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Memphis Grizzlies 2016-2017 Player Previews: DJ Stephens

Former Tiger DJ Stephens is a fan favorite, but will his otherworldly athleticism be enough to overcome a roster crunch?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Memphis Tigers fans likely need little introduction to DJ Stephens. The freakishly athletic forward spent four seasons at the University of Memphis before going undrafted in spite of setting NBA records for both standing vertical (40") and running vertical (46").

For those of you not familiar with DJ Stephens, here is a video of DJ being DJ:

(Note: There was no Flubber on DJ’s shoes in this video.)

After college, Stephens joined Miami and Dallas for Summer League stints before spending his first two seasons bouncing back and forth between countries, logging playing time in Greece, Turkey, and Russia in addition to earning a 10-day contract with the Bucks.

Now, after failing to stick anywhere in the league so far, Stephens will get another chance to impress NBA teams this preseason with the Grizzlies. But does the former Tiger have a chance to latch on in the city where he spent his college years?

2015-16 Overview

Stephens' 2015-16 season saw the Memphis product piling up a lot fewer frequent flyer miles than previous years. After playing four preseason games with the Cleveland Cavaliers, Stephens was acquired by the Canton Charge, the Cavs' D-League affiliate. There, Stephens played 27 games, averaging 8.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks in 19.8 minutes per game.

Then, on March 5, Stephens was traded to the Iowa Energy in exchange for a sixth round pick. Over the rest of the season, Stephens' playing time picked up, as did his stats. On March 28, Stephens even collected Player of the Week honors for a week in which he averaged 24.7 points on 61.4% shooting, with 8.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 1.3 assists, and 1.3 steals per game.

Following his D-League stint, Stephens donned a Memphis jersey for the first time since college, joining the Grizzlies for Las Vegas Summer League before signing a partially guaranteed deal with the team on August 8.

Projected Role

Right now, it's hard to see Stephens as much more than a camp body. The Grizzlies already have an abundance of small forwards ahead of him, and even with Chandler Parsons limited coming into training camp, it's hard to see Stephens' name on a roster that already includes Parsons, Ennis, and Carter at the position. Stephens is likely battling Troy Williams for fourth on the roster at the three, which isn't an ideal situation for a guy hoping to make the team, especially considering the fact that Williams is four years Stephens’ junior and offers more upside.

Besides, even if he manages to make the team, Stephens' minutes would likely be limited in Memphis. That's not a critique; it's just the reality of the situation.

There’s also the question of whether DJ has what it takes to make an NBA team. I didn't see Stephens in D-League action last season, so I asked D-League expert Chris Reichart for his insight (more specifically, I asked whether he thought DJ was good enough to make an NBA roster, and his thoughts on Stephens' defense):

That's definitely encouraging for a potential end of bench player, and, regardless of Stephens' situation in Memphis, it'd be nice for him to find success in the NBA, even if it's not in the Bluff City.

Best Case Scenario

Stephens blows away coaches in camp and puts on a clinic in the preseason, forcing the team to make room for him on 15-man roster. With Parsons sidelined early in the season, Stephens manages to find sporadic playing time behind Ennis and Carter.

More importantly, though, Stephens earns an invite to the NBA Dunk Contest on All-Star Weekend. There, he puts on a display that amazes the world. Stephens' dunks comprise the entirety of SportsCenter's Top 10 plays for the weekend, and, regardless of what happens on the court for the rest of the season, Stephens becomes an NBA legend.

Worst Case Scenario

As expected, Stephens is cut at the end of camp. In spite of this, he manages to find his way onto an NBA roster (good!) but then, in a late season game, Stephens goes off against the Grizzlies in a game that costs Memphis in a tightly contested Western Conference playoff race (bad).

Overall Expectations

As much as Memphis fans would love to see Stephens on the roster, he's got an uphill battle to earn a roster spot, and the numbers just aren't in his favor. Stephens has otherworldly leaping ability, but that won’t help him leapfrog all the players ahead of him on the depth chart. Outside of Stephens being a revelation in camp and preseason, he'll likely be a casualty come roster cut time.

But even if it's not in Memphis, it'd be nice to see Stephens find a home in the NBA, an accomplishment that would also offer fans the possibility of seeing him in the dunk contest, which is something we can all agree needs to happen.

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