The NBA Summer League - Las Vegas gets started on Friday, and the Memphis Grizzlies are going out to "Sin City" for the first time since 2013 to take part. The Grizzlies, of course, have undergone a bit of change this offseason, with a new coaching staff in place, a successful draft night with two key selections for this season and beyond, and the major free agent signing of Chandler Parsons (as well as the return of Mike Conley) making Memphis an offseason winner for the first time...well, maybe ever.
These changes will not be on full display, but for the first time we will get a glimpse at the David Fizdale-era Grizzlies. And speaking of our new coach, he leads off our Summer League "what to watch for" preview.
4. Fizdale's Schemes and Installation
Coach will not have access to his full cabinet of toys in Vegas. Hell, his best NBA-ready player is JaMychal Green, who is surely a 3rd- or 4th-best big on a good team at best. While JaM and the likes of Wade Baldwin IV and Andrew Harrison may well be counted on for stretches this coming season, they are not going to be starters on the Memphis Grizzlies any time in the near future.
So what can be learned from Fizdale coaching the Summer League Grizzlies, alongside assistants Nick Van Exel and J.B. Bickerstaff? How he manages a game, how he calls sets, and what kind of basic offense he has installed for Summer League. It's a brief opening into what Fizdale will prioritize on both sides of the court, and how he will carry himself in this leadership role in the huddle and in the heat of competition.
Again, it won't be anywhere near a finished product. But sneak previews are always fun to watch.
3. D.J. Stephens Dunks (and Maybe Makes an NBA Team)
The former Memphis Tigers standout has always been known for his ridiculous hops and athleticism, and his time with the Grizzlies' D-League affiliate the Iowa Energy last season did nothing to take away from that reputation...
Stephens is aAn explosive, above the rim, walking, talking highlight reel. But for so long that was all he was - a player with such athletic talent that he could even play center despite being 6'5". However, in his time in Iowa and before then, as he has pursued his NBA dream Stephens has developed his basketball-specific skills. He has become a potentially viable three-point shooter (33% from three this past season) and with the explosive athletic ability he has he can be a possible monster on the defensive end of the court.
The Grizzlies, barring future signings and trades, are short a wing or two on their roster. Could Stephens, or some other Summer Leaguer, be a potential answer there? There will be opportunities to impress.
2. Deyonta Davis- Asset or Future Rotation Piece?
Deyonta Davis being available to Memphis at #31 overall in the 2016 NBA Draft after their trade with the Boston Celtics was a pleasant surprise. The Grizzlies, according to GM Chris Wallace, would have made that deal with the Celtics regardless of Davis being available there. Rade Zagorac, the #35 overall selection, is being viewed within the organization according to reports as Memphis' 2017 draft pick (since the Grizzlies probably won't have their first next season), and was the main target of the deal. He hopefully will be ready to join Memphis this time next season.
So Davis is icing on the Zagorac cake. His was a case of drafting best player available, since a front court big was certainly not a need for the Grizzlies. He could be a huge part of Memphis' future, however, one way or another. On one hand, if he plays well in Vegas, he could lead the Grizzlies to feeling comfortable with moving on from Brandan Wright, Jarell Martin, or JaMychal Green by switching them out for a wing via trade. On the other hand, Davis himself could be traded if the right deal comes along.
Either way, Davis' play bears watching. He is athletic and finishes well at the rim, and how he defends at the rim or on the pick-and-roll could play a huge part in whether or not he sticks with the Grizzlies.
1. Wade Baldwin IV & Andrew Harrison
The two players who arguably could have the largest impact on the 2016-2017 Memphis Grizzlies. There is a gaping hole at backup point guard for Memphis at the moment - the future of Tony Wroten on the team is questionable at best, and beyond that he is surely, barring an unforeseen tremendous training camp and preseason performance, not the future at that position.
That spot is reserved potentially for Baldwin, a bigger combo guard type like Wroten, who also has a terrific wing span and the ability to defend multiple wing positions. Baldwin, unlike Wroten, has shown a terrific capacity to hit the three-point shot, and because of that he may be an option in Memphis' rotation as a shooting guard type of player once the season starts in October.
How does Harrison fit it? A fair question - the 2015 2nd round draft pick showed flashes of potential in Iowa, and it's largely believed that he will be in the running for a roster spot as another combo guard. But will all three players make the final 15-man roster?
It's definitely possible, but unlikely. Baldwin will certainly be on the roster. Harrison must show the Grizzlies coaches and front office why he should stick around as well.