Opportunity. Impact. Two of the most sought after things in the day-to-day lives of all of us who work for a living. A chance for a better life for ourselves and those we support, and to be able to influence (in a good way) the world around us in the process. Sometimes one comes without the other. Far too often in life, neither come often enough for folks along the way. When those moments of impact, those opportunities for true significance in what we do come along, they need to be seized.
Beno Udrih already knows this. And lives it.
The City of Memphis' NBA franchise has become a safe landing spot for those who need another opportunity to make an impact. Zach Randolph and Tony Allen, two of the city's most beloved icons, have thrived in their second chances. Giving birth to movements isn't easy; it takes hard work, years of that Grit and Grind that is so often thrown around by media and fan alike. It is one thing to say it, it is another to BE it.
Beno Udrih already knows this. And lives it.
When he was claimed off waivers last season from the New York Knicks, few (if any) could have had any real understanding of what kind of impact a player like Beno Udrih was going to have in the Bluff City. Beno was a target for the Grizzlies before he signed with the Knicks, but especially with the development of Nick Calathes, Udrih seemed to be nothing more than a 3rd string point guard option. All Beno could do was wait for an opportunity to make an impact.
Beno's journeyman career started in San Antonio, where never averaged more than 14 minutes per game, but shwoed flashes of his capabilities as a player in the Association. Especially effective in the pick-and-roll, Udrih produced at a high enough level as a part of the Spurs' championship organization that he had an opportunity to go and start in Sacramento for the Kings. He started in over 200 games for Sacramento, being an average player on a Kings team that never made the playoffs.
Then came a stint in Milwaukee, where he did not start, but he did play a good percentage of his minutes at the shooting guard position. This experience off the ball allowed for him to expand his game, but again there were no postseason appearances for Udrih with the Bucks. He was traded to Orlando, then signed with the Knicks in New York, all along the way having less and less of a role, and fewer minutes in fewer appearances, especially with the Knicks. New York waived him, and Memphis claimed him.
And in a shocking and long-awaited twist, the Memphis Grizzlies' history took a unique turn.
Gilbert Arenas. Greivis Vasquez. Keyon Dooling. These are but a few of the names off the long and not-so-distinguished list of Grizzlies backup point guards from recent years. Nick Calathes had success during the 2013-2014 season, but because the winning ways of the team hinged so much on Mike Conley's health, the Grizzlies decided to bring Beno in as an additional insurance policy. Beno played in 10 games and had minimal influence in his 5.5 minutes per game. The end of the bench seemed to be where Udrih's career would end.
Then, an opportunity.
Nick Calathes was suspended for 20 games due to his use of Tamoxifen, an estrogen blocker banned by the NBA. All of a sudden, Beno Udrih, who had not played in a postseason contest since 2007 and hadn't played in double-digit minutes per playoff game since 2005, had become one of the most (if not the single most) important members of the Grizzlies' bench. Memphis was heading to Oklahoma City for a first round playoff matchup with the Thunder, and again fans cursed whoever was responsible for ruining the Grizzlies with such a run of bad luck at one position.
Then, the impact.
Beno made an impact, and he did it early. In games two and three of the series (both wins) Beno caught lightning in a bottle, shooting a combined 11-14 from the field (78.5%). He facilitated the offense, dictated tempo, and made the smart play, including sometimes calling his own number (including that mid-range jumper we all have come to know and love). Here are some clips from game two:
And from game three:
Beno could not possibly play at that clip consistently. A playoff PER of 13.2, however, was higher than could have been expected from someone thrown to the wolves as Udrih had been. The Grizzlies fell to the Thunder in seven games, but with 13 to go in Nick Calathes' suspension, Grizzlies fans knew that Beno, who re-signed with Memphis using the league's Bi-Annual Exception over two seasons (with the second year partially guaranteed), could more than hold his own for those games. Then, surely the 6'6" Calathes, with his youth and all his potential and "Wiz Calathes" charms as a passer and defender, would take back that role as the season grinded on.
Then, something funny happened. Beno bought in to Memphis. His positive outlook on Twitter spawned faux accounts and led to fans feeling closer to Udrih through the medium of social media. He went out on the town, he was at Bar-B-Que Fest as part of Memphis in May. He embraced the city that had given him, through twists of fate, a second chance. And they, as they had with Tony Allen and Zach Randolph before him, embraced him back.
Of course, the high rate of play Beno began the season with did not hurt either. Like Lou Gehrig and Tom Brady before him, he took on another opportunity and made another impact. He shot 52.6% from the field, including an impressive 57.4% percentage at home, during those Calathes-less games. His shot chart from during that time period showed his ability to get to the rim and execute in the mid-range.
Udrih had a -.4 net rating, with a 103.6 offensive efficiency and a 104 defensive efficiency, during that stretch. He had started the season as the true backup point and played well, doing what the Grizzlies needed him to do. His scoring ability, especially from the mid-range off the dribble, has become a weapon other teams have to respect and game plan for. Perhaps most importantly, he was invested in the city, in the franchise, and in the team and his teammates. He was there when his teammates needed him. Calathes was not, and despite perhaps having more physical gifts, Udrih has maintained his position as the true back up point guard. One man's missed opportunity is another's chance at renewal.
And in recent games, with Mike Conley sidelined due to injury, that role has led to even more opportunity, and again more impact. In two recent games a starter, a role he hasn't served consistently in years, Udrih has been simply remarkable. Shooting 68.4% from the field in those two games, Udrih has an offensive efficiency of 110.8 and defensive efficiency of 99.8, especially impressive considering he was defending Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers for much of that contest. His production has led to the Grizzlies not missing a beat without one of their leaders. Beno capped his latest piece of brilliance, a 17 point on 7-7 shooting, 7 rebound, and 3 assist night against Portland, with a flash for the dramatic.
With the collective breath of GrizzNation being held, Beno Udrih, again, was there when the Grizzlies needed him most. An opportunity to make an impact achieved.
Outplaying one of the top young point guards in the NBA surprised many, probably even Beno Udrih himself. His career has not been without its peaks and valleys, but whose hasn't? Whether in athletics or elsewhere, failure finds us all. It is about the next chance at that impact that inspires and drives us. We must always be ready for whatever comes our way with regard to opportunity. Memphis has become a measuring stick of sorts for players of this type, an NBA proving ground where players will get their opportunity at moments of impact. When that moment arrives, it is up to the player to make the most of it.
Beno does just that, and inspires others to do the same in the process. Another second chance success story for the Grizzlies, and another chapter in Memphis Grizzlies' history is being written by the unlikeliest of authors.
Opportunity. Impact. Beno knows them both well, and he has made the most of his own unique journey.