Pete Fleischer is back all week with a series on what to expect from all the players on the Memphis Grizzlies Summer League roster. Summer League can tell you a lot about some players -- Anthony Morrow can shoot a little bit -- or be a big lie -- Marcus Williams is the future -- but most importantly, it tells you about the little improvements each player is working on in the offseason.
First up are the regulars, starting with everyone's favorite, Hasheem Thabeet. For some reason I feel like we'll be doing this again next year...
While the media and impatient fans have already labeled Hasheem Thabeet as a "bust" because of the high expectations for a 2nd overall pick, encouraging signs from Thabeet this summer might indicate that he is ready for significant NBA minutes as the first big man off the bench.
Over the jump are the things that Grizzlies fans might want to look for in Vegas next week if Thabeet is going to shake off those "bust" labels in his sophomore campaign.
-Aggression: Thabeet is known as a raw, unskilled player offensively, but as the saying goes, numbers don't lie. Thabeet's highest shot count was seven in one game last year, which is very low given his 59% field goal percentage. Of course, part of the reason Thabeet wasn't shooting is because he's just not great at creating his own shot, but that was against the NBA's best centers.
Thabeet can't score if he's not pulling the trigger in the post. Even if he's got only a couple moves -- most notably his decent hooks and 12 foot jumper -- or shots to get off, his 7'3'' body is going to allow him to do a fair amount of scoring. And his offensive rebounding and ability to dunk practically flat footed mean he should at least bang in put-back attempts to score in double-digits.
If Thabeet comes into the Summer League assertive, looking for his shot and making himself an offensive threat in the low post, Grizz fans might have a pleasant surprise come the regular season.
And fans would be especially thrilled to see Thabeet running up and down the floor, since he's supposedly got elite speed for someone with a body Yao Ming. It'd be great just to see him playing like he's enjoying himself, scoring because it's fun.
-Desire: Is Thabeet comfortable with going down as one of the stupidest draft picks ever, or does he want to improve? At times last season Grizzlies brass was frustrated with Thabeet's apparent complacency.
However, Hasheem did improve upon his return to the NBA after shredding the NBADL. He came up with a few near double-double games in March and April, and made positive contributions as a starter once Marc Gasol was lost for the season. But does he have the work ethic to get better?
Thabeet's now had a whole offseason with an NBA coaching and weight training staff. If he hasn't demonstrated the desire to improve this summer by concentrating specific aspects of his game, Memphis fans have every right to be discouraged.
-Shot repertoire: Is Thabeet going to shoot anything from further than five feet away from the basket this summer? Will we see anything resembling a jump shot, or creativity regarding post moves?
Make no buts about it, Hasheem Thabeet's size is not the same type of crutch as Dwight Howard's athleticism. He will have to learn an array of post moves if he wants to be an offensive threat, and he has had time to pick up a couple of new tricks, or some added range, in the time since we've seen him last.
Look to see if Thabeet runs the pick and pop with O.J. Mayo in the first few games, because there's nothing more terrifying to opposing defenses than a huge center draining shots from the top of the key. And the addition of some actual moving moves, like up-and-under's or a spin, would make Grizz fans giddy.
As nice of a bonus as offense would be, Thabeet really just needs to shine defensively to be a successful player. The only reason that the Grizzlies could justify drafting him was that they couldn't resist a player that reminded them of Dikembe Mutomboon the less glamorous end, a guy that changed the game just by lurking in the post.
But just like with his offensive game, Thabeet's got some work to do to be a high quality defensive player.
-Stay out of foul trouble: The aggression on defense is good to see from Hasheem, as it is a sharp contrast from his meek offensive tendencies. But when you're in foul trouble within minutes of entering the ballgame, something's not right.
Thabeet actually racked up blocks at an impressive rate last season, averaging 3.6 blocks per 36 minutes. The problem is that he also averaged 6.6 fouls per 36, which just so happens to be more than you're allowed, so Thabeet only played 16 minutes per game.
If could stay in the game for same amount of minutes as Howard, today's shot-blocking gold standard, Thabeet would have actually led the league in blocks. If he can maintain that kind of prowess without fouling every other possession, the Grizz might have a genuine defensive intimidator.
With tight whistles but a whopping 10 fouls to give in the Summer League, hopefully Thabeet never sees the bench because of foul trouble.
-Speed of the game: This goes hand-in-hand with staying out of foul trouble, but Thabeet consistenly reads and reacts a step slow on defense. If Thabeet is late in help defense situations and bites on every post move, this season could be more of the same. But if he's anticipating better on defense and staying patient in one-on-one situations, allowing his length to help him react late, that means things are starting to click for Hasheem.
This might be the most important change Grizzlies fans should look for, because it means that Thabeet is becoming an actual basketball player instead of just a big athlete that takes up space. If Thabeet is starting to understand the game on defense, it might mean that he's catching on and responding to coaching, which is the only way he'll realize his potential.
Of course how well a player reads the game doesn't show up in the box score, but a positive plus-minus and low foul counts would indicate Thabeet's starting to think like an NBA player.
-More defensive rebounds: Thabeet's 3.6 rebounds in 13 minutes isn't horrible, but he should be grabbing more, especially since about a third of his boards were offensive. At the rate he grabbed boards last year, he'd average 9.9 over 36 minutes.
Marcus Camby didn't even average 8 points last year, but he's extremely valuable because of his tenacious rebounding,11.8, good for second in the league. That's the type of player Hasheem needs to be to help Memphis improve. If he's not grabbing double digit rebounds every night this summer, again, especially against the weak Summer League front-court competition, he's not rebounding adequately.