It would be easy to look at this matchup and say “easy win for the Suns over a bad team, just stop Mayo and Gay.”
While limiting O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay (averaging 17.4 and 21.9 points per game, respectively) is crucial, there is more to this game between the NBA wins leader and one of the league’s worst.
So to preview this game, I’ve taken a statistical approach. First, the basics. The Suns have won six straight games at home against the Grizzlies, including three of four last season. They’ve also won 14 straight at home, including five this season.
The Grizzlies have won just one road game this year, and that came against the mediocre Philadelphia 76ers (5-8) during their current steak of winning four of five. They’re holding opponents to 96.6 points per game in their last five games, an improvement over the 111.1 in their first nine. They’re also shooting 51 percent over those five games, but the Suns lead the league in shooting percentage at 49.2 percent. However, the Grizzlies haven’t won in Phoenix since November 2005.
The base numbers make this game look like a cakewalk for the Suns, but some of the more in-depth stats make this an intriguing game. Despite the Grizzlies’ recently improved defense and the Suns’ growing reputation for clutch defense, the stats point to these teams still being among the NBA’s worst on defense.
The Suns are scoring the most points per game at 110.4, but they are also allowing 105.5 a game, making them the league’s sixth worst team in that department. Luckily for the Suns, this formula has proven fruitful, and they’ve even managed to blow out some opponents (looking at you, Detroit).
The Grizzlies, on the other hand, are just worse than the Suns in points allowed, with opponents scoring 105.9 per game on them.
A more telling statistic though that serves well to analyze these two teams is turnover ratio. Turnover ratio is the percentage of a team’s possessions that end in turnovers. The Grizzlies, at 27 percent, are second-worst in the NBA. The Suns, though, aren’t far behind at 25.3 percent (eighth-worst). So what does it mean?
These teams both like to run the floor, and this could lead to plenty of turnovers and a high-scoring affair. Ultimately, the winner may come down to who can play the best defense in a non-defensive game.
And we can certainly expect a shootout. If the Suns can force the Grizzlies to shoot from deep, they’ll be fine, as Memphis shoots a paltry 28.9 percent from beyond the arc. The Suns, meanwhile, lead the league at 44.4 percent. The Suns also lead the league in field goal percentage, where the Grizzlies rank sixth.
Looking even further, the Suns and Grizzlies are very similar teams, and floor percentage makes this even clearer. Floor percentage is the ratio of scoring possessions to total possessions. The Suns are second best in the NBA, scoring on 53.0 percent of their possessions, and the Grizzlies rank third at 52.9 percent.
Both the Suns and Grizzlies are efficient teams with similar styles, but the Grizzlies haven’t meshed until recently. The Suns could get caught off guard if they aren’t careful.
One more thing the Suns will need to do in this game is own the boards. Marc Gasol is pulling 10.7 rebounds per game and Zach Randolph has subdued his childish antics long enough to grab 9.4 per game. Grant Hill still leads the Suns in that department, averaging 7.6 rebounds per game.
That said, it’s no secret that the Suns are playing stellar basketball. Steve Nash is showing no signs of age and is in MVP form, the bench continues to impress and everyone is playing unselfish basketball. And in many circles, unselfish basketball is the key to any good team, a concept the young Grizzlies have yet to figure out.