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If the Grizzlies somehow win their next three games and upset the Jazz, their yearlong embrace of a shot that teeters on the edge of NBA basketball’s endangered species list is sure to play a role.
Memphis tried more than a couple hundred floats more than any other team this season. It’s a considerable part of his identity when a vast majority of the league treats shooting as self-polluting. He’s been particularly relevant in this series too, against a Jazz team that built its elite defense by specifically forcing offenses to settle for the very looks Memphis loves. It’s a riveting battle within the larger war, one that, depending on how you look at it, can be the saving grace of the Grizzlies or a fatal flaw.
The float is not a corner three. It is not a tray or a dump. A foul is unlikely and is often thrown into traffic by a shooter who must keep his balance despite throwing his body into the paint before delicately tossing the ball over the fingertips of a blocker of shots that goes backwards. It requires touch, and by giving up just two points with a high degree of difficulty, it is a natural enemy of analytics and efficiency.
But like jazz guard Mike Conley put it last year: “With the way the defenses play, going down, their greats are way back in the paint, you have that shot almost anytime you want it.” When taken by players who really know how to make them, the floats are also almost impossible to stop; In their most ideal form, they exist as the perfect antidote to someone like, say, Rudy Gobert, who erases everything on the rim while allowing his teammates to stay home along the three-point line.
On the surface, that’s pretty convenient for the Grizzlies, considering they have multiple players who know how to do it. 29.4% leader in the league of Memphis’ shots in the regular season came between four feet and the free throw line, unofficially labeled a floating zone. In the playoffs that frequency has shot up to 34.7%, higher than any other team and 13.5% above the league average.
According to Synergy Sports, five Grizzlies had at least 20% of their shots classified as a running back (aka floater) this season: Ja Morant, Tyus Jones, Xavier Tillman, Brandon Clarke and Kyle Anderson. No other team had more than three players above 20%, while a vast majority finished with one or zero players above that mark.
Also according to Synergy Sports, Memphis ranked fifth in floating field goal percentage (46.4%) during the regular season, while Morant has been its most powerful practitioner in the playoffs: 41% of their shots come from the short midrange and a whopping 52.4% of its floats have entered.
“It plays a little to our advantage,” Morant said when I asked him before Game 3 about the impact his floaters can still have against the Jazz. “Obviously you can’t force that shot. But … I feel like we have a lot of players who are very comfortable shooting those shots. So it helps us a bit. “
(As Jazz coach Quin Snyder said on television during Game 4: “We’re doing [Morant] shoot floaters. Unfortunately, he’s pretty good at that shot ”).
Morant has tried to incinerate Gobert on several occasions in this series, but has also recognized when his explosiveness could be null and void, or at least less effective than a touch of touch that cannot be rejected.
Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins understands why float is important against Utah, but he’s also not particularly in love with how often his team lets them fly, despite having multiple players taking advantage of them in a beneficial way.
“I’d say it’s good to have him in your arsenal. All season long, obviously against the Jazz forcing you to make those shots, it’s useful, ”Jenkins said. “But we have to find more balance. We have talked about that throughout the season. Painting has been a great key for us. Obviously floating and midrange play has been important to us. But we’ve definitely emphasized the ability to try to get more 3s in a lot of different areas – the transition game, our pick and roll game, just get the ball moving a little bit more. “
No player in the league can speak better of float value than Grizzlies point guard Tyus Jones, who has a higher float rate than any other player in the league by a significant margin. According to Synergy Sports, 43% of all Jones shots were floating this season. Trae Young came in second with 35.7%. When releasing the ball, Jones tries not to aim at the backboard or at any part of the ring. You want it to fall directly through the hoop. But the speed of the game makes that goal so difficult, especially in the playoffs.
“Sometimes if it’s a difficult angle or your momentum can take you from side to side, you just have to get it up to the rim,” he told me. “Whether it’s jumping on one foot or two feet, I think trying to balance is the most important piece for me before I lift my float. And then the bow on the float allows him, even if he hits the hoop, to have a soft landing and a soft touch to roll around the hoop and fall. ”
Jones also credits the floater as a shot that can set up different passes. When you run a pick-and-roll, it can help engage a big man who falls a step higher than he might otherwise like, forcing aid defenders to worry about a rolling screen a beat earlier. Here’s an example from this series, where Gobert is active to prevent Jones from seeing the rim clearly. He reacts by throwing a pass to De’Anthony Melton, who blows through the closure and makes a play.
The Grizzlies have shown that they can win by taking such difficult shots at high volume (in their win over the Spurs, they attacked from the float zone more than any other area of the court), but, back to Jenkins’ comment, the fact that only the Wizards have a three-point lower rate in these playoffs, and only three teams were below the Grizzlies during the regular season, is a natural concern. (In other words, in the playoffs have an average of 30.2 shots per game outside the restricted area but inside the paint. The Wizards are in second place with … 24 attempts).
Some of that is down to the Utah defense, and some to the Memphis staff. Morant hit 30.3% of his 3s during the regular season and scored as many in his win over the Warriors (five) as he has in this series. On the other hand, the Grizzlies’ best outside shooters (Grayson Allen, Desmond Bane and Melton) come off the bench, while Jaren Jackson Jr.’s three-point accuracy has plummeted this year after shooting nearly 40% during its second season.
For Memphis to finally get where it wants to go, the 3-point shot will have to be more ingrained in who they are. But for the rest of this series, at least, they’ll live and die in a shot that other teams don’t even feel the need to practice.
“We’re just taking what the defense gives us,” Jones said. “And if they’re going to invite the float, we definitely won’t turn it down. I feel like it’s an art form that doesn’t get as much attention as it should. We are trying to keep the float alive. “
More coverage of the NBA playoffs:
• Chris Paul is back and brought the Suns with him
• The mental danger of this NBA season
• Atlanta is falling in love with Trae Young
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.