It is a challenge to find Garrett Temple standing alone.
He rarely is the center of a photographer’s lens, the key piece of a prized picture of a superstar in the National Basketball Association. An afterthought is strong...but he is one, even on a team like the Memphis Grizzlies where the definition of “star” gets broader and broader by the year it seems at times. He is in the background, blending in, a blade of grass in the broad and wide NBA landscape where so may bright personalities and burgeoning young talents shine in the spotlight of one of the most popular sports leagues on the planet.
He is simply there, doing his job. And in his skillful supportive role, he is helping the Grizzlies in more ways than can ever be fully known.
The numbers don’t jump out at you, of course.
Garrett Temple isn’t going to be that guy. He never really has been in his now nine-year NBA career (with a year in the middle in an Italian pro league, for good measure). He has jumped around from squad to squad, city to city, trying to fill the needs of those who have acquired his talents for that stretch of time. Such is the life of an NBA journeyman simply struggling to stick in the Association. Nine games with Houston, five with Sacramento (before a return to the Kings two seasons ago), sixteen with the Spurs, nine with Milwaukee, and twelve with Charlotte...and that was just across his first two NBA seasons!
Then, after the year in Europe, a chance to latch on with the Washington Wizards, his sixth NBA team in three years. He did enough in D.C. to stick around there for four full campaigns, being a part of a dysfunctional (yet playoff successful) Wizards squad. He showed growth as a shooter starting there that carried over to his eventual big contract ($8 million per year is big, considering where he came from) with the Kings, converting no lower than 37% of his threes while he was a King. All the while, from his travels across the world chasing this game, he developed and grew as a leader and mentor that many players, even those far more talented than him, respected immensely.
For no other reason than he was a professional. That was and is enough for them. He is hungry, and has always remembered where he came from in his NBA journey and what got him to where he was.
If there as ever a guy destined to be a Memphis Grizzly...
Usually at the age of 32 NBA players are beginning to enter the lower end of their primes, or perhaps even heading toward the twilight of their careers. It gets a little harder to maintain the work load that comes with being a professional athlete - the body recovers slower, and the quick first step you once possessed is no longer as quick.
Apparently someone forgot to tell Garrett Temple that, because he is arguably playing the best basketball of his career for the Memphis Grizzlies.
The most impressive part? Temple is being asked to do more for Memphis than he has ever been tasked with doing in this, his seventh NBA stop. Even during his time in Washington and Sacramento he was only a starter roughly 40% of the time, and he was pretty appreciated for all he was by the Wizards and the Kings. Especially in D.C. Temple earned his opportunities, going from role player to back-end of the rotation guy back to key role player, and then in Sacramento he firmly cemented himself as a three-and-D player who could play multiple wing positions and even facilitate offense.
With the Grizzlies? Garrett has started 100% of his games...and that probably isn’t changing any time soon.
He is often tasked with defending a pretty damn good perimeter player for the opposing team night in and night out, despite not having the elite athleticism to stick with these types of dudes for long. Jimmy Butler, Damian Lillard, Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Durant, Jrue Holliday, Ben Simmons, LeBron James...
That is just in the past couple of weeks. A smorgasbord of sublimely talented offensive threats, sure to cause issues for just about any player...
But there is Garrett Temple, lining up to take them on, posting one of his best defensive win share seasons to this point.
He also continues to be looked to to be malleable, able to play alongside any combination of players that Head Coach J.B. Bickerstaff puts alongside of him. According to basketball-reference.com Temple has played mostly shooting guard so far this season, but has also played on the wing as the traditional “small forward” and has even played some small ball four. During his time with the Kings and Wizards he has shown the capacity to even play point guard, facilitating and initiating offense for his teammates at the top of the key. While he hasn’t been in that specific situation in Memphis much, his experience as a creator and curator of sets brings calm to an otherwise offensive-at-times offense.
Temple is currently shooting 38.8% from beyond the arc, and considering he shot 39.2% for the Kings last season and 37.3% the season before that, that number is sustainable. He is hitting a remarkable 54.6% of his two point field goal attempts, which would be a career mark by 6.2%. Heading in to Saturday’s game against the Celtics he is posting the best offensive efficiency number of his career (109, good for 3rd on the team among players with at least 900 minutes played), his second best win shares per 48 minutes (4th best on the roster using the same qualifications), and his second lowest turnover percentage (2nd best behind Mike Conley, having a tremendous season on that front in his own right).
This is, again, all happening with a 32-year-old journeyman who has started every game of his career for the first time this season and has never averaged more than 26.6 minutes per game for a campaign, but will almost surely smash that this year as he currently stands at 31.9 minutes per contest. More and more is being asked of him, as he is the ultimate example of being pushed beyond what is perceived to be his ideal role in the wake of injuries and inconvenient truths, like Chandler Parsons’ health likely never coming around.
Memphis needs him, and he is answering the call. He is playing more, and at a higher level, than ever. He has won his battle with the NBA roster bubble, and has done it decisively.
Yet no one talks about Garrett Temple.
Against the L.A. Lakers this past Sunday night, Kyle Anderson (posting a very solid season himself) was having trouble sticking with LeBron James in the 2nd quarter...as most folks tend to. With Kyle going to the bench, the task of trying to slow the mighty king of the NBA fell to Garrett Temple. Yet despite the fact that the undrafted Temple was going up with one of the all-time greats, he did not shrink from the moment. He stuck with LeBron and did not give up a score as the half ended.
Later on in the game, the highlight that everyone was buzzing about was the three by Grizzlies wunderkind Jaren Jackson Jr. over that same LeBron James that helped clinch the game for Memphis. The memory that will forever be etched in the minds of fans will be that of Jackson draining the big shot to help Memphis end their losing streak that put them in danger of falling below .500...and rightfully so.
But Garrett Temple reentered that game with 11:07 to go in the final frame, and the Grizzlies were down by one, 75-74. From the moment Temple came back in, Memphis went on a 33-24 run to close the game, and the play by play is riddled with key plays made by Garrett...
- Garrett Temple made three with 7:40 left. 84-83 Grizzlies.
- Temple blocks Ivica Zubac with 7:21 left.
- Temple defensive rebound, 7:19 left.
- Temple defensive rebound, 6:22 left. 87-85 Grizzlies.
- Temple blocks Josh Hart, 4:23 left. 89-88 Lakers.
- Temple made three with 1:30 left. 104-94 Grizzlies.
The JJJ three happens with 25.6 seconds left in the game. Jackson made a hell of a play...but without Garrett Temple, there would possibly be no play to be made.
Not many recognize that in the wake of the highlight moment, though. They see the shining young star and give him the attention and respect that come with the status of being a top pick in the NBA Draft and potential being realized. In the aftermath of the win, players like Jackson, and Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley, get credit for the victory and for leading the way against the up and coming Lakers who were led by the great LeBron James.
Meanwhile, Garrett Temple moves along as he has his entire career, ready for the next challenge. He is taking advantage of the opportunity to be the ultimate face in the crowd for a group that desperately needs him there...
Whether anyone notices him or not.