With Zach Randolph nursing a back injury that he suffered on opening night, Memphis Grizzlies third year forward Darrell Arthur enjoyed a five game stretch as a starter, which have him his first significant minutes since his rookie season.
Seeing as the future between Zach Randolph and the Grizzlies doesn't look good at the moment -- that is unless Memphis decides to hand out another massive extension, this time to a 29-year old -- I think the stretch that Arthur had was very important, not only for Darrell's own personal growth but also for the front office to evaluate what kind of situation they would be in with the power forward spot should they have to part ways with Randolph.
Arthur was thought to be a strong power forward prospect as a first round pick out of Kansas, and he was given the opportunity to prove that right out of the gates in 2008. As a rookie, Arthur started 63 games but was disappointing overall, scoring just six points a game on six shots, while shooting an underwhelming 44% from the field. By the end of the season, Arthur had lost his starting job and even when he was starting, back-up Hakim Warrick was playing more minutes.
Last season, Arthur missed a good chunk of the season with injuries and only started one game, while appearing in just 32. Additionally, his minutes per game went down by five, from 19.3 as a rookie to 14.3 in an equally dissappointing sophomore campaign.
After starting off his career with two poor seasons, this recent stretch was important for Arthur to prove to the Grizz as well as head coach Lionel Hollins that he deserves some playing time and can be a capable starting power forward down the road. Arthur has done a good job of doing just that.
During that five game stretch, Arthur averaged 30 minutes, 14.2 points, five rebounds and 1.4 combined blocks and steals per game. That rebounding number is a bit suspect, but he wasn't horrible on the glass. You'd like for that average to be closer to seven per game for a power forward playing 30 minutes a night, but what he brought overall made up for his deficiencies on the glass.
Defensively, despite matching up against the Lakers, Warriors, Mavericks and Timberwolves in four of those five games (which means having to keep up with Pau Gasol, David Lee, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Love), Arthur was very good. He's always been a solid NBA defender because of his strong frame and good footwork, and he continued to show solid defensive fumdamentals. This is perhaps where Arthur would make his biggest contributions if he was ever given the starting power forward slot. The Grizzlies, if they were to hold on to Rudy Gay, Marc Gasol and O.J. Mayo (while letting Randolph walk) have three quality scorers that will use the majority of their possessions every night, eliminating the need for a top notch scoring power forward.
But he can still score the ball. It may be in small doses, but he can still make a high percentage of his shots when he's given the rock in his hot spots. 14.2 points per game is a good number for the fourth or fifth option on the team, and that's what Arthur was when he was on the floor with Mayo, Gay, Gasol and Mike Conley. As is the case with most kids in college, Arthur relied a lot on athleticism when he was with the Jayhawks, which hasn't translated to the NBA.
During the first two seasons of his career, Arthur converted just 53% of his looks at the rim, which is a very poor number for someone that dominated the painted area in college. Arthur also displayed a solid mid-range jumper in Kansas but, again, that didn't translate to the NBA at first. In his first two years, he shot just 38% from 10-15 feet and 37% from 16-23 feet, making him a below average shooter from both ranges.
The glimmer for hope has come this season, where Arthur has improved his mid-range percentage drastically while converting a much higher percentage of his shots at the rim. Arthur is shooting 58% of his shots from 10-15 feet, a 20% improvement from his first two seasons, and is making 78% of his shots at the basket, which is a 25% improvement over his first two seasons. Continuing the theme of improvement, Arthur has even gotten better from the charity stripe, where he is now shooting a solid 81%.
Arthur's percentage from the 10-15 feet and around the rim are likely to creep down at some point. Those numbers are hard for anyone to sustain. But what he has shown this season is a bit of growth. He has turned into a decent NBA player with an offensive identity after two seasons of sopping up minutes without any consistent contributions on either end. We know know that Arthur is going to be a strong-willed and smart defender throughout most of his NBA career while spending most of his time within 15 feet of the basket, where he has seemingly regained his touch from his college days.
Perhaps that's not what was expected out of Arthur when the Grizzlies drafted him in '07, and I'm sure Memphis's front office thought he had a brighter future ahead of him as well. But even though he likely won't ever be more than a solid starter, lets appreciate the fact that he's gone from being close to a bust to a player that can be relied on for a 12-14 points a night when he's given the minutes and some sound defense.
He's not going to be Zach Randolph -- especially on the boards. He's just not as naturally talented. But with all of the other offensive options in the starting line-up, what this team truly needs out of their power forward is good defense, hard work and the occasional efficient offensive contribution.
I'm not saying the Grizzlies should ink Arthur to a massive extension to be their power forward of the future, but until they find a more permanent replacement for Randolph if he were to leave, you can do a lot worse than Arthur.