What’s wrong with the Memphis Grizzlies’ defense?

De'Anthony Melton, Memphis Grizzlies Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
De'Anthony Melton, Memphis Grizzlies Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports /

Heading into the season, the Memphis Grizzlies seemed destined to have one of the best defenses in the league. The Grizzlies would have Jaren Jackson Jr. back and at full health, while a handful of young players were continuing to gain experience.

In the 2020-21 season, the Grizzlies ranked sixth in defensive rating and ranked third in steals per game. At the very least, it was an extremely feisty defensive unit.

Fast forward back to the 2021-22 season and Memphis doesn’t have any defensive accolades to speak of. This Grizz team ranks last in the league in defensive rating and their scoring defense ranks second to last.

What’s wrong with the Memphis Grizzlies on the defensive side of the ball?

If you’re asking for the short answer to that question, it’s simple — everything.

The Grizzlies actually lead the league in steals right now with 10.5 per game, which should tell you how bad everything else has to be for their defensive rating to stay last in the NBA.

Memphis had undeniable issues defending the perimeter last year. Last year’s Grizz team was below average in the NBA in opposing three-point percentage, with opponents knocking down 36.9% of their long-range shots. The number isn’t terrible because this team would manage to slow opposing teams down from deep on occasion.

This year, there hasn’t been any slowing down for Grizz opponents. The Grizzlies have allowed opposing teams to hit 38.9% of their three-pointers, which is second-worst in the league. The Grizzlies are also bottom five in defending fast break scoring.

Before looking at the numbers, I would have guessed that the Grizzlies were near the bottom of the league in opponent points in the paint — there have been more than a handful of uncontested layups for Memphis opponents. Oddly enough, however, the Grizzlies rank 16th, which is exactly average.

In terms of generating blocks, the Grizzlies are above average, knocking back the 12th-most shots in the league.

Overall, it’s hard to find stats that make this team look bad which, in a weird convoluted way, signifies that this team has deep issues defensively. It’s not the obvious stuff that can be fixed by changing the game plan — there are issues with the scheme entirely. It’s still early days, but Grizz fans should have some serious concerns.

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Things will begin to heal with the return of Dillon Brooks, but this team will not be the league-best defense that some (including myself) anticipated before the season began.