The Memphis Grizzlies are coming off a season that left us feeling a lot of disappointment after the injury bug affected much of the roster. The Grizzlies suited up 28 different players throughout last season, but have turned the page into the future with a new head coach. The organization had an underachieving 2015-16 season overall, but counteracted it with an overachieving draft night this past June, as the Grizzlies potentially ended up with one the biggest steals of the 2016 NBA Draft.
The fall of Deyonta Davis was one of the many surprises of Draft night back in June. The former Spartan went from a high upside, projected lottery player in the first round to a second-round selection by Chris Wallace, trading a 2019 first-round pick to the Boston Celtics for Davis along with Rade Zagorac.
GBB writer Chip Williams ranked the Spartan product 13th overall on his top 100 big board back in June. Davis didn't put up the kind of numbers that make fans and spectators of college basketball say, “he’s a lottery pick,’’ but the guy has the physical tools NBA coaches are looking for in a young big man. Davis showed flashes of potential throughout the season, skyrocketing into mock drafts because he's so smooth and effortless at times with the basketball.
Deyonta Davis Per Game in 2015-16:
Deyonta Davis Per 40 Minutes in 2015-16:
Deyonta Davis’ advanced numbers projected him as a potential high first-round pick, even though his per-game averages were not eye-popping (or great for that matter) because he was a low-usage player and didn't play a many minutes for Tom Izzo. That's understandable due to the fact he was playing next to another future NBA big in Matt Costello and on a team with veteran stars such as Denzel Valentine and Bryn Forbes.
But the advanced numbers tell the story for Davis: he’s got real upside if he plays real minutes. Last season, he saw the floor for less than half the game on average. If he would’ve returned to East Lansing for a sophomore campaign, there’s no question his numbers would take off like an airplane.
Zach Randolph 2000-01 at Michigan State:
Davis was the first one-and-done prospect in the program under Izzo since Zach Randolph in 2001. Randolph's freshman numbers were rather similar upon research, proving that fans shouldn’t put too much stock in Davis’ averages as a true freshman.
His size and athleticism are ideal for a big man in the NBA. At the combine, he measured 6'10 ½" (in shoes) with a 7'2 ½" wingspan. That type of physical stature helps him get position on any player on the glass and contest shots at the rim well. Davis would provide a much needed boost in rim protection for the second unit.
Davis really stands out when it comes to offensive rebounding. He uses his size very well to rebound the basketball, averaging 4.4 offensive rebounds per 40 minutes, which was third in the draft behind Pascal Siakam and Chinanu Onuaku. When Davis gets a rebound on the offensive end, he has a nice, smooth touch around the basket and great awareness.
Davis also has the ability to run the floor very well for a big man, which showcases his athleticism. While running on a fast-break he possesses an ability to get in the air quickly and uses his hands very well. That combination makes him the perfect big man for Memphis to develop behind Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. With his ability to get lobs at the rim, Davis would fit nicely with Mike Conley. Davis has potential as a shot blocking, turnover creating big man who can immediately run the floor afterwards. He’s got a lot of upside on the defensive end, blocking 10.2 percent of his opponents' two-point attempts, per KenPom.com, bringing him in at 22nd nationally.
Davis has an overall feel for the game on offense, which will help him in his transition to the NBA. Last season, he knew his role for Coach Izzo and he knew exactly where to be on the court. Freshmen tend to look lost when the team is running plays, but he rarely had that problem. Davis uses his feel on offense to move into open space and give the passer on the wing or in the high post an angle to throw him the ball.
Davis has the potential and upside to be more than just a lob-catching, rim protecting prospect. He didn't show much of it at MSU, but showed several flashes of an ability to knock down the 15-17-foot jump-shot. At Michigan State, he showed off more of his back-to-the-basket game, scoring over either shoulder with both hands and a smooth jump hook. In the NBA, the pick-and-roll is the main source of creating offense, and Davis projects as a real weapon down the line with his size to set a screen and quickness, finishing ability around the rim, and mid-range jumper.
In a pick-and-roll heavy league, Davis has a lot of potential in that area. But Michigan State didn’t run too many ball screens with Davis as the screener, running only 11 total possessions with Davis as the roll man, according to Synergy Sports. Davis will also thrive in the NBA with his ability to get into position. With his great feel, Davis will find the soft spot in the defense when his defender commits to help on the drive.
For a young, athletic big man that could be multi-year project for David Fizdale, the Grizzlies got the potential steal of the draft in Deyonta Davis. Even with his small sample size from MSU, he appears to be a great fit for a team looking to get younger in the frontcourt. Gasol is coming off injury, and former Spartan Randolph is passing his prime and getting older. Randolph can be a mentor to the young Davis, possibly setting up things for his successor.
Sooner or later, Memphis will turn over the keys to the frontcourt to Davis, who has potential as a power forward or a center in the league with his ability to guard smaller players. With this level of athleticism and potential, Davis can become a threat as a rim-protecting stretch-four/five. That holds real value in the modern NBA.