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The Memphis Grizzlies' Energetic Future: The Impact of the NBA Draft on D-League Development

As was discussed this past week on GBBLive, one of the best things for the Memphis Grizzlies about the single-affiliation with the D-League's Iowa Energy is the development of players who Memphis would not be able to hold on to otherwise. Grizzlies owner Robert Pera has stated repeatedly that he is willing to invest to make Memphis a champion. The wave of the future is the D-League, and a wise first investment or two would be in 2nd round picks and undrafted rookies to round out the Energy roster.

Joe Harris would be an excellent target of the Grizzlies' D-League affiliate, the Iowa Energy
Joe Harris would be an excellent target of the Grizzlies' D-League affiliate, the Iowa Energy
Streeter Lecka

The future of the NBA is upon us.

No, analytics are not the topic of this article, and neither is small ball leading to the death of the Center position. Nor is it LeBron James' evolution of the game physically into a position-less free-for-all, or Joel Embiid's, Andrew Wiggins' and Jabari Parker's impending coronations as the next wave of generational talents bringing their gifts to a professional hardwood near you this Winter.

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That new feeling of, well, energy is in regards to a movement in the Association toward the development of entire organizations from the top down. 17 of the 18 teams in the NBA Development League, or D-League, now have a single affiliation with an NBA team, a new record. There are multiple reasons for such a jump in partnerships; for the NBA team, for example, it allows for a place in which scheme and playing time can be installed and given out as the team wishes, allowing for experimentation and growth of younger players who would not get big time minutes with the big-league ball club.

However, it is a symbiotic relationship, one that the D-League partner benefits from as well. The D-League team sees an infusion of interest from the fan base of the NBA squad, as well as an infusion of resources like access to NBA Front Office Personnel and financial backing. As was discussed on GBBLive this week with Chris Makris, the Iowa Energy's General Manager, Jed Kaplan, a minority owner of the Memphis Grizzlies, purchasing the Energy opened the doors to change of thought process and organizational structure. Makris is in Memphis now, a part of the Grizzlies' final preparations for the 2014 NBA Draft.

It is like a marriage; it is no longer about just the Grizzlies. It is about how the Iowa Energy can be improved through this draft process, and how the Energy can help develop coaches, front office personnel and, most importantly, players who can become a part of the Memphis Grizzlies in the years ahead. A veteran roster such as Memphis has little use for a 2nd round pick or an undrafted player; hell, if Tayshaun Prince were a third of the player he used to be there would be little immediate need for the 22nd overall pick.

Des Moines, Iowa, the home of the Energy, is a perfect place for these kinds of players to get meaningful playing time, fill holes in their respective games and better prepare themselves for the moment when they get their opportunity at the bright lights of the National Basketball Association. Robert Pera, the owner of the Grizzlies who has said over and over that he is willing to invest in bringing a title to Memphis, no doubt understands the challenges of an NBA team in a small market. In the absence of key role players coming to Memphis in free agency, why not grow your own on the farm known as the Iowa Energy?

What kinds of players can be had who can fit such needs at a value? Some examples;

The Injury Risk/Reward Play: Spencer Dinwiddie, Guard, Colorado

Let's play some blind comparison. Using their 2013-2014 stats, who are players A, B and C?

  • Player A- 16.1 Points Per Game, 46% Field Goal Percentage, 42% 3-Point Field Goal Percentage, 4 Rebounds, 2 Assists. 6'8", 215 lbs.
  • Player B- 14.3 Points Per Game, 41% Field Goal Percentage, 35% 3-Point Field Goal Percentage, 4 Rebounds, 2 Assists. 6'6", 215 lbs.
  • Player C- 14.7 Points Per Game, 47% Field Goal Percentage, 41% 3-Point Field Goal Percentage, 3 Rebounds, 4 Assists. 6'6", 200 lbs.

Player A is Rodney Hood, a possible Lottery pick, will more than likely not get past pick 18 or so. Player B is James Young, again, late Lottery ceiling but won't be out of the first round and has been discussed as a possible Grizzly draftee both here and here.

Player C? Spencer Dinwiddie. Here is a preseason breakdown of Dinwiddie's game from before the 2013-2014 season, followed by a highlight reel of his Junior season at Colorado.

A combo guard with size and length who gets to the free throw line and has a great motor, being credited as being able to stay with great players such as Marcus Smart and Andrew Wiggins, two likely lottery picks. Despite a lack of athleticism, the strengths in his game check off a lot of Grizzly needs; can create for himself and others, shoot from range, create contact and convert free throws at a high rate, defend multiple positions and make those around him better.

Between film, and statistical information, this guy has the feel of a possible lottery-to-mid 1st round talent right alongside James Young and Rodney Hood. His game is even more refined at this point than Young's. So, what gives? Why the late 1st and even 2nd round projections?

Dinwiddie tore his ACL in January, ending his Junior season and while his decision to leave school for the NBA caught some by surprise, his college coach tad Boyle summed it up nicely-

"Somebody is going to get a hell of a player and they’re going to get him for bargain prices"

Health risks are always scary, and the difference in guaranteed money and length of contracts between 1st and 2nd round picks could very likely result in a talent like Dinwiddie falling to the 2nd round. If this happens, Dinwiddie is an ideal target for the Grizzlies to buy or trade in to the 2nd round for. Any lingering effects from his traumatic injury could be rehabilitated and worked through with the Energy in Iowa, and as he returns to form he can catch up with the speed of the game at the NBA level.

Several months, or even a year, in Des Moines would do wonders to restore confidence in not only his knee, but his skill set. Dinwiddie would be ready to produce and perform at a Lottery level for 2nd round pricing, a huge victory for the small market Grizzlies. If he fails? All it cost you was a 2nd round pick. Low risk, high reward.

The Questionable Athlete: Joe Harris, Guard/Forward, Virginia

You've surely heard it before.

Sure, he can shoot, but can he defend at the NBA level?

That kid is TOO slow, can you imagine him trying to defend an NBA wing?

I don't care how smart he is, he can't play in the League.

To be fair, these quotes fit Joe Harris' profile to an extent.

  • He can most certainly shoot; his career 41% three point percentage is impressive, considering he shot 646 three pointers in his 4 years at the University of Virginia.
  • As a graduate of UVA, one of the top universities in the country, he is more than likely intelligent.
  • His athleticism left something to be desired against ACC competition.

What these generalizations leave out is that Joe Harris had a tremendous career at UVA. This tribute video showcases that pretty well.

Of course, a successful NCAA career does not mean that a player will see success at the NBA level. Another thing that those "Joe Harris is a niche shooter" generalizations does not take in to account is that Joe Harris' ability to shoot the basketball is very in demand in this 21st century efficiency based NBA, and he has showcased that skill for vaiours NBA teams leading up to the draft.

Another tidbit left out of generalizations about Joe Harris and players like him is that he understands the perception of him, and is determined to develop those weaknesses in his game so that they do not cost him a shot at the NBA.

Both workout clips showcase footwork drills, defending drills and driving to the rim off of pump fakes. Joe Harris has the mental toughness and capacity to get the most out of his physical skill set and put himself in positions both offensively and defensively to be successful. Are there questions about his ability to match the athleticism of the NBA? Of course. Buy in, trade, use a 2nd round pick on him or if he goes undrafted snatch him up. Send him to Des Moines, an in between opportunity to see if Harris can indeed keep up and if that quick shooting stroke can make up for weaknesses elsewhere.

Joe Harris and players like him bring the ability to space the floor. Memphis could use that, and for cheap. Give the questionable athlete a chance to rise. He doesn't need to be a starter for the Grizzlies eventually, but he can provide a skill desperately lacking at times for the Bears of Beale Street.

The European Mystery: Janis Timma, Forward, Latvia

Grizzlies fans know Janis Timma a little bit by this point. The last pick of the 2013 NBA Draft, Timma played in Europe this past season and showed potential to run the floor and shoot the three. Timma averaged 11.6 points per game on 46% shooting and 37% shooting from beyond-the-arc. Timma also averaged 6 rebounds, 3 assists and a steal per game. His offensive efficiency of 115 and defensive efficiency of 91 showed a level of dominance, and his PER being near 20 no doubt did a world of good in the heart of the man who helped draft him to Memphis, John Hollinger.

Despite his success in Europe, it did not translate to his limited action before this past season in the NBA Summer League. Timma shot 21% from the field during six games in the Summer League, 11% from three and had a PER of 2.7. Six games is a small sample size, but you could tell in watching the games it was a big step up in competition. He, of course, was nowhere near seasoned enough to stay on the main roster in Memphis and was shipped back overseas to continue to develop.

No offense to BK Ventspils in Janis' native Latvia, but Timma would benefit from leaving Europe behind and coming over to the United States to play for the Iowa Energy. The Summer League is very similar to the level of play experienced day in and day out in the D-League, and Timma would benefit from seeing that on a consistent basis. He is not even 22 yet, so his game can still improve a good bit and if he is willing would be a worthy D-League investment, as would other foreign players. Bogdan Bogdanovic, Clint Capela, Alessandro Gentile and Jusuf Nurkic are just some of the names who could potentially be had in the 2nd round and as undrafted rookies.

Potential athletic bigs, secondary ball handlers, athletic wings and floor spacers can be found in Europe, as teams such as the San Antonio Spurs have proven time and again. The D-League is a tremendous opportunity to allow for the Grizzlies to see what exactly they have in this foreign players and if the skills they showcased in their home countries translate to the NBA.


Not every team can be the Spurs, drafting legendary players and having the greatest coach of all-time. All organizations can try to emulate the success of the Miami Heat, but signing the best in the Association in free agency is not an option for teams in areas without sandy beaches and the bright lights of big city living. For a team like the Grizzlies, they can take the D-League movement and make it their own farm system of role players, foreign athletes who need refining, injured players making recoveries and niche players who need to develop into the specific schemes of the Grizzlies.

The partnership with the Iowa Energy will pay dividends for both sides for years to come. Memphis was wise to invest in the future of the NBA. Now, it is up to both front offices to work together to make the future for both the Energy and the Grizzlies as bright as possible.