Taylor Jenkins is a big fan of rounds — the process of transforming defense into attack.
“Cycles, says that all the time,” Jackson said of Jenkins and cycles. “I’ve heard that word from him forever, like he loves to say it.”
Can you blame him?
The Memphis Grizzlies lead the league in blocks (6.5), steals (9.9) and quick runs (17.6). Additionally, they are one of 5 teams in the past decade to average at least 6 blocks and 9 interceptions per game – Golden State Warriors (2014-15 and 2016-17), Denver Nuggets (2012-13 ) and Philadelphia. 76ers (2020-21), by Head of the bridge. All of these teams have won more than 68% of their games, but they’ve had playoff results ranging from a first-round exit to NBA championships. Nonetheless, it’s a great company to be a part of.
“Once we are in transition, we are a very dangerous team,” said Ja Morant. “Our defensive saves allow us to do that too.”
These cycles and the way they turn defense into offense helped the Grizzlies build the top 10 on offense. and defense, only joining the Miami Heat and Phoenix Suns in this group.
Cycles have become an essential part of the Grizzlies system. They fuel a top-10 attack, while also serving as a means to generate momentum that can lead to massive runs – sometimes swinging the game. They are a major key to what makes this team dangerous, and when the team gets started, Taylor Jenkins compares it to rotational exercises.
“We get saves, turnovers, rebounds, whatever it is, we go out and run and a lot of guys can lead the break for us and pick up the tempo,” Jenkins said. “Whether it’s scoring or moving forward, we just feed each other. When our whole roaster adopts this, we are really hard to protect.
The defensive play of the team plays a major role in the execution of the cycles. They have a plethora of guys capable of wreaking havoc defensively. By clean the glass, 5 of their rotation players have a block percentage in the 80th percentile or higher among their position archetype (Jaren Jackson Jr., De’Anthony Melton, Kyle Anderson, John Konchar, and Brandon Clarke), and 6 of them have a flight percentage in the 70th percentile or higher (Melton, Anderson, Dillon Brooks, Tyus Jones, Desmond Bane and Jackson).
Building a system around defensive playmakers who are active and create turnovers is a great formula for turning your defense into offense. And there is variety that goes into it. There could be a big block triggering the break, a deflection or a jump into the passing lane, or the Grizzlies just swipe someone’s cookies for an easy quick layup. Having a multitude of ways to generate these opportunities has been a key part of these cycles.
The individual components of this attack are also quite compelling. I touched on how Ziaire Williams is an asset in transition in my last player feature, as he is in the 90th percentile in transition points per possession.
Two players that caught my eye here were Kyle Anderson and De’Anthony Melton. They have a similar cycle skill set. Due to their length, they are both adept at creating havoc for turnovers, crushing defensive glass for rebounds, and facilitating the transition offense. When your team is looking to start defensive-to-offensive cycles, these are the players you want in the system.
And these two players in particular are part of the first replacement formation that demolishes opponents. These two alongside Morant, Williams and Steven Adams blast their opposition with a net rating of +23.1 on 255 total possessions, per Glass cleaning. Pairing two players with their skills with two guys who can run the floor and a big man who cleans the windows seems like a good formula for a staggering range.
Desmond Bane is another player who shines in these places. His growth has been deservedly covered here, there and everywhere this season. He also increased his comfort level in transition. Admittedly, his efficiency isn’t out of this world or anything – totaling just 1.18 points per transition possession, which falls in the 61st percentile for this category. However, what stands out from his development as a transition player are the various points at which he can attack the defence.
My favorite part of his arsenal is his transition discs. When he starts with a clear lane, he transforms into an NFL All-Pro running back – using a combination of physicality, shifting gears and good footwork on the downhill.
As he further embraced the “let it fly” mantra, he abruptly stopped in transition to the downtown fire. It pays off for him. He shoots 39-87 (44.8%) from 3 over the break in transition, par Synergy.
These two go hand in hand with his transition game. As defenses focus more on him in the Grizzlies’ offense, that extra focus clears the way for him to find his teammates for easier hoops.
Several transition initiators also help run these cycles, as Ja Morant doesn’t need to start the break. As delicious as it is to do, it also unlocks it to be a weapon that handles lanes as well. To do this effectively, you need interchangeable players like Melton, Anderson, or Bane.
“We have a lot of guys who can push the break for us,” Morant said. “It creates easy baskets for everyone. For me, I just run and try to make the best game possible.
The brightest spot in these cycles is Ja Morant, the man some might call the NBA’s biggest show, or hottest box office ticket. It’s an absolute nightmare in transition, and you know you’re about to get your money’s worth when it flies down the field. As mentioned earlier, he’s a weapon as a lane runner with someone else orchestrating the break. When he’s deadliest it’s with the ball in his hands, we’ve seen what happens when he gets a run.
A Big 12 Airlines flight takes off.
It’s not just as a finisher either. The open ground gives her daylight to highlight her vision of the star ground, and she is enhanced in those spots as he is a focal point of attack.
The Grizzlies have a great formula for creating cycles. They have big men who can end opposition plays with blocks or rebounds, perimeter players who create defensive events, secondary facilitators who can orchestrate the transition offense, players who can shoot for 3 in transition and lane runners who can finish games. They also have a superstar playmaker who is dynamite in transition with his passing and finishing. The key ingredient in these cycles is also the coaching staff’s emphasis on defensive activity and getting out and running.
“Our team is best when we stop mid-race when our pace is high, that’s when our team is best,” said Brandon Clarke. “I feel like the games we go out, protect well and run have been the games we’ve played well this year.”
The big question in the playoffs for the Memphis Grizzlies is what happens when play slows down and they are forced into the half court offense. The Grizzlies currently rank 23rd in half court, scoring 92.6 points per 100 possessions in those situations, per Glass cleaning. That’s the lowest rating of any top-6 seed right now, and only the Cleveland Cavaliers join them as playoff teams outside the top-20 in that category.
That said, cycles could be the route for the Grizzlies to step into their comfort zone offensively, make up for their half-court woes, and ultimately take control of the game in the playoffs. After all, they have a top-10 defense and they rank first in interceptions and blocks. They are bound to create defensive events at solid playoff capacity.
If they can do that, not only will it help the Grizzlies control the flow of the game, but it will also serve as a momentum generator. That’s paramount in the playoff situation, especially with a rowdy crowd. This could end up demoralizing the opposition.
“They’re coming back down and they’re a little deflated,” Jackson said. “We don’t want them to. When teams do it to us, we play against a team with high tempo, it’s like fuck… we use a lot of energy and all that kind of stuff. That’s what a cycle is.
Cycles are an essential component of their success, and it’s also a part of this evolution of Grit and Grind. Although the team is faster, scores a lot more runs, throws more lobs, and shoots a lot more 3s, defensive activity is still a driver of success in these areas. It’s pretty cool to watch unfold.
And as this next generation of Grit and Grind prepare for their second appearance together in the playoffs, we’re about to see how far they can go in executing cycles on their opponent.
Stats and movie found on NBA.com/stats.
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