Grizz Bench, Outside Shooting Hitting Stride

By Don Wade

Don’t make too much of the preseason. That’s a mantra that has been well-tested. But also, don’t make too little of the preseason.

Guard Jerryd Bayless is part of what should be an improved bench and 3-point shooting for the Memphis Grizzlies.  

(Photo: AP Photo/Lance Murphey)

The Memphis Grizzlies finally addressed their need for more outside shooting – enter Wayne Ellington – and a viable backup point guard – welcome Jerryd Bayless. Through the team’s first seven preseason games, the newcomers have been adjusting to their new team and the team has been adjusting to them. The final preseason game, on Friday, Oct. 26, will bear no resemblance to what is to come in the regular season because Coach Lionel Hollins has said he’s giving the team’s key players the night off, or at least most of the night off.

But as center Marc Gasol said, “So far, so good.”

Bayless says he is still learning the playing styles of his teammates and vice-versa.

“But that’s what the preseason is for,” he said.

For example, Bayless knows he has two great options in the post in Gasol and power forward Zach Randolph. They can do similar things, Bayless says, but they like the ball on different spots on the floor, in different spaces and situations.

If the Grizzlies can even come close to approximating the hot outside shooting they displayed in their 115-100 victory over Orlando on Wednesday, Oct. 24, Bayless and starting point guard Mike Conley will have more room with which to operate. The Grizzlies knocked down 10-of-16 3-point shots (62.5 percent) and that was with Josh Selby jacking up a couple of errant 3-pointers near game’s end.

Rudy Gay was 4-for-4, Conley continued his torrid preseason 3-point shooting by going 2-for-2 (11-for-14 for 78.6 percent), and Ellington hit both his 3-pointers against the Magic.

“It’s starting to get there,” Ellington said of his outside shot, “and at the right time.”

The Grizzlies shot 32.6 percent from 3-point range last season, tying them for 25th in the league. Their 4.2 made 3-pointers per game ranked 27th out of 30 teams. This preseason, the Grizzlies have hit 40-of-100 3-pointers (40 percent).

Yes, preseason defense can be almost non-existent. Still, there is reason to believe this will be a better shooting team – Conley’s added bulk seems to have helped his long-range accuracy – and the team’s apparently improved outside game could have a ripple effect.

“Teams have got to respect the perimeter now,” said Randolph. “They can’t fall off in my lap when I’ve got the ball or fall back in Marc’s lap when he’s got the ball.”

Opponents will need to see the Grizzlies shoot better over a longer period of time in games that actually count, of course, but if that happens …

“Teams will have to prepare differently,” Gay said.

Bayless is happy to see the good shooting, but sounding like a Lionel Hollins echo, reminded, “Defensive pressure leads to open shots.”

True enough. The Grizzlies’ opponents averaged 17.1 turnovers per game last season; that was the highest in the league. Their 9.6 steals per game led the league, too.

In the annual survey of NBA general managers, Tony Allen was voted the league’s best perimeter defender. When the athletic Darrell Arthur returns from a leg injury – he’s a few weeks away – the defense in the front court expands and suddenly becomes more dynamic.

“Darrell gives us another dimension,” Gasol said. “He can stay in front of anybody in the league.”

The Grizzlies are hoping the same is true for them as a team. Gasol says they have had their toughest training camp and the bench is deeper than it has ever been.

Nothing has been accomplished yet, he understands that, but an already good team appears poised to shoot better, defend better, be better.

“We are working toward the right direction,” said Gasol, “that’s for sure.”