The Grizzlies go on to win without Ja Morant. What’s going on?

In 27 games: 21-6.

This is Memphis Grizzly record without Ja Morante This season, including the playoffs, it’s not quite in line with our expectations of how we’ll play without a second team.NBA performer. Those gains included a 73-point win Oklahoma City And the night of Wednesday 134-95 evisceration of Golden State In the semi-finals of the Western Conference.

If anything, the record understates how well they played without Morant. In addition to the two tracks listed above, 14 of the 19 other wins without Morant were in double digits. Meanwhile, four of the six losses – including the fourth match against Golden State – were affected. Overall, Memphis outperformed opponents by 376 points in 27 games without Morant (plus 13.9 each) and by only 133 points in 66 other games (plus 1.7 each). And it’s not just Oklahoma City that skews the numbers. Five of the Grizzlies’ seven wins this year have come by 30 points or more without Morant.

“We’re deep,” Taylor Jenkins’ brief interpretation of the phenomenon after Game Five, echoing an inside saying about the team and drawing confused chuckles from Desmond BenAnd Teos Jones And Garen Jackson Jr. when they were told about it.

This brief summary tells the story to some extent. The Memphis are truly the deepest team in the league, with Noah’s Ark’s roster seemingly containing two of everything amid 12 players of rotation caliber.

However, while this tells part of the story, I’m not sure it tells the whole story. It’s not just that the Grizzlies have managed to avoid playing worse without Morant. They played really well better.

The Grizzlies outperformed opponents by 4.1 points per 100 possessions with Morant on the ground this season and by 6.4 points per 100 when he was out. In the post-season it was the opposite – at plus-5.3 with Morant and plus-2.2 without it – but that’s also a much smaller sample.

What has changed in these games? What’s going on? And perhaps most importantly, how does this explain what the Grizzlies do next?

At first, I wondered if Tyus Jones simply played better as a starter, but that doesn’t seem to be an influential reason for the trend; His stats are almost exactly the same as the starter and sub.

Instead, a few other things stand out once you start digging into the data. First, timing is important. Memphis’ first six weeks were radically different from the rest of the season. It’s easy to forget that the Grizzlies went out of the gate at 9-10 with a defense under five bottoms before correcting the ship. But even if you crack that stretch, the Grizzlies didn’t play better with Morant (plus-9.6) than without (plus-8.3) – and they did better with Jones (plus-11.7).

Unfortunately, this is a highly questionable query line in the first place. “We’re good if you ignore all the times we haven’t been” is generally poor data science. Let’s keep moving.

The other notable feature is how sharp the defensive splits are, no matter what time block you choose. Grizzlies give away more points per possession with Morant on the field than any other rotation player, and that fact is immune to any random end data you want to use. For the season, they give up 111.2 per 100 with Morant and just 105.3 without him. Likewise, the Grizzlies give up a best 105.5 per 100 with Jones on the field and a worst 109.3 without him.

Based on that, I can jump very quickly to an unusual reaction declaring Morant to be a horrible defensive player and declaring that that’s the whole problem. certainly It’s not junior vacationBut stay with me…there’s a lot to unpack here.

For starters, there’s Lady Luck. Memphis opponents hit 34.4 percent of the 3 and 79.4 percent of the streak in Morant’s minutes, 32.4 percent of the 3, and 77.3 percent of the Jones’ streak. This represents a difference of three points per 100 between Morant and Jones and is likely just random noise.

However, Memphis also forced fewer turns in Morant vs. Jones minutes, which seems like a bright red flag until you realize that the Grizzlies also forced fewer turns in Steven Adams minutes and dramatically more shifts in those Dillon BrooksAnd D. Anthony Melton And Kyle Anderson. Guess which players played the most with Morant and which ones played the most with Jones.

So who is the chicken and who is the egg? This takes us straight to the biggest baffling issue: the other players on the field still matter, and there are some pretty big splits between the goalkeeper who plays with any of his teammates.

One player, in particular, influences Memphis data a lot, not who you think.

Believe it or not, Memphis’ numbers this season — both in the regular season and in the playoffs — are noticeably better with Brooks on the field. He played only 32 games this year, only overlapping Morant in 11 of them.

Memphis only allowed 105.9 points per 100 with Brooks on the floor and his net rating was 11.0 plus in his minutes; Jones may have benefited more from playing with the Grizzlies’ better wing-back (532, with the Grizzlies trailing an average of 8.3 per 100) more than Morant (215, where the Grizzlies were a better plus 12.2).

And that he scored 21-6 without Morant? This splits into 18-4 when Brooks is playing and 3-2 when he’s not playing. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies’ “Core 4” unit of Morant, Bane, Brooks and Jackson have played just 125 minutes together this year but smoked opponents by 20.2 points per 100, including a defensive rating of 97.0. In qualifying, it was pretty much the same, with a plus rating of -9.4 at 109 minutes.

The same core – but with Jones on point instead of Morant – was just a plus-2.3 in 226 minutes. Oh… now the data looks a little messy, huh?

However, to really enrich this discussion, we can zoom in on the camera again and focus deeper than just Brooks. Let’s take a more general look at how each player rotates Jones vs. Morant:

Grizzlies plus minus per 100 by PG

Jones Min Jones +/- Morant Men Morante +/-

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What stands out is that Jones is less dependent on the need to shoot around him and more able to play off the ball. Anderson’s numbers jump off the page in this regard; With Morant, a shaky shooter who’s not a nearly full-time center shooter (Memphis sometimes plays Jackson in the middle due to his massive accumulation of fouls in the role) and Morant always on the ball, there’s no room for breathing Slo-Mo to do a thing.

But wait… there is more!

How about how the team plays when it’s not Jones Nor Morant on the field. Remember, in games other than Morant, the Grizzlies didn’t have another traditional reserve guard on the roster, and instead relied on Bane, Melton, or Anderson to start the attack.

However, it does not seem to harm them. Formations without any of the two point guards still comfortably outnumber the opponent, by roughly 10 points per 100 possessions overall. With Bane at this point, the Grizzlies punched above their weight offensively; When Milton was the nominal goalkeeper, the Grizzlies struggled in attack but they were great in defense (99.0 points per 100!) It didn’t matter.

(Note: It was often Anderson who turned the offense in these formations, but there were no instances of him playing without Bane, Melton, Morant, or Jones on court. At least, until garbage time on Wednesday, that is.)

Like I said, there’s a lot to untangle, and that’s what teams deal with all the time during the season: trying to discover, in the midst of the fog of war, whether data like the team’s No Morante record corresponds to something deeper than statistical noise and shooting contrast.

The next step is more complex: using it to answer questions that can guide the team’s strategy moving forward. Is Memphis Really Better Without Morant? Is Jones worth a princely payment at free agency? Is Anderson? What kind of players could work best alongside Morant and Jones? Is this article going to end?

In the case of the Grizzlies, a lot of the variance seems to correspond with the availability of other players to play when Morant was healthy, as well as with the variance of shooting. I’ve kept it simple with the on and off data, but that conclusion is also backed up by the more advanced lineup data that’s pretty good luck. These scales see Morant as a superstar and Jones (not to mention Anderson and Brooks) as more complementary flocks.

There’s still info here, especially since Memphis is planning what could be an interesting Offseason. Even factoring in the shooting splits, Morrant’s defense is passive enough that his general presence on the court is probably less impactful than you’d expect otherwise. This in turn suggests that the Grizzlies might be better off if he tilted more energy this way, even if at an offensive cost.

More importantly, there is some interesting information regarding both Jones and Anderson, both of whom happened to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. Jones has received the lion’s share of attention given how well the team played when he started, and the numbers (and eye test) suggest he’s allowing unconventional shooters like Anderson to thrive.

But the data also shows that Memphis have been able to succeed at roughly the same level in their “unguarded” formations with several minor ball players such as Bane, Melton and Anderson. If so, would Memphis prefer bringing back Anderson if she could only pick one?

Meanwhile, in the near future, the data point to two more obvious facts. First, even with some of the defense and Anderson-enabled benefits that Jones brings, the Grizzlies are clearly worse off without Morant (I know, I know: thanks to the extensive rocket science that brought us that landmark conclusion, Einstein). As they were in game 5, they are underdogs in game 6.

However, on the sidelines, the Grizzlies may be in better shape than you think. Memphis returned to Brooks, and while his shot stagnated, his presence with Jackson and Penn was brutal—plus 10.2 per 100 in the regular season and 17.5 in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Grizzlies played Jones for 41 minutes in Game Three, and he looked tired at the end. But the data shows that the Grizzlies have survived very well in the “unguarded” alignment. They might be able to sustain longer stretches of Milton/Anderson-type combos in a must-win 6, and that could also point the way to an alternate version of their future.

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(Photo by Tyus Jones and Taylor Jenkins: Joe Rondone / USA Today)