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Midseason Questions: Grading the Young Guys

In a series of posts, we’ll check in on the Grizzlies roster, taking stock before the trade deadline and, hopefully, playoffs are upon us.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Site Manager’s Note: Senior Features Writer Matt Hrdlicka will have a series of posts this week analyzing the current state of the Memphis Grizzlies. This is Part I.

1). Are the young guys just young, or just bad? Almost every young player – no matter draft position or situation – enters the league bad. It’s really hard to come into the league and play quality minutes.

I like all the young Grizzlies, even while admitting that they’ve been no better than Jay-Z’s verse on “Monster.” But hey, sometimes you gotta sit through that verse to get to Nicki’s.

So how are the young guys doing?

Wade Baldwin IV

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Memphis Grizzlies Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Sadly, WB4’s playing time has been sacrificed in large part because the team can’t survive playing both rookies at the same time. Baldwin could play off the ball with a veteran point guard, but the same goes for Harrison, and in the land of rookie point guards, the less turnover plagued rookie point guard is king. Baldwin turns the ball over an unbearable 25% of possessions, meaning that playing him is like simply handing the ball to the other team, waiting three possessions, then handing it to them again.

Many of his turnovers are a product of ambition rather than carelessness (okay, there’s plenty of carelessness too), and these passes probably worked when he was an indentured servant to Vanderbilt playing against other indentured servants. But not in the NBA.

His turnover rate might even be palatable if Baldwin were making shots. Much was made of the Grizzlies re-working his jumper in the summer, and while he appears comfortable shooting stand still jumpers, his off the dribble shot is still clunky. He makes a concerted effort to stop his momentum and jump straight up. At the same time, he brings the ball too far in front of him to begin his shot. The result of too much speed and the ball too far in front of his body is that he is often off balance, tilting forward on a shot he’s trying not to tilt forward on.

He’s terrified of getting his shot blocked, rarely challenging defenders and instead attempting to jump around and/or away from them. The result is an easy shot is made difficult. The lane shouldn’t be an obstacle course to dodge through if you are as athletically blessed as Baldwin.

Despite his early struggles, I’m still very high on Baldwin. He has played just over 300 minutes, an eyelash thin NBA sample, and he is still just twenty years old.

While struggling in specific ways, Baldwin has oddly seemed at home in others. He canters as fast as others sprint, and his size and wingspan envelope most other NBA point guards. Matched against the equally athletic, but more heralded Kris Dunn on Opening Night, Baldwin seemed the top 5 pick.

I see no reason to close out all the possibilities that I had for Baldwin at the season’s beginning: plus defender, secondary ball handler, possible plus shooter

Andrew Harrison

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

In contrast to Baldwin, Harrison is third on the team in minutes simply because he is not handing the ball to the other team and is a competent defender. I can’t really blame Fizdale for going this route. The Grizzlies’ four rookies and Jarell Martin are all the worst offenders in this category, each turning the ball over more than 14% of the time. Baldwin is BY FAR the worst offender. You have to pick your battles.

Harrison has been a constant source of frustration. He can be slow to initiate the offense, and while not to the degree of Baldwin, Harrison is turnover prone. What impresses me about Harrison is that, even with less than elite quickness, he still gets to his spots. He isn’t afraid of contact. He knows how to get a shot off with just a shoulder in front of the defender. He has some craft to his game.

He has a slow, low release to his jumper, but he is also rarely off balance, which makes his shot more repeatable.

Though I still believe Harrison has the lower ceiling of either the rookie pgs, I like Harrison’s chances to stick in the league in some capacity. The median outcome of his career might be higher than Baldwin’s, even if I prefer Baldwin’s upside (and mean outcome).

I want to be clear: I still think the Grizzlies made the right move in drafting Baldwin with Harrison “promised” a roster spot. Developing them both right now, when the team is trying to win, let alone run functional offense, is problematic. The medium term question for the rest of this season and beyond is whether the Grizzlies can afford to continue delaying Baldwin’s development, simply because they don’t have a more stable point guard to play him alongside.

Deyonta Davis

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Davis has probably shown the most production to date, and even if he only develops the skills he has flashed – rim protection, rebounding, finishing around the rim – he will be a productive and valuable player. Energy bigs in small roles always look really good, but sometimes struggle to extend those skills to starter minutes. Davis has played less than 200 minutes so far. We need to remember that flashes are just flashes. We still have a long way to go before he is anything more than intriguing.

Troy Williams

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The most encouraging part of Williams’ game is that he can play at full speed and not be out of control. The game is not too fast for him, even when he is playing as hard as he can (remember this when we talk about Jarell Martin). Williams shot distribution is also really encouraging. 80% of Troy’s shots are at the rim or from three. That’s amazing. As encouraging, Williams is finishing at a 56% clip at the rim, a percentage that is really good for a wing, though buoyed by a number of fast break attempts. Troy’s three point shot is far from “there” yet, but hey, Corey Brewer has built an entire career on simply running out for layups and jacking threes that go in less than they should.

Jarell Martin

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

{sigh} Here goes nothing.

Jarell’s been awful, and the nicest thing I can say is that he’s been awful in very specific ways. He can’t finish at the rim, a paltry 43.7% inside three feet. He gets lost on defense, rotates late, and is a sieve in the pick and roll.

His only NBA level skill right now is his rebounding, which remains strong, and compares favorably to counterpart JaMychal Green. His assist rate is non-existent, but the rest of his numbers are only marginally worse than JaMychal’s (this, again, is my attempt at a compliment).

The game, right now, is too fast for Jarell. When he’s diving towards the rim, he doesn’t know where the block is coming from. As a result, he turns easy shots into difficult ones. He double clutches needlessly, trying to fake rim protectors in the air. He launches towards the basket at odd angles, often at the front of the rim instead of to one side or the other.

An underrated issue for Jarell is that his handle is too loose, and he knows it. He has no confidence in his ability to dribble in traffic - even once - and as a result he picks it up earlier than most players. He has to start his two steps before the defense swipes at it, because he’s worried about turning it over, and this means the spot he jumps from is slightly further out.

The Grizzlies aren’t doing him any favors playing him with two bigs, or standing him in the corner. To succeed on offense, he needs to be guarded by slower, bigger players. This puts the most likely shot blocker (and the defender least likely to swipe the ball) directly in Jarell’s vision. Then again, Jarell hasn’t proven that he’s productive enough to play over other Grizzlies bigs.

I still think there is a player in here. That player is further away than I hoped, but the problems are very fixable. There’s no physical reason Jarell can’t finish at the rim. He’s plenty explosive. It’s a matter of reps and time. Unfortunately, the Grizzlies can’t afford time.

They need an answer now, because they’ve got decisions to make.

Stay tuned for more questions, focused on the rest of the roster, trades, and beyond.

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