The Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies are locked in an epic battle. Both teams would love to advance to the Western Conference Finals, but the fight we are talking about is different. This is a struggle between the NBA’s new positionless basketball and a good old fashioned team of grinders.
Golden State plays at a frenetic pace, leading the league at 98.3 possessions per 48 minutes. They don’t need a shot clock or even a good screen. Every player has a green light and they shoot with impunity. If you think they are doing something wrong, their 67-15 regular season record disagrees.
On the season, the Warriors shot an incredible 2,217 3-point attempts, nearly 1,000 more than the Grizzlies. They hit a league-leading 39.8 percent from deep, meaning they averaged 1.19 points per 3-point attempt. Most teams struggle to get that number from the corner 3.
The Warriors are an offensive juggernaut with skilled shooters and passers at every position. And oh yeah, they held their opponents to a league-best 42.8 percent shooting from the field.
But then you have the old guard. The Grizzlies are no slouch. They won 55 games in the regular season, but they did it in a conventional way. After taking a 2-1 lead over the Warriors in the Western Conference Semifinals, they are showing that there is more to basketball than a group of pretty jump shooters.
Memphis grinds it out. They play through their two bigs all game long. They ranked 26th in the league in pace, which is the darling buzz word in the world of advanced statistics. Memphis held their opponent to just 95.1 points per game, good enough for second-best in the league and built their name on hard-nosed, conventional basketball despite employing stats guru John Hollinger on their management staff.
While Golden State bombed away, the Grizzlies ranked 29th in 3-point attempts and makes. They shot just 33.9 percent from deep, which ranks 22nd in the NBA, but they led the league in made 2-pointers and finished second in attempts.
Why do all of these stats matter? Because the Sacramento Kings need an identity and these two teams represent clear paths they can follow. This is the cream of the crop in the Western Conference.
In its current incarnation, Sacramento’s roster is certainly more Memphis than it is Golden State. The gaping disparity in defensive acumen easily accounts for the difference in win totals between the Kings and these two powerhouse teams. But if there is a path to follow, which one should Vlade Divac and Pete D’Alessandro choose?
DeMarcus Cousins fits as a hybrid of both Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol. He can score, rebound and pass with the best of them, but he needs help to take the Kings to the next level. The Warriors don’t have a player in the post that can touch what Cousins can do, but they likely wish they did.
Rudy Gay makes a lot of sense as well in a Memphis-type system. He spent 6 ½ seasons with the Grizzlies and would probably be a better fit for their club right now than Jeff Green. But it’s not like you can’t see him as a third scorer on a team like Golden State.
Darren Collison is more Mike Conley than Steph Curry, Ben McLemore has Tony Allen’s potential as a defender, but way more upside as an offensive weapon. He’s not Klay Thompson, but you never know what year three may hold for the 22-year-old.
We could continue to break down the Kings roster, but it’s likely to change tremendously over the next few months. At least it should after 29 wins and nine straight seasons without a playoff appearance. This is a broken team in need of a makeover.
It’s more than just a lack of talent or poorly accumulated pieces. Sacramento needs a direction. George Karl would love to have the Warriors’ weapons, but for now, he can ask for more shooters and more playmakers. Hopefully he will get the chance to blend these two styles of play into something different. He needs a run and gun team that can bury you in the half court with a beast of a big man.
I’m not sure that we know what that team may look like. Maybe the 1992-93 Phoenix Suns or Rudy Tomjanovich’s 1994 and 1995 Championship teams? Kings fans would be just fine watching that style of basketball for the next few seasons in Sacramento.
The Sacramento Kings are at a crossroads. The NBA is at a crossroads. Teams like the Warriors are the soup de jour. They draw crowds and are the talk of the league. Memphis doesn’t care for any of the fanfare, but they keep plugging away in dominant fashion.
These franchises provide a path. The Sacramento Kings are looking for a blueprint to follow. Maybe the Kings can find a way to move forward with a blended version of the two.