For most of the post-free agency period, it’s been assumed that Ben McLemore, signed to a two-year deal, would be the favorite to start at shooting guard alongside Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons, JaMychal Green (hopefully), and Marc Gasol.
That assumption took a big hit recently when it was announced that McLemore would miss about three months after undergoing surgery to repair a broken bone in his right foot. That’s a pretty substantial blow. After all, it means McLemore will likely miss the start of the season, but, as important, will miss invaluable training camp minutes, a time which Fizdale could have used to undo some of the issues that the young guard’s time in Sacramento had (supposedly) caused.
Now the Grizzlies are left to figure out who to start at the two. The favorite, based on experience and proven ability, is Tyreke Evans. After all, Evans has contributed meaningful minutes in the league. And while I won’t go so far as to name Evans a point guard (he’s only played more than 2% his minutes as a point guard one season in his career, per basketball-reference), he provides the sort of ball handling that would allow Mike Conley to work off the ball.
That’s great, but I’d like to argue for something completely different: starting Wayne Selden.
Grizzlies fans certainly don’t need any reminder that Summer League performances are not the be all, end all for prospects (remember Josh Selby?), but Selden’s dominance in Las Vegas just served to further emphasize the flashes he showed in his brief stint with the Grizzlies last season. Selden is a willing and able defender with explosive athleticism, though the Grizzlies will have to hope he’s able to build off his Summer League performance on the offensive end; he shot just 25% from three with a true shooting percentage of 52.5% in his small sample last season.
From that perspective, it makes more sense to start Evans. He’s more experienced, a better shooter, and more efficient. And as mentioned above, Evans’ ball handling ability would also pair nicely with Conley, allowing the conductor more opportunities to come off screens, where he was the most efficient player in the league last year.
But it’s that skill—the ability to create off the dribble—that’s even more important to the bench unit. Last year’s Grizzlies bench, as bad as it was, relied heavily on Zach Randolph bullying opposing backup bigs to create offense. Randolph’s move to more lucrative pastures leaves a gaping void in the second unit’s scoring ability.
While I expect improvements from Harrison this season, and minor contributions from Baldwin (assuming Chalmers isn’t good enough to make the roster), the second unit will need all the playmaking it can get. A healthy Chandler Parsons alleviates some of those issues, allowing Fizdale to stagger Conley, Parsons, and Gasol, but the Grizzlies will still need to fill in the gaps. Evans on the second unit helps some of that.
The Grizzlies could also stand to be mindful of Evans’ minutes. Over the past two seasons, Evans has played a combined 65 games, missing time with knee injuries. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you how snake-bitten Memphis has been with injuries the past few seasons. Limiting Evans’ minutes should reduce wear-and-tear, meaning he’ll be healthy and ready to go when the Grizzlies need him down the stretch.
Come the regular season, it’s possible that Fizdale will try to mix and match his guards, staggering Evans’ minutes with Conley and Selden, but when it comes down to who to start, it’s worth considering the benefits that starting the second-year guard out of Kansas could provide.