A large contingent of Grizzlies fans have finally gotten their wish. After months and months of bemoaning the backup point guard situation, Mario Chalmers is back with the Grizzlies.
Chalmers’ addition seems odd given that the team already has on its roster Andrew Harrison and Wade Baldwin IV, both of whom the team has invested serious time and resources into developing, as well as Tyreke Evans, who some view as a nominal point guard (he isn’t).
But while Chalmers has an uphill battle to make the final cut, it's not out of the realm of possibility if he returns to form and the Grizzlies' young ball handlers continue to struggle.
2016-2017 Season Overview
We all know the story: Chalmers was traded to Memphis from Miami, became an almost immediate fan favorite, and then blew out his Achilles during the disaster that was the injury-plagued 2015-16 season.
Chalmers spent all of last season just working to get back into form. In late January, he worked out along with a few other veterans for the Cavaliers, though nothing came of it. Given Chalmers' situation, that's hardly surprising; the recovery period for players over thirty who are coming off an Achilles injury is at least a full season.
Chalmers signed with the Grizzlies on July 19 to what appears to be a training camp deal. According to Basketball Insiders, only $25,000 of the $2.1 million contract is guaranteed, meaning that the Grizzlies can waive Chalmers without large-scale salary cap implications if he doesn’t earn his roster spot.
That spot will largely depend on a few different factors, but only one of those —his own play—is in Chalmers' hands. At media day, the former Kansas Jayhawk told reporters that he feels like he's fully recovered. Only time will tell how much that matters. The rest of Chalmers' fate is in the hands of the young point guards (Harrison, Baldwin) and the front office and coaching staff, who will decide how long a leash to give those young players should they struggle out of the gate.
If those factors both break in Chalmers' favor, Chalmers should resume his prior role as the backup and occasional backcourt accomplice to Mike Conley. Chalmers averaged around 11 points on 23 minutes per game during his first stint with the Grizzlies on 32.6% shooting from three. When Conley and Chalmers were on the floor together, Memphis had a net rating of 14.3, the best net rating of any two-man combo that the Grizzlies had on the floor for at least 100 minutes.
2017-2018 Best Case Scenario
For this exercise we're going to assume that the "best" in "best case scenario" refers to the player, not the Grizzlies. The best case scenario for the Grizzlies is one of Andrew Harrison or Wade Baldwin taking a significant step forward, which is the worst case for Mario Chalmers' hopes with the Grizzlies.
The best case for Mario is that he looks close to his 2015-16 form in training camp and preseason. Couple that with continued struggles from one or both of the Harrison/Baldwin duo, and the Grizzlies, still trying to maximize the Mike Conley and Marc Gasol era, could sacrifice one of the young players.
If that's the case, Chalmers would likely be given the keys to the second unit, where he'd provide stability for a group that will be missing its singular stabilizing force in Zach Randolph. He'll also likely get some minutes with Conley, allowing the Captain to play more off the ball.
2017-2018 Worst Case Scenario
See above. Some combination of Chalmers' athletic dropoff and progression from the young players combines to make Chalmers and his partial guarantee expendable.
Given the roster crunch and the commitment to talent development under second-year head coach David Fizdale, it’s hard to see Chalmers making the roster without incredibly lackluster efforts from both Andrew Harrison and Wade Baldwin. That certainly isn’t out of the question; both are young, and we’ve seen before how long it can take for young players to learn to run an NBA offense.
That said, the Grizzlies are trying to maximize their returns while Mike and Marc are still at (or near) the top of their games, and if Chalmers is close to his 2015-2016 form, a more shortsighted, “win now” move may be too hard to pass up.
After all, never forget that we’re talking about a team that waived Troy Williams to bring back Toney Douglas.