Is it possible for a player to improve on a really bad team?
Logic would suggest that if players were beefing up their NBA skill sets that the team would not be, you know, 8-29 in 2018. That is the record of the Memphis Grizzlies the first three months of this year, and it has led them to where they are currently, competing for ping pong balls in the NBA Draft lottery instead of playoff positioning. Players like Dillon Brooks, Marc Gasol, and Tyreke Evans have been profiled here at GBB and elsewhere for the good and bad that this season has brought them...
But what about the “other guys”?
The ones who do not get the attention that the “stars” do. The ones who have especially been forced outside of the roles they were supposed to be in. Maybe you were supposed to be a reserve point guard and yet you’ve started 46 games, almost four times as many as the guy that should’ve been the starter. Perhaps you’ve been a bench big your whole career and then all of a sudden, you’re being trotted out as a really, really big wing. Or you could even be an undrafted wing from a couple seasons ago who had a terrific Summer League, giving folks hope that you could contribute, only to be the most under-appreciated injuries on a roster full of missed games due to poor health.
They don’t stand out in the Grizzly crowd. But these three guys have played a large part in Memphis winning just as many games over the past nine days than they did in the previous 54. These are players who may have actually developed their games some in this dumpster fire of a season.
These are young men who have earned a chance to show what they can do on a (hopefully) improved Grizzlies team come October.
Andrew Harrison: The Versatile Guy
Remember when Andrew Harrison was a potential roster casualty because folks really wanted to keep Mario Chalmers and his contract was easier to part with than Wade Baldwin IV’s?
Harrison’s 2017-2018 has not been perfect. He has been flawed in terms of his ability to defend the elite point guards of this golden age of the NBA at that position, and his limitations have been on display since he has had to start 46 games at the point this season. Very little help has come his way - Mario Chalmers just isn’t the same player he was two seasons ago and Tyreke Evans, while productive, is not a true point guard. It has been essentially Harrison’s show when healthy, and that is a lot to ask of a 2nd round pick who is playing in their 2nd full NBA season.
Dig in to the numbers and film, though, and you will see a player who has come a long way.
Growing up Andrew
|Points per 100 possessions||15.4||20|
|Three point percentage||27.6||33.1|
|Win shares per 48 minutes||0.051||0.065|
He appeared completely lost at times last season, but now he is more comfortable and confident. He knows how to better deliver the ball to teammates. He understands driving lanes and angles more, and how to create space and/or contact at the rim. He can keep defenders off balance with his ability to use length to make up for a lack of foot speed, and when they do have a step or over-pursue cutting off his lane to the basket he can step in to a mid-range jumper that he has gotten much better at (29.5% shooting from 16 feet to inside the 3 point line last season, 41.4% this season). There are real, tangible, signs of a surge in his game.
What has always made him attractive as a prospect (he is still only 23) is his size, and how it allows for him to defend multiple positions and possibly exploit mismatches. That still can be a real cornerstone of his NBA skill set. But the main thing that has allowed for Harrison to develop is his desire. He cares about this team and their collective performance, even in a lost campaign. He clearly works on his game and is more comfortable and confident running this offense because of the time put in.
All this has led to a player who had just 14 double-digit point totals in 72 games played in his rookie season to 24 such performances in just 56 games so far this season. Just another set of numbers that drives home the point that Andrew Harrison, while not an NBA starter on a good team, could be a good backup on one. And he deserves a chance to show that moving forward.
Jarell Martin: The Miscast Guy
Poor Jarell, right?
This guy has been trotted out as a starting small forward on multiple occasions at this point by Head Coach J.B Bickerstaff. He isn’t a wing. Not even close. This dude has been forced to defend some of the very best athletes in the NBA. Ben Simmons, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Jayson Tatum...on and on and on, actual NBA perimeter players licking their collective chops looking at this stretch four out of position and apparently out of luck.
You know who hasn’t complained?
You know why? Two words-
Assuming Jarell Martin starts tonight against the Portland Trail Blazers, he will make his 33rd start of the season. In his previous two seasons with the Grizzlies, he has started 3 games combined. He will also be playing in his 70th game of the season, 2nd on the entire team behind Dillon Brooks. Guess how many games Jarell Martin played in his first two seasons in Memphis?
Assuming he stays healthy and finishes out the season at 25 minutes per game on average, he will double the amount of minutes logged in this one campaign that he got his previous two seasons in Beale Street blue. In this vastly increased role, he has shown the ability to still shoot the three at a decent clip, converting 33.3% of his shots from beyond the arc while doubling the amount of attempts per game from this season to last. He has shot much better at and around the rim this season (42.3% last season, 56.5% this season) and that ability to finish pays dividends for an offense that struggles more often than not.
Jarell Martin's last 3 games:— Fastbreak Breakfast (@fastbreakbreak) March 4, 2018
17.0 ppg 8.0 rpg 2.7 apg
19-34 fgs, 4-7 3ptrs
And a nice finish or two pic.twitter.com/8AxXAtQn8l
He has had runs of success, followed by runs of poor play. Inconsistency has plagued him. He is fouling more, and rebounding less, than he has at any point in his career. But this all makes sense...know why?
Because he’s not a wing...remember?
Jarell Martin should never be a starter at the 4 on a team with playoff aspirations, much less on the perimeter. You could argue no player is further outside of his ideal role than Martin. Yet he is eating minutes and showing signs of real improvement, despite his limited ball skills and lack of wing-specific abilities. The effort is there, and in success and failure he still attacks the game and is willing to learn.
That has to mean something. It means that this guy should be given a chance to show what he can do at the position he should be playing in the proper role for his ability. That may not happen this season. Hopefully it does next year in Memphis.
Wayne Selden Jr.: The Injured Guy
From Jack Noonan’s season preview piece on Wayne Selden Jr. all the way back in October-
Wayne Selden Jr. is faced with an exciting opportunity. He has no worries about moving teams or cities and can fully focus on basketball this year. He will have the chance to prove himself, and Memphis will welcome him with open arms.
He could’ve been the starter. Ben McLemore was out. Tyreke Evans was expected to lead the reserves. He had a real shot...
Injuries are the worst.
Wayne only played in seven of the first 41 games for the Grizzlies and has had issues with his quad and knee throughout November and December. It is hard to get in to a rhythm when you cannot get your legs under you, and Selden’s struggles early on showed that. He couldn’t get in sync with any lineup, and just as it seemed as he was starting to get comfortable he got hurt again.
The third time has been the charm for Wayne, though. Especially in the last eight games, Selden has displayed so much of the skill that had fans excited heading in to this season last fall.
Watch the games and see him finding his teammates more consistently, looking for his shot and to use his speed and handle to get to the rim in transition. Look for the confidence in his release and in his understanding of defensive help and rotations (three steals against the Timberwolves), the good hands up and ready, the strong dunking finishes and the quick release and lift on his jumper. This guy doesn’t look like someone who spent a majority of the year with various ailments.
He looks hungry.
He has scored 16 or more points in five of his last six games, and in those contests (two wins and four losses) he has a +3.2 net rating and has played over 20 minutes per game. In his last eight contests he is shooting 49.3% from the field overall and 45% from beyond the arc. He is locked in and recognizes the opportunity he has in front of him. Players are playing for jobs. Not many young guys on this team are guaranteed a spot in Memphis next season. Selden knows that not only is his place on the Grizzlies in question, but with all the issues on this roster he could very well be back in the mix to start.
Lots of possibilities, more than maybe any other current player not named Dillon Brooks. Wayne is actively fighting to insure that there’s only one chance that comes to pass. That he is here come October. And he gets that shot to be a starter on opening night.
These last games he needs to show consistency and that most important ability - availability. If he can do that, he should get his shot to show what he can do on a (hopefully) better team, depending on what the front office does this offseason and in the draft.
There are real problems with the Memphis Grizzlies. Ownership uncertainty, front office flop signings, players underachieving, coaching overturn...there really isn’t much stability, which is so vital for young players to really develop. Yet here is a guy who shouldn’t be a starter in Andrew Harrison, showing flashes of versatile production. There goes Jarell Martin on a dunk in transition, a shot he doesn’t get at the rim as often as he should because he has been put on the perimeter. Here’s Wayne Selden Jr. finally finding his footing and getting to be himself after injury threatened to hide what he wanted to show all along...
That he belonged.
That’s the common thread between these three players. They all have talent...but that talent only can get them so far. Any advancement they have achieved and will continue to achieve will come through their willingness to work regardless of role, to grind night in and night out in a lineup where they have no idea which veterans will suit up alongside them. They have had to pick up more slack than they ever should be expected to, and they’re actually getting better. They’re gritty, and they’re under the radar, and they’re not lying down despite the adversity in front of them.
The Grizzlies need those types of guys...the other guys.
Stats provided by basketball-reference.com