hottest team in the NBA, winning 11 straight games to be within a half-game of the best record in the Western Conference. As I noted in this week’s NBA betting futures column, if the Grizzlies keep winning, Ja Morant will continue to rise in the NBA MVP debate.
But the Grizzlies’ success is about much more than their superstar point guard, and in fact, they’re a rare team that gets significant statistical contributions from nearly every position in true team synergy. When I was a kid, I loved the Voltron cartoon, where the five robot lions could merge into one giant robot hero that could defeat any enemy.
This season, the Grizzlies are channeling their inner Voltron.
It all starts with the black lion that formed Voltron’s torso, and for the Grizzlies, that’s Morant. Morant has flirted with the top 10 in my fantasy basketball point rankings all season thanks to his tremendous scoring production and distribution.
Morant is currently on pace to tie or set career highs in all major offense count categories with 27.4 PPG, 7.9 APG and 1.7 3PG. He joins Zion Williamson, also a top-2 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, as the NBA’s most exciting and explosive finalists who are always up for a top-10 game on Sportscenter.
Morant’s mind-blowing dunks may get the most attention, but his game is more meat and potatoes than flash. Morant is extremely fast with the ball in his hands and it is almost impossible to keep him out of the paint. And, per the Voltron theme, the Grizzlies have done an excellent job of surrounding him with outstanding shooters that prevent opponents from being able to duplicate or even effectively cover extra defenders towards him.
As a result, according to Second Spectrum, Morant’s most common shot type is the Driving Layup with 293 instances so far, more than double his second most common shot attempt, the Driving Floater (130 instances).
And, when Morant drives for a layup, he generates a whopping 1.48 points per possession that ranks among the best in the NBA. In fact, Morant generates a very strong 1.20 points per possession in all isolation situations, another
In addition to isolating all the space that his teammates’ shooters give him, Morant is also very adept at utilizing the pick on the ball to help create that extra space and further unbalance the opposing defense. According to Second Spectrum, Morant uses 50.0 picks per 100 possessions, the 10th most in the NBA.
And, among those who use the most, Morant’s solid 1.04 points per chance using picks trails only Luka Doncic (1.13 points per chance) and James Harden (1.05 points per chance) in the top 10 users of selections.
So it’s clear Morant isn’t doing it alone. His teammates help him maximize his game. But, in true symbiotic fashion, Morant’s ability to get into the paint and break through the opposing defense also makes life a lot easier for his teammates.
Let’s start with the marksmen, led by Desmond Bane and Dillon Brooks… call them the red and green lions in our Voltron analogy, because those lions make up the arms and the arms attack.
Bane and Dillon attack defenses from the middle, averaging a combined 5.3 3s/game between them. Brooks is productive enough to be a flexible starter in many FBA leagues (he’s currently 135th in my points ranking), but it’s Bane who packs the biggest punch.
Bane currently sits 37th in my rankings, but he was as high as 25th early in the season before injuries derailed him. However, Bane is getting back to health and should be back up to where he was and potentially beyond. He is almost eerily accurate from long distances, considering the volume that he shoots.
Bane’s 3.3 3PG would tie him for sixth among those with enough games played to qualify (so, notably, this doesn’t include Stephen Curry at this point), but his 43.3 3P% is better than any other player in the top. -45 on 3HP. And this is clearly helped by playing alongside Morant.
Finally, we come to the blue and yellow lions… the legs that hold up the whole, epitomized on the Grizzlies by big men Jaren Jackson Jr. and Steven Adams.
On offense, Jackson is another strong shooter (1.5 3HP, 36.8 3P%) who helps attack the opposing defense and opens space for Morant. Both Jackson and Adams are also strong in the pick-and-roll/pop game with Morant. According to Second Spectrum, both Adams (1.20 points per possession) and Jackson (1.17 points per possession) generate excellent results as Morant’s blocker.
But, his most important contributions to both the Grizzlies and fantasy basketball teams come on defense. Jackson’s 3.3 BPG would be leading the NBA if he had enough games to qualify, after he led the NBA last season with 2.3 BPG last season, and they’re integral to why Jackson has posted a season-best 38th place in my FBA rating points.
Likewise, Adams is a void on the glass (11.3 RPG), blocks shots (1.1 BPG), and interrupts with nearly one steal per game as well. His nightly double-double potential in high efficiency with strong defense has placed him in the 101st place, the best of the season, knocking on the door to enter the top-100.
The Grizzlies are a true team in every sense of the word. He provides great results for his team on the court, but also helps with his players’ fantasy basketball production and makes the Grizz one of the few teams in the NBA where the starting five are also potential fantasy basketball starters. As those of you who watched the cartoon know, Voltron always wins in the end.