It's been a rough couple of years for the Memphis Grizzlies in regards to their young prospects.
Jordan Adams, the Grizzlies 2014 first round pick, has played in 32 games and logged 263 minutes through his first two NBA seasons, and while he's shown flashes of having the ability to be a productive rotation player, it's nearly impossible for the Grizzlies to have him in their plans going forward. Adams played sparingly as a rookie, and almost exclusively in garbage time, but there was reason to believe that the young scoring guard would be able to carve out a few more minutes in year two.
But a pair of knee surgeries put those plans on hold, and Adams missed 80 games this past season.
Is it possible that sitting out the whole year will end up being a good thing for Adams? Absolutely; there's no reason to rush a 21-year-old back from injury. Is it possible that going under the knife multiple times has fixed everything wrong with Adams, and that he'll be fine going forward? Sure. Can he spend this offseason recovering, rehabbing, and working on his game in order be prepared for a small rotation role heading into the 2016-17 season? Of course. But that seems to be asking a lot at this point.
Anytime you hear of a player needing a second surgery, for whatever reason, it raises a red flag. Players come back from multiple surgeries to have successful careers, but the odds of them ever fully reaching their pre-surgery self again seem pretty unlikely.
It would be a shame for such a talented prospect as Adams to have his career derailed before it every truly got off the ground, but that's where we are. At this point, anything Adams gives you going forward should be viewed as a bonus. Ideally, Adams would have played 12-18 minutes per game this season with a gradually increasing role as the season progressed in order to prepare him to be a major contributor, possibly even a starter, heading into his third season. But, unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal world, especially when it comes to the Memphis Grizzlies and their injury luck.
So that's where we are. Jordan Adams, the smooth scoring guard who might one day be part of the answer to the Grizzlies' perpetual floor spacing issues, enters his third NBA season amid a cloud of unpredictability. The expectations are rightfully low, but the hopes (well, at least my hopes) are interminably high.
Then there's the Grizzlies' 2015 first round draft pick, Jarell Martin.
After the fiasco that was his drafting, which involved heated arguments as to whether or not the Grizzlies had promised Martin that they would take him at 25, was over, the fan base began to come around on him. There are things to like about Martin's game, but the most frustrating part was not actually seeing him play in a Grizzlies jersey until mid-December.
Like Adams, Martin has undergone a pair of his own surgeries to repair his left foot, most recently on April 26 that shut him down for the remainder of the playoffs. It remains to be seen what lingering effects will remain from Martin's foot surgeries, but he showed enough in his 426 minutes (including 46 playoff minutes) as a rookie to be cautiously optimistic about what he can eventually become as a player.
Martin's most impressive skill that he showed as a rookie was his ability to control his body both on the ground and in the air. Martin will have to work on his body this off-season (though to be fair, he never really had much of a chance to do that this past off-season seeing as how he spent the majority of it in a walking boot), but he's already got impressive body control for someone his size. He has the ability to get in the paint, absorb contact, and still keep his shoulders square enough to give himself a chance to score.
One thing that I found impressive during pre-draft scouting about Martin's game was his leaping ability. He doesn't need much room to gather himself in order to explode off the floor. This comes in handy when fighting for rebounds in a crowded paint or when he needs to quickly get his shot off around the basket, and he was able to show some of that this season.
Martin also showed nice touch on his jumpers. He has a knack for swinging his hips square to the basket as a pass is coming his way which allows him to catch and shoot all in one smooth motion. He displayed the ability to shoot over the top of the defense if they sag off, or go right around them if they play too tight.
Martin can also bang inside. His body allows him to secure position, whether while posting up or boxing out for a rebound.
Defensively, Martin will never be much of a rim protector due to his limited length (he's 6-9 with a 6-10 wingspan), and that may hurt the Grizzlies if they ever decide to utilize him as a stretch-five (which I believe they will). But one-on-one he can hold his own with his size, strength, and quickness. He shouldn't have much problem switching pick-and-rolls or guarding some bigger wings. He often found himself out of position and slow on rotations as a rookie, but find me a rookie not named Karl-Anthony Towns that didn't. The hope is that his team defense improves with time and reps.
Martin does find himself in a bit of an odd situation in regards to his short-term future. The Grizzlies will likely have Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Brandan Wright all back and healthy for next season, plus JaMychal Green, leaving the front court with few minutes to spare. Martin's playing time next season may ultimately hinge on whether he or Green gets the nod as the fourth big, though injuries and rest given to the three veterans in front of them should open up minutes for both.
The Green/Martin battle is one to keep an eye on this off-season. Martin's ceiling appears a bit higher than Green's, but Green was a very productive role player for the Grizzlies last season before slowing down the last few weeks, likely because his body isn't used to playing anywhere near as many minutes or games as he played this season. In fact, dating back to his freshman season at Alabama, Green hadn't played more than 969 minutes in any one season. He played 1,518 this season, so it's understandable that he trailed off a bit as the season went on.
It is important, though, for the Grizzlies to begin developing their young talent. This isn't groundbreaking or original, but it is still imperative. Adams and Martin, assuming both are healthy, need to get more than just garbage time minutes. Young players develop when they are allowed to play through their mistakes in meaningful minutes. It's the only way to get them comfortable enough to where they can begin to expand their horizons as an NBA player.
The same goes for this year's No. 17 pick, Xavier Munford and even Andrew Harrison. If both make the roster (which will probably depend on what happens with the backup point guard situation in free agency), then they need to play.
The Grizzlies have an aging roster, and at some point you have to develop from within in order to extend this current run.
The idea that the Grizzlies are going to lure a big-time free agent who's going to push them over the top seems a bit far-fetched. The front office will have to get creative with free agency and trades and make player development a priority (which is my biggest disappointment with the Dave Joerger era since he was hyped up as someone known for developing young players, but that's a whole other column).
Plus, they're probably going to count on several of these guys to play key roles for them next season. Here's a quick list of every Grizzlies player on a guaranteed contract next season: Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Brandan Wright, Tony Allen, Jordan Adams, Jarell Martin, and their 2016 first round pick. End of list. That's seven players, and four of them didn't finish the season because of injuries. The Grizzlies have team options on Lance Stephenson, Vince Carter, JaMychal Green, and Xavier Munford, but even if you pick up all of them (and I'd be shocked if they exercise Stephenson's option), that still leaves you with four available roster spots.
The Grizzlies' young guys - Adams, Martin, Green, Munford, Harrison, and their 2016 draft picks - need to be more of a priority moving forward because they're going to be called upon to contribute sooner rather than later.