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The Consequences of Ben McLemore

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NBA: Sacramento Kings at Los Angeles Clippers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Grizzlies used their biggest, and possibly only, tool to acquire new talent on a pure gamble. Recently having his Qualifying Offer pulled by the Sacramento Kings, Ben McLemore has found his new home in Memphis, on a reported 2-year, $10.7mm deal. I have thoughts.

1). The Grizzlies can now spend a max of $3.3mm on new talent – Having dipped into, and used the bulk of, their bigger $8.4mm exception on McLemore, the Grizzlies are restricted to the much smaller $3.3mm exception from here on out.

They’ll use most of the rest of it on signing their 2nd round picks to three-year contracts, but will do so after they figure out what to do with JaM and ZBo. More on that in a bit.

2). The Grizzlies have a ton of unproven players – Depending upon how you feel about Chandler Parsons, the number is either double digits, or nearly so.

3). McLemore has been a limited, unproductive player – This isn’t a stretch. He played twice as many minutes at age 20 as he did last year, and injury wasn’t the cause.

McLemore is a one position defender – he’s too slight to switch up, and lacks the lateral quickness or craft to guard point guards. If McLemore is sold as a small forward then I literally cannot wait for you guys to watch McLemore guard small forwards.

McLemore is a decent leaper, rising for unexpected dunks, but his lack of strength probably permanently limits his ability to finish through contact. He generates few free throws, while shooting a great FG% at the rim. But with just 21% of his attempts coming at the rim, we know he generally is only taking what the defense gives him as opposed to creating.

He doesn’t rebound (again, the lack of strength is reflected here); he grabs 5.7% of available total rebounds, barely outpacing Mike Conley’s 5.3%. For a team that might fancy going small, lineups with McLemore will be at a rebounding deficit.

McLemore can’t dribble or pass. Full stop.

McLemore’s strength – and I hesitate to use this word – is his shooting. He is clearly a league average shooter, with the potential to improve. He will probably be competent defending shooting guards and some larger, slower point guards like Jameer Nelson or Deron Williams.

In all, this player has seen his minutes slashed in half since his first two years in the league. He had his Qualifying Offer pulled so he could go elsewhere. However much you ascribe to the Kings mismanaging the player (and certainly his lack of development is partly on them), McLemore’s flaws are not fixable. He will be a positionally limited defender who won’t rebound. He will probably not improve much on his career slightly negative assist/turnover ratio.

I like Wayne Selden more as a prospect and, at 24, that’s still what McLemore is.

What we might know –

1). Tony is probably gone – I am mentally okay with this, if not emotionally so.

2). ZBo or JaM, (but probably not both) is coming back – I believe the dollars for McLemore line up with the taxpayer MLE. If this deal was one dollar more than the taxpayer MLE, the Grizzlies would be hard-capped at the apron (about $5mm over the tax), creating a rare, unmovable barrier beyond which a team cannot spend.

We don’t know where the team stands with the rest of their free agents, but they consciously structured this deal to avoid the hard cap, which allows them to spend into the luxury tax to retain their FA’s.

The value of this is limited. The Grizzlies still have something around $24mm before they would have reached the hard cap, and they probably aren’t paying the tax for this team. Not for nothing, but they shouldn’t be retaining both JaMychal and ZBo anyway.

Still…

3). The Grizzlies probably overpaid for Ben – Kudos to McLemore’s agent. I’d like to know what the second best offer was. He is simply not good enough to get minutes on a great team, or even a good team. McLemore probably wants to rehab his value, so the only spots with mutual interest would be teams with definite playing time on the wing who also will pay more than the BAE. That Venn Diagram is narrow, perhaps just 3.33333% of the NBA (i.e., one team).

This strikes me as the Grizzlies targeting a specific player and spending what they have to to get him. If this deal was for $4mm less, the Grizzlies could have fit McLemore into the BAE. If it was $2mm less, the Grizzlies could have let ZBo go, operated as a space team, and fit McLemore into the room exception.

My guess is the Grizzlies weren’t willing to definitely lose ZBo, so rather than consider signing McLemore for the Room Exception (only $2mm less over two years), the Grizzlies second best offer was the BAE, and McLemore wouldn’t take it.

Better players like Thabo Sefolosha, Milos Teodosic, and Darren Collison will be available for roughly the same money. Justin Holiday, a comparable (I’d argue better) player than McLemore, and my favorite from the “buy low bin”, just signed for less. Per Basketball-Reference.com, here are their per-36 minute averages to date.

The Grizzlies overspent marginally in real dollars, but they overspent massively in terms of opportunity cost. They cannot – CANNOT – bring in another good player, unless they get really lucky in a trade or a BAE signing, which isn’t exactly the position you want to be in with this Western Conference and a lightly protected lottery pick owed. They treated an unproductive role player like a luxury, instead of what he is: lucky to get over $10mm from a team that is ostensibly still trying to make the playoffs.

4). The marginal returns of player development - one way to look at player development is that it has marginal returns. Situations are not equal, nor are players, but I think as a general rule the more young players you have, the less each develops. We saw this with Andrew Harrison and Wade Baldwin IV last year. The Grizzlies simply could not win while playing both, and barely won while playing just one. My hope was that one of these players would get minutes at shooting guard this year, but with Wayne Selden Jr. and now Ben McLemore, the young players are crowding each other out.

Young players are put in a position to succeed by playing with better players, and had the Grizzlies acquired McLemore last year, he would have had that chance. Instead, there will be times this year when he is the oldest player on the court. Let that sink in.

This deal could work out in terms of strict value on contract. $5mm is not that much, and if you bring back JaM and maybe Vince Carter, you can field some good defensive lineups while maintaining enough quality on the wing to survive. Maybe some of my pessimism on this deal, is that I don’t think the Grizzlies are going that route. Maybe I’m just having a bad day.

Still, I can’t help but think that McLemore will need to have by far his best season ever to justify this deal, and even if that happens, the Grizzlies probably haven’t improved as a team.