It has been quite a long road for D.J. Stephens.
In college, Stephens was not the wing he is now - quite the opposite actually. The 6-foot-5, 188 pound wing was a center for Josh Pastner's Memphis Tigers. He was rarely on the wing in his time in college. He utilized his elite athleticism and length to protect the rim and rebound, averaging 6.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game. His explosiveness and basketball IQ makes him an incredible shot blocker, which he was able to do without fouling.
Most of Stephens' points came off of cuts, put-backs, and transition opportunities. Outside of that, he was a pretty limited offensive player. Stephens is very good at cutting backdoor, and in college these cuts almost always ended in alley-oops as he was just way more athletic than the competition. The same could be said for his ability to put back offensive rebounds. He could jump higher than opponents, so smashing home rebound dunks came easily for D.J. When Memphis got out in transition, which was often since they relied upon athleticism to score points, Stephens was an easy target for alley-oop attempts. A majority of his shot attempts were dunks, shooting 62.9 percent on 4.7 field goal attempts per game.
He couldn't dribble with his strong hand without losing the basketball, though, and his off hand was almost non-existent. He could not drive from the wing when the ball was passed to him. In his senior season he was a better three-point shooter, shooting 36 percent on only 36 attempts, but his game was still limited. Despite the improvement he wasn't much of a threat to opposing defenses.
Stephens went undrafted in the 2013 NBA Draft after his senior season at Memphis. The Grizzlies had the 60th pick in that draft, but elected to take Janis Timma over Stephens. He then went overseas for two seasons, playing in Greece and Turkey. Then, he bounced around the Developmental League and signed two 10-day contracts with the Milwaukee Bucks and Cleveland Cavaliers.
The D.J. Stephens who played in Memphis as a Tiger is now completely different as a Summer League Grizzly. His time overseas and in the D-League has helped his game develop tremendously. He is now a serviceable wing who has the potential to be an NBA rotation player. In 11 games with the Iowa Energy this past season, Stephens averaged 16.1 points and 7.4 rebounds. He shot 55 percent from the field and 41 percent from three-point range. He has come a long way as a three-point shooter since he graduated from Memphis. Getting better from behind the three-point line was important in his development as a 3-and-D player, and he has shown the capacity to grow into this role.
The forward's offensive game doesn't rely on dunking as much as it used to, even though it's still a staple of his game and will be as long as he can jump that high.
Handling the ball is still not a specialty of Stephens, but he has improved a good deal in that area. He is no longer a liability when putting the ball on the floor. He isn't a great driver, but he can dribble in transition. His cutting ability has only gotten better with time and experience. When he finds a guard who can get him the ball on the move, they take advantage.
On defense, he can still block any type of shot that an opponent can put up. And now he's a much better one-on-one defender than in the past. In college he was guarding bigger post players that could muscle him around in the post. His athleticism allowed him to block some shots, but he would still give up points. It's much better for him to guard someone on the perimeter so he can use his speed and length to make shots and passes difficult. He's in a better place now to both use his explosive athletic ability and create mismatches in help defense situations.
Stephens has a real chance to make the Memphis Grizzlies' 15-man roster, or at least he should. He continues to show what he can do with the Grizzlies' Las Vegas Summer League team, including today as the Summer League tournament begins for Memphis. If he keeps it up, whether it's with the Grizzlies or not, he will surely get a chance to realize his dream of being an NBA player full-time.
Hopefully, it will be at home in Memphis with the Grizzlies.