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Battle of the Memphis Bigs

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Who will win the role of 4th big off the bench?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

With Summer League in the rear view mirror, the Memphis Grizzlies will turn their attention to getting ready for training camp coming up in a few months. While other teams will be making national headlines until camp (see Cavaliers, Cleveland) the Grizzlies will likely be quiet in evaluating their team for the upcoming season. With 19 players currently on their NBA roster, they will need to make some moves by the end of training camp to get down to the league maximum of 15 players (and two 2-way players).

GBB’s Eric Monroe recently evaluated the Grizzlies’ shooting guard dilemma and gave his input on how he believes that situation will work out. Now it’s time to look at the Grizzlies’ big men, and figure out how that rotation will play out come mid-October when the season begins.

As the roster currently stands, the only certainty down low is that Marc Gasol will start at center and play a little over 30 minutes a game. It is extremely likely the Grizzlies bring back JaMychal Green (how they do so, TBD) to start at power forward and Brandan Wright seems likely to be the first big off the bench with Z-Bo gone. Assuming that’s Fizdale’s rotation, there’s really only one more spot open for a 4th big to come in and get around 10-12 minutes a game. It would seem there are a handful of candidates to choose from. Listed alphabetically, the likely 4th big contenders include: Deyonta Davis, Jarell Martin, Ivan Rabb, and Rade Zagorac.

Deyonta Davis

NBA: Summer League-Portland Trail Blazers at Memphis Grizzlies Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Deyonta Davis is highly regarded as a big part of the future of the franchise. Last season Vince Carter built a room in his home for Deyonta, and Marc Gasol has taken a liking to him and taken him under his wing. Davis, a 6-10 forward/center out of Michigan State, has all the physical tools to be a great player down low. Unfortunately, he had a disappointing Summer League. Davis continued to be a solid rebounder but didn’t take the step offensively the front office and fans would have liked to see.

Similar to Marc Gasol just a few years ago, Davis seemed passive on the offensive end and often looking to pass the ball to the guard immediately after receiving the ball in the post. The few times Davis decided to be aggressive offensively, he looked good doing it. He needs to get stronger so he doesn’t get bullied down low, and although he’s been practicing his 3-point shot, it hasn’t translated to in-game use just yet.

Jarell Martin

NBA: Summer League-Portland Trail Blazers at Memphis Grizzlies Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Jarell Martin, like Davis, had a disappointing Summer League. As the most experienced of the legitimate potential Grizzlies on the team, you expect more than one good game out of Martin. He shot 37.7% from the field and disappeared often while on the court. He has a decent shot that just hasn’t translated to the next level yet, and has the ideal body type for a stretch-4 in today’s NBA.

But inconsistency has plagued Jarell his entire NBA career. His run with the Grizzlies started off with nagging injuries, and once healthy, he just hasn’t been able to perform consistently. He has the potential to have big games but then struggles the following game. An athletic freak, Jarell can be a solid role player in this league; he just needs to put it all together.

Ivan Rabb

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament-California vs Oregon State Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Ivan Rabb didn’t get to play in the Summer League for the Grizzlies due to some lingering issues with his ankle. Rabb would be an ideal candidate for the Grizzlies’ second two-way contract with his health issues, but GM Chris Wallace has already stated that both draftees, Rabb and Dillon Brooks, wouldn’t be signed to two-way contracts. Rumors have swirled that the Grizzlies offered Rabb the other two-way contract once they found out his ankle injury was more serious than previously determined, but Rabb reportedly balked at the deal.

There has been no official word on Rabb’s contract negotiations from the Grizzlies. Having not suited up for the team, it’s very unlikely Rabb gets much playing time to start the season.

Rade Zagorac

NBA: Summer League-Portland Trail Blazers at Memphis Grizzlies Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Rade Zagorac technically plays the small forward position, but Summer League taught us that Rade will take some time adjusting to the speed of the NBA. He was extremely slow on both the offensive and defensive ends. Listed at 6’9”, Rade could be an ideal candidate for a small-ball power forward off the bench for Coach Fizdale. Although he was slow, Rade showed great court vision and has the ability to bring the ball up the court as a point-forward.

Starting out as a small-ball power forward may help Rade get adjusted to the speed of the NBA by chasing around other power forwards instead of athletic wings like Lebron James or Jimmy Butler. There will be a learning curve for Rade coming over from Serbia, but there’s a reason there has been buzz about him ever since the Grizzlies drafted him in 2016. There is potential there.

The Prediction

Ultimately, both Ivan Rabb and Rade Zagorac are too young and unproven to gain many minutes for the Grizzlies this season if they want to make the playoffs for an 8th straight year. That leaves Coach Fizdale to decide between Deyonta Davis and Jarell Martin as the 4th big off the bench. Davis is the player with higher upside, but Martin’s style of play could potentially be a better fit with what should be a more fast-paced Grizzlies bench unit next year. Similar to the Andrew Harrison/Wade Baldwin IV competition, I expect Fizdale to give both Davis and Martin a chance to prove themselves and earn the rotation spot.

In the end, I think Davis’ reliable rim protection and rebounding will help him earn the 4th big off the bench role over the inconsistent Martin.

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