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Memphis Grizzlies Rookie Roulette

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Are Baldwin and Davis the coveted rookies that have dodged longevity on the Memphis roster since Conley?

NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies make no secret about it; they wish to operate their franchise in a similar fashion to the San Antonio Spurs. So close, but yet so far. The Grizzlies have the third longest postseason appearance streak in the NBA with 6 in a row, but the Spurs are perched at the top of that list with 19! The Grizzlies have their Tim Duncan...Marc Gasol, their Tony Parker...Mike Conley, their Manu Ginobli...Zach Randolph (6th man), but alas..no Kawhi.

What separates the Spurs from the Grizzlies, specifically, is what happens in June. The NBA draft is so vital to aging teams that are looking to stay competitive for years to come. The Grizzlies have not had much luck in the draft for the last several years. Prior to the 2015 draft, no player that the Grizzlies have drafted remains on the roster at this point until you reach the Conley pick back in ‘07. However, the 2016 draft was one of excitement for Grizz Nation.

After the hiring of David Fizdale, Grizz fans everywhere looked forward to the innovation he sought to bring to the team, including the draft picks. Enter Wade Baldwin IV and Deyonta Davis. These are the first two draft picks of the Fizdale era and it did not take long for them to make an impression on the team. For Davis, the pomp and circumstance came on draft night as he was drafted in the 2nd round and immediately traded to Memphis. Davis was highly regarded throughout the draft process as a lottery pick and slipped to the 31st pick where the Celtics drafted him and traded his rights to the Grizzlies. He then went on to sign the largest contract for a 2nd round pick in NBA history and has shown flashes of greatness into the season.

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

Baldwin, although the Grizzlies first round pick, got his shining moment during the first game of the season where he put together an electric defensive showing to go along with a really nice floor game in a barn-burner with the T’Wolves at FedExForum. At this point, Memphis was ecstatic about the new young guns on Beale Street. As the season progressed though, both Baldwin and Davis regressed back to what they truly are: rookies.

This comes as no surprise, as it is very rare that rookies make significant impacts on perennially winning teams. The Grizzlies have signed Toney Douglas to a 10-day contract and seem to be content with him as the back-up point guard, which relegates Baldwin strictly to a bench role, especially with Andrew Harrison also in Fizdale’s favor. Brandan Wright’s return has added a new dynamic to this Grizzlies team at the PF/C position; it is the same dynamic that Davis brings except Wright’s skill set comes attached with veteran savvy, so we may not see much more of Davis either this season. The dying question now is: What can we expect from Baldwin and Davis beyond this season?

Wade Baldwin IV

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

The Good:

If Wade Baldwin has shown us anything this season, it’s been that he can be a pest on the defensive end. He has some abnormally long arms and large hands for a player his size, sort of in the mold of a Kawhi Leonard. Baldwin was a 42% 3-point shooter in college, but even if doesn’t come close to this ever again, his energy and physical tools on defense should be enough to keep him on a NBA roster for years to come.

I took the time to do a bit of research on all the “guards” drafted around Wade Baldwin’s position of the 17th pick in the 1st round; I included the 1st round, 16th and 18th picks as well. Of all the “guards” selected between the 16th and 18th pick, who are either retired or out the league; those that had a STL% of at least 2.0 and above their rookie season, averaged a career of 10.07 years in the Association (This excludes several current NBA players such as Jrue Holiday, Eric Bledsoe, Tyler Ennis, Iman Shumpert).

This is usually a sign that a player is athletic enough to belong in the NBA. Right now Baldwin is at 2.3 STL%. This bodes well for the Vandy product in terms of longevity, as teams are always proud to keep a defensive stalwart on board, which also gives the player time to develop on the other end, a la Pat Beverly. For added fanfare, Baldwin currently has a BLK% of 1.9%, which would be the highest of all “guards” picked between 16 and 18 in their rookie season.

Baldwin looks the part of an NBA player on the defensive end of the court, but what about on the other end?

The Bad:

Something that is apparent in the two GIF’s above is Baldwin’s defensive presence, but what about the errant decision making in those same clips? This has been the biggest problem for Wade Baldwin in his rookie season donning the Beale Street blue. Keep in mind, it is normal for rookies to struggle, especially rookie guards. They must get adjusted to the speed of the game. Everybody is stronger, faster, and better; therefore, high TOV% from rookies are expected, but Baldwin takes the cake. Of all the “guards” selected between the 16th and 18th pick in NBA history, Baldwin has the 2nd highest TOV% at 24.0%, coming in right behind (lololol) John Stockton at 26.4%.

Another knock on Baldwin is his True Shooting % in comparison to other guards drafted around his position. In the same pool of guards I’ve been alluding to, Wade Baldwin has the 6th worst TS% out of them all. His 3-point shooting has been cringe-worthy so far this NBA season, but expect that to improve based on his 42% 3P shooting in college coupled with his 80% FT shooting there as well. With that being said, it is also weird that he never eclipsed 44% FG overall in neither season at Vanderbilt with him shooting so well from deep. It seems he is not that good at scoring inside the arc. Here is a quote from DraftExpress.com on Baldwin:

“Finally, when Baldwin gets into the paint he has only average explosiveness around the hoop, and his lack of a consistent in-between game --- both in the form of pull-up jump shot or a floater in the lane – makes game planning against him relatively easy for a defense.”

With such a high TOV% and a low TS%, what do we expect Baldwin to become on the offensive end of the floor?

The Verdict:

A lot of wise NBA folk will tell you that a player’s position is based upon who he can guard. This is why I believe Wade Baldwin will become a solid back-up combo guard in the NBA. He’s a rangy, stocky 6’3” with a 6’10” wingspan, which I believe will give him the ability to guard both the 1 and 2 position. On the offensive end of the floor, I believe Baldwin will settle into the role of an off-ball two guard, rather than a point guard. This will maximize his shooting ability and put a cap on his sky-high TOV%.

If I had to peg a player that Baldwin could become one day, I would go with either Avery Bradley or Eric Gordon. These are players with limited ball-skills, but with an excellent shooting stroke and the physicality to make a difference on the defensive end.

Deyonta Davis

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Oklahoma City Thunder Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Good:

I found it appropriate to analyze and predict what Deyonta Davis will bring to this team within his own right. It would be difficult and inaccurate to compare Davis, who was deemed by many to be the “steal” of the draft, to other bigs picked around his same position. What makes Deyonta Davis so special, similar to Baldwin, is his physical profile. At the 2016 NBA Draft Combine, Davis measured in as a 6’11” PF/C with a 7’3” wingspan. Combined with his exceptional athletic ability, Davis is just the prospect any NBA team would want in a paint protector.

For the Memphis Grizzlies, it has shown early. Deyonta Davis sports the 2nd best DRtg on the team at 98.5, to go along with the 2nd best OREB%, trailing his fellow Spartan, Zach Randolph. It doesn't stop there though. Deyonta Davis checks in at the top of the roster for blocks per 100 possessions at 3.9 (!!) in addition to leading the team in limiting “Opponents points in the paint”, under the same criteria. He also leads the team in limiting “Opponents 2nd Chance Points” per 100 possessions, which is impressive as a rookie because it shows signs of awareness and constant activity on the glass.

While still unpolished, it is nice to know that he has the foot speed and dexterity to be a solid team defender as well as individually. It is not just on defense that Davis earns his money, either. He is a very effective player on the offensive end of the floor as well. I mentioned earlier that he is second on the team in OREB%, which is a very unique and important skill as it creates more possessions for the team, but he also is 2nd on the team in “Assisted Made 2PT FGs”, behind Brandan Wright. So not only is he great at creating more possessions, he is also good at finishing possessions as well. This is because he is a big target with superb leaping ability and soft hands.

There are a lot of positive things that Deyonta Davis does well on the basketball court, so what are the things that hinder him?

The Bad:

Just the same as many big men in the league, Deyonta Davis has not been that great of a shooter early in his career. This is the main vendetta that Davis faces looking forward into his career. Right now, Davis is shooting 53% from the free throw line, which is the worst on the team. The Grizzlies seem intent on improving Davis’ jump shot though. Although he is taking roughly 80% of his field goals within 10 ft and hitting them at a nice clip, he is taking 20% of his shots from 16ft and beyond, but no 3s.

While he clearly has been given the green light from this range, the problem is that Davis is shooting only 14% on shots from that range. Hopefully, with time, Davis improves the range on his shot to become a good mid-range and free throw shooter. If this happens, look out. While still a little raw, there’s not many underlying things to critique Davis on- but shooting is the big red flag.

The Verdict:

Deyonta Davis looks the part of the center of the future for the Memphis Grizzlies. In just his rookie season, he is showing the promise of the lottery pick that he was projected to be. Playing with Marc and Zbo for an extended period of time should vastly improve his IQ, work ethic, and overall game. With such high defensive upside and value as an efficient big man around the basket, there is no reason for me to believe that Deyonta Davis will not be given a chance to be a starter in the NBA at some point.

Final Verdict:

I believe the first two draft picks of the Fizdale era will pan out to be excellent selections, with the real prize being Deyonta Davis. I see neither player fizzling out of the NBA due to lack of talent, so prepare to watch the young cubs grow up right here on Beale Street. Now of course, if the right trade package appears, either will be available, but I believe the Grizzlies will be more willing to part with Wade Baldwin than they would be with Deyonta Davis.

To me, Baldwin projects to be more of a rotational player, as Davis has the look of starter in the NBA. Only time will tell, but with Joerger gone and Fizdale at the helm, I would say that both players will have their opportunity to prove themselves, not only to the Grizzlies, but to the rest of the NBA as well.

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Stats via Basketball-reference.com and NBA.com/stats