There he was, writhing in pain, down on the floor.
Down went JaMychal Green, a player that fans knew was so valuable to the success of the Memphis Grizzlies experienced the previous two seasons. He was not a star, but that true “glue guy”, first as a reserve and then as a starter, replacing Zach Randolph in that key role alongside Marc Gasol last season. He was especially effective in the 2016-2017 campaign, a contract year where he was 2nd on the team among players who played at least 500 minutes in net rating (+10) and 3rd in win shares per 48 minutes among the same group, only behind Mike Conley and Marc Gasol. The numbers, and your eyes, told you he was the third best player on the Grizzlies.
The off-season didn’t go the way Green wanted it to after such a performance. A bigger payday, he surely hoped, was in his future. But the big contract never came, and as training camp began there were the Grizzlies, holding an offer that was a big raise for JaMychal (he’s making roughly $8.5 million this season, more than the roughly $980,000 he made the previous campaign), but not what he wanted. He decided to bet on himself, to an extent - sign the deal, take a decent chunk of change to stay in a place where you have a set role, and continue to be that athletic big who can defend and shoot the three that fits nicely next to Marc. Then, hit free agency again at 29 and see what the market has you at as you finish out your prime.
He had to be excited. Then, just 3:53 in to the new season, a sprained ankle. 12 missed games, at arguably the worst possible point for any player who’s trying to get into the groove of a season.
To sit and watch a team whose recent success you helped build struggle after a hot start must have been tough. It must have been even harder to come back and not be able to stop the downward spiral - Green returned in game three of the 11-game losing streak of November/early December. But Green was never the guy to be a “key player” in terms of a “savior”, a returning superstar. It wasn’t his job to make that level of impact, and the contract situation of the previous summer showed that. Yes, teams likely always assumed Memphis would match an offer on their restricted free agent. But no one saw it worth their while to make Memphis pay a bit more, for whatever reason.
Well, there is a reason. JaMychal Green isn’t “that guy”.
But as this season grinded along, he was asked to be “that guy”. Mike Conley’s injury, Chandler Parsons’ issues, and Tyreke Evans’ trade rumors and now rib problem are all examples of players who “should” be better than Green, and who “should” be bearing a load larger than his as a scorer and facilitator, that simply are not there.
As a result, JaMychal is taking more shots per game this season (8.9) than he has ever been asked to. He is attempting almost 2.5 more shots per contest this season than last (6.5 per game in 2016-2017). His usage rate (18.6%) is also much higher than it was last season (14.4%), so he is being put in a place to, as a starter, try to produce more offensively than he ever has in his entire career.
Considering how his year began, and how this season has gone for the Grizzlies, his “struggles” are at least somewhat understandable. He, like the rest of the roster, is being asked to do more with less. He has to be the 2nd best player on a Grizzlies team that is currently starting a two-way contracted point guard, a 2nd round rookie, and Ben McLemore alongside him and Gasol.
This is not a situation where JaMychal will theoretically thrive...but that hasn’t stopped him.
To his credit, he has not pouted, or overly complained in the media about the tough spot he was in earlier in the year, or the one he’s in now. He simply goes out every night and he works. He at times is a force of nature whose energy pops off the screen and court, but it is more than just “having a motor”. He is growing his game, primarily as a passer as he is creating for others more than ever before (8.6% of Grizzlies field goals were assisted on by JaMychal Green, a career high). His court vision is improving, and he is understanding where his teammates fit around him and helping them get to their spots and shots.
JaMychal Green: Point Guard. pic.twitter.com/Ql2hynv8UQ— Memphis Grizzlies (@memgrizz) March 4, 2018
He is racking up point and rebound double-doubles (six straight, seven of his last eight games to be exact) and has 13 assists and six blocks in his last three games played. While the work is not translating in to wins for Memphis, due to all the issues that have come about in this lost season, he is showing a level of drive and professionalism that will go a long way for this roster. He is demonstrating how to be a pro’s pro to these younger players, how to compete on a nightly basis. Nothing was given to Green, an undrafted player from the University of Alabama who rose up through the ranks of the D-League and played overseas before he got his shot with the San Antonio Spurs and in Memphis with the Grizzlies.
He knows the alternative. He still plays like he never wants to go back to it.
JaMychal’s shooting percentage is down. His net rating is much lower than it was last season, same with his win shares per 48 minutes. He’s not having the campaign he, or Memphis, or anyone wanted. But he is still playing, and clawing, and giving tremendous effort as he tries to do his to get these Grizzlies going. He, like the rest of the team, is in a tough spot not being in his ideal role. We are where we are, however, and when given the option to lie down or fight like hell, JaMychal Green chooses to fight every single time out.
After every fall, JaMychal gets back up. Even in the pain of this season, that is worth celebrating.
Stats provided by basketball-reference.com