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Breakdown: How Grizzlies can stop Knicks' perimeter assault

By Zach Harper | NBA writer
You might want to discount double check on leaving this guy open. (Getty Images)

I don't know if you've heard, but the Knicks are 6-0 and heading into Memphis on Friday night to take on the Grizzlies. There are intriguing matchups all over the court in this one.

Can the Grizzlies afford to go big and put Zach Randolph on Carmelo Anthony defensively? Can the Knicks afford to go small and put Carmelo Anthony on Zach Randolph defensively? How will Raymond Felton and Mike Conley face off against each other? Is Tyson Chandler going to be enough to keep the Grizzlies off the boards and out of the paint?

There are a ton of questions that we can ask regarding this contest, but there's one big one that should rule the game over individual showdowns.

How do the Memphis Grizzlies stop the New York Knicks from bombarding them with long-range shots?

The Knicks are a terrifying 3-point team right now. They move the ball proficiently, move well without the ball and catch the defense in zones that they're not covering. It's impressive movement and fluidity that we had hoped to see with the Knicks when Mike D'Antoni was on their sideline. New York ranks second in above-the-break 3-point percentage at 41.5 percent and fourth in 3-point percentage from the corners at 45.8 percent.

The Grizzlies have had a problem giving up 3-point looks this season. They're actually pretty good at defending the above-the-break 3-pointers, giving up just 33.7 percent from those areas (ranking 15th). They shouldn't have too hard of a time defending those shots by the Knicks, but they are truly atrocious when it comes to defending the corner 3-ball.

Memphis has allowed 50 percent of its opponents' corner 3s this season to connect. That's tied with Cleveland for second worst in the league, behind the Toronto Raptors at 53.8 percent.

So what's wrong with the Grizzlies' corner defense?

Here are three of the corner 3-pointers that the Grizzlies have given up this season. A lot of their problems stem from cutting off dribble penetration without having to bail on the corner shooters.

In the first play, there are four big problems with how the Grizzlies' defense defended this play.

  1. Rudy Gay didn't drop down and cut off Chris Paul. He's stuck in the middle between Paul and Caron Butler, never committing to either. If he cuts off Paul's penetration, the Grizzlies have a chance to rotate in a normal manner.
  2. Instead, it forces Marc Gasol to come up to stop dribble penetration to the rim.
  3. Because Gasol has to step up to stop Paul, this allows DeAndre Jordan to have a free path to the basket on the baseline.
  4. Wayne Ellington has to drop down to defend Jordan, and Willie Green is left wide open in the corner.

On this play, neither Gasol nor Randolph rotate over after Conley gambles on trapping Monta Ellis as he curls to the top of the key. If Gasol is there to stop Brandon Jennings from attacking the paint, then Gay doesn't have to leave Mike Dunleavy. Z-Bo has also stayed close to Ersan Ilyasova instead of being in proper help position in the paint.

With the paint wide open, it forces Gay to leave the corner shooter and protect the key.

Again there are four problems with this possession:

  1. Randolph is slow to recover to Chandler Parsons on the pick-and-roll.
  2. Marreese Speights doesn't step up right away. This is probably due to Omer Asik being near the baseline. But with such a historically poor free throw shooter underneath, I think you have to gamble and hope you send him to the line if he catches the pass.
  3. Jerryd Bayless has to leave Jeremy Lin in the corner and overcommit to stopping penetration.
  4. James Harden is out by the halfcourt logo, and yet Ellington is guarding the perimeter. There are a good seven feet between him and his man. Maybe drop down into help at some point?

The Grizzlies are a really good defensive team, and they're incredibly aggressive on the perimeter. But sometimes, if they're slow to cut off the ball handler, they're going to put their help defenders in precarious situations.

There are also a couple of examples of the over-aggressive nature of their best defender, Tony Allen, hurting them on corner 3-pointers because he feels the need to step up into help when nobody else is doing it.

These two 3-pointers in this video end up making Allen look bad on the perimeter. But it's really a product of the big men being slow to rotate and cut off anything coming into the lane.

With Chris Paul coming around a screen again (he does that a lot), Gasol is slow to drop down even though he's defending Jordan, who has no reliable jumper. Gay is in solid help defense here, but he still has to make a choice of whether he wants to leave Caron Butler.

Because Paul has an opening into the lane, Allen is stuck in no-man's land. He's an aggressive defender, so he's probably confident in his ability to step in against Paul driving and still recover to challenge Jamal Crawford's shot. Unfortunately, he doesn't execute this well, and the Grizzlies give up a huge 3-pointer in their only loss of the season.

Once again, look at the two big men just watching the ball handler come into the lane. You can understand why Gasol isn't stepping up on the play because he has to keep an eye on the offensive big man rotating under the basket. But Randolph is literally just hanging out and watching Stephen Curry dribble.

Allen has to step in so there's some resistance in the paint, and it leaves Klay Thompson open in the corner. This one wasn't so much Allen thinking he could recover to the shooter as it was him having to make a choice about the lesser of two evils. The Warriors made them pay.

A lot of this can be solved by continuing to be aggressive on the perimeter with their guards and having the big men back them up and cut the paint out of the equation for the offense. The Knicks love to get the ball into the middle of the floor, suck the defense in and then kick it out for big 3-point shots.

If the Grizzlies can manage to not allow the Knicks to get into the middle of the lane, we could be seeing the Knicks' first loss of the season.

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