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Mr. Dependable: The JaMychal Green Dilemma

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JaMychal Green has played admirably as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. But is he worthy of long-term investment as a starter?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

When you think about it, it’s impressive that this is even a question.

JaMychal Green, undrafted out of Alabama, has earned every bit of NBA success he’s had. He doesn’t have the physical gifts of other players who have come and gone from the Association. He’s had to fight his way through the D-League, through the end of the bench and spot rotation minutes, to get to the point where he is now as an NBA starter.

But for the Memphis Grizzlies, while he has filled his new role as starter alongside Marc Gasol admirably, one has to wonder if he’s actually the answer to the question of who replaces Zach Randolph long-term. Of course in the here and now it has worked out, and there are reasons for that, but is the 26-year-old Green worthy of the investment it will take to keep him in Memphis? Is he good enough to maintain this level of current production?

At the age of 26, can he be a starter on a contending NBA team moving forward? And if he can’t, should Memphis move him before he becomes a restricted free agent this off-season?

First, a moment of respect.

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

JaMychal Green is a work horse.

He played in more games (78) last season than any other Grizzly. While guys were dropping left and right due to injury, Green sustained his role as a bench big and had some success. His per-36 minute stats according to basketball-reference.com were solid: 14.4 points on 46.5% shooting overall and 33% shooting from three, and 9.3 rebounds, but he still posted a -2 net rating last season (105 offense, 107 defense). He was on a bad team there at the end, though. That’s about all you could ask for from a good role player like Green...right?

Wrong.

Green was asked to start by new Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale in place of Memphis legend Zach Randolph, who was still on the roster. Green was asked to play more minutes (29.8 minutes per game this year compared to 18.5 last season). Green was asked to be more of an offensive weapon in terms of three point shooting. Green was asked to be a defensive lynch pin and to be able to hedge off of screens and on the pick and roll, a key reason he is now playing alongside Marc Gasol more than Zach.

Many (including this writer) had questions about whether or not JaMychal could be that guy on a contender.

They (and I) to this point are wrong.

JaMychal Green has the best net rating of any Memphis Grizzlies player who has played at least 25 games at +10. His 103 defensive rating is impressive, considering who he’s been asked to defend a majority of the time - Enes Kanter, DeMarcus Cousins, Blake Griffin - players of all shapes and sizes, skill levels and skill sets, who Green has been able to either check or slow down when necessary.

He can switch on the pick and roll. He can retreat back and limit penetration off of various screen motions. He can play passing lanes and create turnovers. This is where he exerts the most energy for Memphis and really makes his presence known - he is a hugely important part of their defensive scheme.

He’s also shown the ability to rebound at an elite level. He has grabbed double-digit rebounds ten times so far in 2016-2017, and Memphis is 8-2 in those games. When he struggles rebounding, or staying on the floor in general, Memphis struggles as well.

Even more impressive than his 103 defensive rating? His 113 offensive rating, the best of any player on the team who has played at least 25 games.

Better than Marc Gasol.

Better than Zach Randolph.

It is offensively where JaMychal has shown real growth in his game. He’s shooting 37.1% from three so far this season, while averaging over one more attempt from beyond the arc than he took last season (1.9 to 0.6). He has scored double-digit points in 16 games so far in 2016-2017, and Memphis is 12-4 when JaMychal scores 10 or more points. His usage rate, unsurprisingly, is down from what it was last season (19.8% to 14.5%) since Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are both back from injury. Because of that, he is able to pick and choose his spots, letting the game come to him...and in some cases, attacking the game as violently as possible.

JaMychal is not being asked to do more offensively in terms of set plays - he’s being asked to be more efficient offensively, and he is rising to that challenge.

He is showing how, on both ends of the floor, he can impact a game and make a real difference.

A block to an assist. A rebound into a dunk. A turnover into an offensive opportunity. The development of JaMychal Green has been vital to the early season success of these Grizzlies. His game still can improve - he fouls too much, for example - but he has shown he is capable of growth. He is a dependable player on any roster.

And it’s why he is the most likely Grizzly to be moved this season.

But should he be?

Now, a moment of reality

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Orlando Magic Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

John Henson of Milwaukee makes about $12 million a season.

Anthony Tolliver of Sacramento makes roughly $8 million a season.

JaMychal Green of Memphis is making $980,431 this season.

That’s about to change. JaMychal becomes a restricted free agent this off-season, and he is about to get paid. For you see, Tolliver and Henson don’t have the impact on their teams that JaMychal does:

  • JaMychal Green - .137 win shares per 48 minutes, +10 net rating (113 offensive, 103 defensive), 1,073 minutes played over 36 games.
  • John Henson - .108 win shares per 48 minutes, +2 net rating (106 offensive, 104 defensive), 610 minutes played over 30 games.
  • Anthony Tolliver - .105 win shares per 48 minutes, +11 net rating (123 offensive, 112 defensive), 403 minutes played over 21 games.

Green is durable. Green is reliable. Green is one of the best bargains in the NBA.

JaMychal Green’s starting cost per season heading in to free agency? Perhaps the $10 million contract of former Grizzlies big man Jon Leuer is a solid starting point. Leuer is playing well in Detroit, posting a +13 net rating in 35 games and 955 minutes of play. But Leuer only recently was asked to be a starter in Detroit. Green has been the starter since day one this season. So maybe even $10 million isn’t going to be enough to keep JaMychal. In restricted free agency, all it will take is one team to love JaM enough to offer him a 3 year, $39 million contract and dare Memphis to match.

And match they could, but will they want to? The expiring contracts of Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, and Vince Carter will allow for some wiggle room for Memphis (and having the Bird rights to Randolph/Allen will make signing Green back more possible as well). But there is only so much money to go around now that Marc Gasol, Mike Conley, and Chandler Parsons have gotten max contracts. Add on the fact that Deyonta Davis and Jarell Martin are waiting in the wings, and Brandan Wright anticipates being back on the court in February, and the front court is about to get really crowded.

JaMychal is one of Memphis’ most valuable trade assets. Green and a veteran wing could potentially net the Grizzlies a future first round pick and/or a young player to develop on a cap-friendly contract. You aren’t likely to get that value for the unproven Martin or the oft-injured Wright.

So, the question isn’t whether JaMychal Green deserves to get paid. He does. The question is whether Memphis should be the team to pay him.

The answer? They should.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Charlotte Hornets Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

JaMychal has done everything asked of him. He has been another example of the personification of the Grit and Grind mantra that has made the Grizzlies beloved in Memphis. He has consistently proven people wrong - he is an NBA player. He is a good rotation player on a good NBA team. And he, in a small sample size, has shown he can perform quite well in a starting role. He’s gone from an undrafted D-Leaguer to a player who is about to make eight figures in the NBA.

And it should be in Memphis.

Troy Daniels is under contract for next season. As are James Ennis III, Andrew Harrison, and Wade Baldwin IV. The contracts of Chandler Parsons, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley limit you in free agency anyway, so why not invest in those who helped you build to the current level of success?

For example, let’s say Memphis signs Green to a 3 year $33 million contract. For the sake of argument, let’s say its a $10-$11-$12 million per year split, a healthy raise for Green. Memphis is currently on the hook for roughly $93 million between nine players ($74 million in Parsons/Conley/Gasol alone) if they bring back everyone next season currently under contract, including Troy Williams. The Green deal for next season costing them $10 million in this exercise would put them at $103 million, not including any free agents like Randolph, Tony Allen, and Vince Carter. The luxury tax is estimated to be at $120 million.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Chicago Bulls Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports

You could bring back Tony Allen and Zach Randolph at roughly $13-$15 million per year combined on one- or two-year deals (fair “hometown discount” prices arguably for aging veterans who still can play - maybe $8 million for Zach and $6 million for TA), bring over 2016 2nd round pick Rade Zagorac, draft someone with the 2017 2nd round pick that Memphis owns the rights to from Miami (likely to be in the 32-37 range), and still stay out of the luxury tax. Vince Carter is almost surely gone via retirement or just in general; Vince has played well, but if he chooses to play another NBA season, Memphis would probably choose Zach and Tony over “Vinsanity”.

This would allow for Jarell Martin to continue to develop without being forced into a role he may not yet be ready for. As the salary cap rises, Green’s contract becomes more and more movable. If Jarell is ready? Move Green for assets in 2018. But this allows for the team to stay competitive and not rush Martin along.

The key? A trade of Brandan Wright and his $6 million in 2017-2018 salary, possibly tagged with a future 2nd round pick, for a future draft pick. Get that done, and you’re ready for 2017-2018 with JaMychal and the entire Core Four in place. You could in theory let one of Allen/Randolph walk (if they aren’t traded away this season first), but they are both still good players and for the right price should stay in Memphis since they can be re-signed over the cap anyway.

Randolph in particular could potentially walk for a bigger contract, though, if he continues to show worth as a sixth man. It’s not far-fetched to see a team offering him a 1-year, $12 million deal, and Memphis should part with Z-Bo if that’s the figure Zach wants, which would also free up money.

NBA: Minnesota Timberwolves at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

It’s possible that Memphis doesn’t want to play it that close, and decides not to re-sign JaMychal or match whatever contract is offered to him in restricted free agency. There are young bigs under contract already, after all. If someone offers him $15 million per year, or something along those lines? They’d be wise to pass. But between $10-$12 million per year? Green should remain a Grizzly.

$10-$12 million sounds like a lot, but it’s the going rate for players like Green these days. And through his growth offensively, versatility defensively, and overall dependability, he has proven to be that valuable to the Memphis Grizzlies. JaMychal Green was not drafted by the Grizzlies. They are not his first NBA team. But make no mistake, he is Memphis made.

And hopefully he will be Memphis paid.

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