The Memphis Hustle’s inaugural season has come to its conclusion. While the team did not win as many games as they probably would have liked, their inaugural campaign had lots of highlights. From the awesome logo and gear to the players and coaches developing over the course of the season, the G-League affiliate of the Memphis Grizzlies showed signs of real potential and growth in the greater Memphis community. Of course, there were some growing pains - the best way to use this new resource in terms of getting younger Grizzlies minutes earlier in the season, for example - but all in all, this first season in Southaven, Mississippi has to be seen as successful...
For a far better answer to that question then I could provide, I turned to our resident Hustle experts at GBB who covered multiple games each and saw this team grow and change before their eyes, GBB Senior Writers Brandon Abraham and Mac Trammell.
Who is your Hustle MVP for this inaugural season and why?
Brandon Abraham (@bcabraham)- I think without a doubt Marquis Teague is the Hustle’s MVP of their inaugural season. His stat line doesn’t jump out at you - 17.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, 6.2 assists - but his veteran presence was crucial to the Hustle’s season. He played in 47 of the Hustle’s 48 game before being called up to the Grizzlies and was Coach Cyprien’s go-to guy in the clutch with multiple game winners and many more crunch time baskets. Omari Johnson is a very well deserved honorable mention, but if you watched any Hustle games you knew the team was lead by Marquis Teague.
Mac Trammell (@Mac_Trammell)- There’s really only one answer here, and I’ll give you two reasons why. Hustle head coach Glynn Cyprien often lauded his point guard and captain Marquis Teague, saying things like (paraphrasing), “He’s one of the best guards in this league,” or “He’s a call-up guy.” From my experience, though he was effusive in his praise for all his players, Coach Cyprien was most vocal in his support of Teague. The fact that the team’s head coach spoke so glowingly of him says a lot to me. Secondly, Teague was the team’s first and only NBA call-up. To me this shows that not only does he have the basketball ability, but he also has the intangibles that make an NBA-quality player.
Do you think the Hustle benefited from or were hurt by the multiple young Grizzlies who were on their roster early this season?
Abraham- I think it hurt the Hustle with so many call ups and downs to start the season. Considering it was the first season for all of these guys to play together, they had a tough time getting going early in the season because they could not develop chemistry with one another due to the call ups/downs. Once the roster got situated, you could tell the Hustle were able to develop their talent and build team chemistry, which allowed them to end the season on a hot streak. I’m sure having some NBA guys called down helped the team behind the scenes, but from a strictly on the court, wins and losses analysis the young Grizzlies being called up and down hurt the Hustle (but benefited the Grizzlies).
Trammell- You could tell from the final media session that the team felt like it improved as the season went on because it experienced more roster stability. Rather than expound on this myself, I’ll let Coach Cyprien explain:
“It started to click in. It’s funny to hear guys say, ‘Coach, we wish we were still playing because now we’ve got it.’ I think a lot of that was because we had a nucleus of guys that had been together and had kind of figured things out. And that’s the big thing with the G-League: the teams that keep the guys together the longest are the teams that’s the best. It’s not the guys that get called up all the time that’s the better teams.”
How did Coach Cyprien do in this first season? Is he the long-term coach of the Hustle in your eyes?
Abraham- Don’t let the 21-29 record fool you, Coach Cyprien did an excellent job in his first full season as coach. The G-League is obviously a developmental league and I don’t think you can point at any person on the Hustle roster and say they didn’t develop this season under Coach Cyprien. Chance Comanche is a great example as he started out the season barely getting minutes and then became the go-to guy down low in some games down the stretch. Every player got better, and the Hustle remained competitive all season, despite the various call ups/downs mentioned above.
I believe he is definitely the long-term coach of the Hustle, unless he moves up in the Grizzlies ranks. The only way I see him as a stop-gap as Hustle coach is if he ends up as an assistant on the Grizzlies bench, or moves up or focuses more on his front office gig as Grizzlies Director of Pro Personnel.
Trammell- I’m not sure I can speak to his X’s and O’s. Expansion teams for the most part usually aren’t very good. This team was no exception. I tend to think that has less to do with his coaching ability than it does with roster, but as highlighted earlier this team got better as the season wore on. They finished the year winning four of five and beating five of the six teams headed to the playoffs in the Western Conference. I see that as a positive trend.
That having been said, I personally like Coach Cyprien. I’m not going to pretend like I have some sort of great relationship with him, but he always treated me with respect and answered questions with composure and energy. He clearly takes his job seriously, but is also self-aware at the same time. You could hear him joking with refs at times or even humorously bantering with loud fans. I don’t know if that has any relevance to his coaching ability, but I found it charming and worth sharing.
How did the community support the Hustle in their inaugural campaign? How can the Hustle better get the word out about the G-League team in Southaven?
Abraham- The community did a good job supporting the Hustle in their inaugural season. It didn’t always show in the Landers Center seats, but that’s bound to happen when fans can watch on Facebook instead of driving down to Southaven on a random Tuesday night. The Facebook Live streams were filled with Hustle fans and the Southaven community embraced the team. I think the marketing strategies implemented by the Hustle were creative and built great relationship with local businesses in the area. The best thing for the Hustle to help spread the word about the team would be if they could get someone like Jimmer Fredette or DJ Stephens to come back from overseas, as the Hustle have the rights to both players if they return to the G-League.
The Hustle have gotten their name out there, now all they need is some more players with solid name recognition to get more fans in the Landers Center seats.
Trammell- I’m not gonna front: fan support, in terms of attendance, was not strong. This was a struggling minor league team, what else would you expect? It may not help that they play in the Landers Center, which is a big arena. Maybe too big for them. But tickets are cheap and the fan experience looks fun.
To answer your second question: why not plug more Hustle home games during more Grizzlies broadcasts? Have Pete Pranica do a live read about the next upcoming games with a nice graphic on the screen? Or have Eric Hasseltine do a read or even interview a player or Coach Cyprien during a game? Maybe they were already doing this, and I just missed it, but it seems like an easy way to advertise.
Was this first season a success in your eyes? Why or why not?
Abraham- I think you’d have to consider the first season a success. 21-29 wasn’t a terrible record for an inaugural season, especially considering the early struggles. Every player seemed to improve as the season progressed and with that the fan support improved as well. The Hustle showed they could hang with some of the best teams in the G-League, defeating 5 of the 6 playoff teams in the West at least once. With a (hopefully) better Grizzlies team, the Hustle should benefit from a more consistent roster next year and build upon what was a solid inaugural season.
Trammell- I don’t think it was a success, but I also don’t think it was a failure. The team finished below .500, but also showed growth throughout the arc of the season. The same could be said about individual players. Again, fan support wasn’t ideal, but also this was the team’s first season. The team only had one call-up, but also didn’t have an elite roster, so it’s hard to tell if that fact is impressive or deflating. In basically every aspect it’s hard to tell if the season was successful. It really depends on your own definition of “success.”
Thanks to Mac and Brandon for their great work covering the Hustle all season long!