There are a lot of likeable Memphis Grizzlies, but Quincy Pondexter is right up at the top of the list. There was the explosion in the playoffs, the creation of the legendary Buckets Pondexter Twitter and Instagram accounts, and the successful asking out of Miss Tennessee via Twitter.
Pondexter was on the low-end of the rotation two seasons ago, averaging 15.7 minutes per game. This season, he gradually made a name for himself. He averaged 21.1 minutes this season, showing a significantly improved three-point shot. It all culminated against the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, as QPon exploded to the tune of 3.0 threes per game on 48.0% shooting. A case could be made for him being the Grizzlies’ second best player in that series, seeing 32.1 minutes off of the bench.
There was some talk of Pondexter potentially cracking the starting lineup this season, replacing Tayshaun Prince. However, new coach Dave Joerger made it clear that Prince was the starting small forward heading into the season.
While there are certainly fans who would’ve liked to see Pondexter as a starter (including yours truly), there’s no question that QPon will help the Grizzlies even coming off of the bench. He found his niche as a three-point shooter, this being fully realized in the playoffs.
How bad did the Grizzlies need his three-point shooting? Mike Conley led the Grizzlies in three-pointers made per game last season, with a distinctly average 1.3 triples per game (tied for 64th in the NBA). The Grizzlies need shooters to take advantage of teams sending an extra defender over on pick-and-rolls. They need shooters able to space the floor for Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in and around the paint. Mike Miller was added this offseason, but Quincy Pondexter can still be that go-to shooter.
Per 36 minutes, Pondexter made 1.7 threes on a strong 39.5% percentage last season. In the playoffs, that skyrocketed to 2.4 threes on 45.3% shooting. He was extremely proficient in the corners, shooting 45.6% from there in the regular season and 46.9% in the playoffs. In fact, almost 60% of his threes came from the corners. Look at this shot chart:
Nearly a third of Pondexter’s shots came from the corners alone. More than half of his shots came from beyond the three-point line. When you watch Pondexter, a lot of what he does is just establish himself in the corner, and wait for an open shot. Having a corner three-point specialist benefits a team’s offense so much because it either stretches out the defense, or results in the closest possible open three-point shot. Watch Pondexter demonstrate:
From the start, Pondexter stands pat in the weakside corner. Jerryd Bayless gets the ball on handoff pick-and-roll with Marc Gasol, and dribble penetrates on Pondexter’s side of the court. Kobe Bryant comes in for a steal attempt on Bayless, leaving Pondexter a little bit open. Credit Pondexter here for relocating a few steps deeper into the corner, distancing himself further from Kobe and also giving Bayless an easier pass, but Pondexter’s job is really that simple.
Indeed, many of Pondexter’s threes last season came in similar fashion. 92 of Pondexter’s 128 made field goals were assisted upon (71.9%), including an incredible 59 threes (out of 60 total) from the regular season. Bayless assisted on 31 of those field goals, more than doubling the second-highest assister to Pondexter (Mike Conley with 15). A lot of this was due to Pondexter spending a lot of time playing with Bayless as a substitute, but he did thrive alongside Bayless’ drive-and-kick game.
The reason he clicked with Bayless so well is partly due to his understanding of shifting along the perimeter–this helps him beyond just playing with Bayless. As much as the Grizzlies place him in the corner, he does know when to relocate above the break or deeper into the corner in various situations. He moves well without the ball in general, whether it’s timely cuts to the corner or subtle shifts along the perimeter. Interestingly, Pondexter wasn’t nearly as good a shooter away from the corners. Look at the shot chart below:
One can see that while Pondexter shot above 40% in the corners and remained slightly above average out on the right wing, he was outright awful from the top of the arc and the left wing. It’s very interesting to consider whether or not this is something that will improve. If Pondexter can continue his improvement as a three-point shooter (just 0.8 threes per 36 minutes two seasons ago compared to 1.7 this season), it seems like a reasonably safe bet that he will round out his shooting across other areas of the perimeter.
Pondexter compliments his role as a corner three-point shooter by taking advantage of his intelligence in moving without the ball in a different way: cutting backdoor. Staying in the corner can often mean a defender not paying attention, and that’s when Pondexter can just slip behind their back and get an easy dunk at the rim. Going back to the chart above, Pondexter was an average finisher at the rim–decent enough.
Simple baseline cut in that play, with Wes Matthews caught ball-watching. Pondexter has nice athleticism, and the potential exists for him to be an even better finisher at the rim. Going backdoor is something you’d like to see Pondexter do a little more often offensively, and hopefully become better at. As is, Pondexter is already a very efficient role player on offense (56.5% true shooting percentage, tied for 75th in the NBA).
Of course, any discussion about Pondexter would be remiss if his defense was ignored. He’s a classic 3-and-D player, proving to be capable of defending positions 1 to 3. He was even put on Chris Paul during the playoffs, performing pretty well.
Pondexter did rank last in Jesus Gomez’s statistical look at 3-and-D players at Pounding the Rock. Among players included, Pondexter ranked 23rd out of 30 players in three-point shooting and 29th defensively. The numbers involved should rise with more playing time and continued improvement, especially since he improved as the regular season progressed instead of coming hot right out of the gates.
However, Pondexter’s defense clearly wasn’t on par with his shooting. A lot of the reason for this is because of Pondexter’s size. Memphis often put him on small forwards, with Mike Conley and Tony Allen available to defend guards. At 6’6″ and 225 lbs, Pondexter did struggle at times against bigger and stronger offensive players. He’s quick, he’s long and he works hard, however. Even if he can’t turn into a standout defender, he’s a great piece to plug in to support Conley and Allen on the perimeter.
Pondexter rounds out his game with a relatively mediocre all-around skillset. He’s a pretty solid offensive rebounder for someone his size, finishes well on the fast break and makes the right pass while keeping turnovers low. There’s nothing particularly outstanding about these aspects of his game, but they make for nice skills to have compliment his primary role as a 3-and-D role player.
Next season could be a big season for Pondexter, especially with his contract expiring in the offseason. While Joerger has stated Pondexter won’t start, he could still see big minutes off of the bench and eventually replace Tayshaun Prince as the starter midseason. Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if Joerger went against his word and decided to start Pondexter at some point during training camp or preseason. Certainly, the starting lineup could use the three-point shooting, and Tayshaun Prince isn’t exactly in the best shape of his career.
If you would take my (biased) gut feeling with any value, I personally feel Pondexter will have a great season. I don’t know if his numbers from the playoffs are sustainable, but what I saw then gave me plenty of hope for Pondexter’s future. That three-point shooting percentage could cross the 40% mark and possibly higher, and Pondexter can continue to refine defense and the other aspects of his game. I absolutely believe he’ll be a starter by the end of the season, and while Most Improved Player seems like too much of a reach (especially given some of the competition), I do expect his numbers to continue to rise.
We’ll see where Pondexter goes from here. If he turns out to be as great as I think he might, then that’s great. With what he has to offer and improvement from this offseason, the Grizzlies could make it back to the Western Conference Finals and hopefully farther.