Beno Udrih has been with the Memphis Grizzlies for a short amount of time, and he's been in the minds of Grizzlies fans for an even shorter amount of time. The team initially claimed him off waivers in late February, and it took him until the playoffs to do something that was really worth remembering.
But when Nick Calathes was suspended 20 games before the start of the playoffs, Udrih finally saw some court time, and added some extra spice to the series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He couldn't do enough to get the Grizzlies the series win, but any time a player like Udrih can fit something like 12 points into 17 minutes, it can absolutely be a helpful kick of energy. And it was loads of fun, one midrange jumper at a time.
Udrih is a simple player to profile. He's 75% midrange jumpers, 23% heady passing, and 2% unexpected spins. And when we talk about Udrih's midrange jumpers, we're talking about the most midrange-y of midrange jumpers. Udrih is a PUJIT savant, and he's one of those guys that love to take a step or two inside of the three-point arc before shooting the jumper.
And that's absolutely frustrating. As solid a midrange shooter as Udrih has proven to be, we live in a time where being a solid midrange shooter is a backhanded compliment for those guys who shoot that shot all the time. Udrih's True Shooting Percentage last season was a middling .523, a number that would almost definitely rise if he just backed up a few feet on his long twos.
In the end though, Udrih is a solid role player. Awful on defense for sure (though not for a lack of effort!), but a capable ball-handler who can knock down shots and get a team's offense going. The interesting thing with him this season will be his role. Udrih was the third string point guard last season, which translated almost entirely into garbage minutes before Calathes' suspension.
This time around though, there are circumstances in play that make Udrih a more interesting figure heading into his first full season with the Grizzlies. First of all, Calathes has 13 games remaining on his suspension. Secondly, Udrih has a bit more push to his standing on the depth chart now after his solid showing in the playoffs, and serving a training camp with the team will only help.
Even if the backup point guard spot may not be technically up for grabs, Udrih will have a window to play his way into some of Calathes' minutes. And that's without even bringing up the possibility of leftover tensions behind closed doors stemming from Calathes' offseason flirtation with the Euroleague (count me doubtful on that one, though). If Udrih picks up where he left off as instant offense off the bench through the first month of the season or so, then juggling things around when Calathes returns might be one of those things that mess up the rotation's feng shui.
But this isn't something that needs to be framed as Udrih versus Calathes. Here's another subplot to follow, relevant to all discussions of backcourt roles and rotation for next season: the likelihood of more small ball. In the series against the Thunder (admittedly, one of the easier teams to go small against, especially given that Tony Allen had Kevin Durant relatively under control), Dave Joerger got fancy and busted out a number of super small lineups (stat totals included below, mainly because the sample is too small for anything else to be more helpful than considering).
I may dive deeper into this particular lineup narrative at a later time, but even if four-guard lineups aren't as practical versus most teams as they are against the Thunder, the relative success these lineups saw could coax out Joerger's creative side – something that may just be in the team's best interests. It doesn't sound right that the Grizzlies used the Bi-Annual Exception on Udrih to have him go back to rotting away on the end of the bench, and going small could mean more minutes for Udrih without taking away as much playing time from Calathes or any of the other perimeter guys suddenly running amok over the depth chart.
And the idea of Udrih playing shooting guard is interesting, especially since it offers a different look than throwing out the dual point guard combination of Mike Conley and Calathes. Neither player is much of a threat off the ball, but Udrih has played off-guard here and there throughout his career, and he looks decisively more comfortable than the other two point guards when it comes to moving without the ball and making a play to score right on the catch.
We'll see. There are a number of variables in play surrounding Udrih heading into this season, and for a guy who's fun to watch and easy to like, the potential for him to excite again is nice. And for all the fuss about his shot selection, his defense, or his overall average-ness, Udrih can be a guy who can help the Grizzlies if the role's right.