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The Once and Future Josh

Josh Selby has shown the potential to develop into a great scoring threat for the Grizzlies in the future, but this year he's been hampered by the lockout and the ensuing shortened season.
Josh Selby has shown the potential to develop into a great scoring threat for the Grizzlies in the future, but this year he's been hampered by the lockout and the ensuing shortened season.

When the Grizzlies drafted Josh Selby in the second round of last year’s NBA Draft, despite some skepticism, he was widely regarded to be a steal – a player that probably shouldn’t have fallen as far down the draft board as he did. Due to an injury, he didn’t play much during his freshman year at Kansas, but like Kyrie Irving at Duke, he declared for the draft anyway.

He was drafted in one of the worst possible summers for a player like him – someone very raw to begin with, who missed a lot of time in his one college season. Due to the lockout, there was no Summer League, where he could get his feet wet in the NBA and start to feel out the differences of playing at the pro level. There was no normal training camp where he could learn the offense and feel out how to score against NBA defenders and how to handle the ball as well as he would need to in an NBA game. At that point, Greivis Vasquez was still on the roster (even though it seemed that Chris Wallace intended all along to swap him for Quincy Pondexter; that trade was made very quickly after the lockout came to an end) so Selby was looking at a season of being the third point guard on a playoff team.

Once the lockout ended, the training camp was extremely abbreviated, and there was almost no preseason to speak of. The Grizzlies played the New Orleans Hornets a couple of times instead of their planned 9-game schedule.

All of these things added up: in 206 minutes in 25 games for the Grizzlies, Selby has not been great. He’s scored 57 points and racked up 27 turnovers. He’s shooting about 36% overall, and 14% from three. Early in the season, it seemed like there would be a battle for the backup spot between Selby and Jeremy Pargo – but once Pargo went out and looked confident, making an occasional great play in the midst of making several terrible ones, Selby looked destined to ride the pine. The only thing that was going to acclimate him to the speed and strength of the NBA was playing NBA minutes, but with all the injury to Zach Randolph, the team was already short-handed. The Grizzlies couldn’t afford to just put Selby out on the floor and see what happened.

…which is why the D League exists. Selby was sent down to the Reno Bighorns to get some playing time, hopefully so he could get his legs under him as an NBA player. Somewhat surprisingly, he was awesome.

In eight games, four as a starter, Selby averaged 25 points in 34 minutes a game. That’s good enough to be the second highest scorer in the D League this season, behind only Mr. Linsanity himself, Jeremy Lin – but Lin only played one game for the Erie Bayhawks, in which he scored 28 points. Selby scored 38 points in his first game for Reno, and later put up 32 in a win over the Idaho Stampede (yes, that’s really the name of the team).

The kid can obviously score. D League success doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s going to be a great NBA player, but this year has seen several D League guys make the transistion to quality NBA rotation players. The D League continues to develop into a legitimate minor league system for the NBA, a way to develop talent and build teams without having to sacrifice priceless minutes in real regular season games.

The end of the Grizzlies regular season has seen the rise of Gilbert Arenas as a quality backup point guard, and O.J. Mayo has also seen a lot of minutes at the point. Potentially, neither of those guys will be in Memphis next year. Jeremy Pargo has played well at times and played like hot garbage at other times. It remains to be seen whether he can get himself to a place where he’s a legitimate backup PG.

Going forward, it looks like next year could be a good year for Josh Selby. With a whole offseason ahead of him – Summer League, a real training camp and a full preseason schedule – he could get the minutes and experience he needs to develop into the steal of a player people said he was when the Grizzlies drafted him. He’s proven that he can score in the D League. A guy that can come off the bench and run the offense and score is something the Grizzlies have been looking for since they sent Kyle Lowry packing all those years ago. Jamaal Tinsley and Greivis Vasquez were okay; Selby can be legitimately good. (Aside: I like Vasquez as a player — I like his fearlessness and his work ethic — but I do think he's probably got a lower ceiling as a pro than Selby does.)

And besides, the guy just turned 21 last month. He’s got time to develop into a great piece of the Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind puzzle. Here’s looking at you, kid.