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Building what it means to be a Grizzly

The front office lasered in on a certain type of player this offseason in an attempt to bring back a winning culture.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Denver Nuggets
Garrett Temples (17) dives for a loose ball.
Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

In his thorough and comprehensive The Book of Basketball (2009), Bill Simmons enumerates five qualities of an ideal basketball player: “totally unselfish, awesome teammate, enjoyed making others better, incredibly high basketball IQ, [and] complete comprehension of The Secret [essentially a willingness to put the goals of the team ahead of personal success].”

If you compiled a list of characteristics about the players the Memphis Grizzlies have acquired this 2018 offseason, it would roughly look like Simmons’ five classifications with three caveats: first, Simmons’ list pertains to elite, all-time players, while the Grizzlies have picked up fringe and/or young talent. As a result it’s very difficult to determine whether “enjoyed making others better” and “complete comprehension of The Secret” are relevant categories here,* so we’ll cut them out.

*Though you might argue that Mike Conley and Marc Gasol already possess these qualities.

NBA: Summer League-Philadelphia 76ers at Memphis Grizzlies Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Second, for this exercise I think “totally unselfish” can be conjoined with “awesome teammate.” We’ll rename this category “high character player.”

Third, it can’t be understated that the Grizzlies desire a return to Grit n’ Grind. As such, they’ve targeted players with high motors who hustle and play both sides of the floor. For this reason we’ll create one last category called: “defense/heart.”

To recap, we stole one category straight from Simmons, combined two others into a larger premise, cut the other two for irrelevancy, and added one other classification which embodies the sentiments Simmons evoked with his list.

As a result, if you could saturate the Grizzlies’ offseason down to three themes they would be:

  1. Defense/Heart
  2. High Character Player
  3. High Basketball IQ

So like I said, “roughly resemble[s]” Simmons’ characteristics.

Ok, maybe it doesn’t exactly, but I had a stroke of creative confidence I had to follow, or as Dave Chappelle describes it, “it’s like the idea said ‘get in the car.’ And I’m like, ‘where are we going?’ And the idea said, ‘I don’t know. Don’t worry, I’m driving.’ And then you just get there... The idea takes you where it wants to go.” And here we are.

Anyways, let’s get into the three themes.

Defense/Heart

We start with defense/heart because that is where the Grizzlies offseason began.

If you could choose one word to exemplify the Grizzlies’ 2018 draft it would be “defense.” Their two picks, Jaren Jackson Jr., 4th overall out of Michigan State, and Jevon Carter, 32nd overall out of West Virginia, combined for three Power Five ‘Conference Defensive Player of the Year’ awards and two NABC ‘National Defensive Player of the Year’ awards in their collegiate careers. While Carter was not terrific defensively in summer league, he showed his chops in spurts. Jackson Jr., on the other hand, was a defensive presence.

More seasoned additions Kyle Anderson and Garrett Temple also highlight a defensive mindset. Anderson was one of the only players last season to post a block percentage and steal percentage greater than 2.5 percent. Because of his length Anderson is able to alter both shots and passes, creating turnovers for a Grizzlies team which ranked 11th in The Association in fastbreak points per game.

Temple has worked hard to make himself into a 3-and-D player in the league. He worked hard on the defensive side of the floor during a 10-day stint with the Washington Wizards, earning himself not only another 10-day contract, but a guaranteed full season deal. He then parlayed that season into a three-year $24 million deal with the Sacramento Kings where he continued to grind defensively while improving his three point stroke, once a hole in his game.

High Character Player

Temple is the frontman for this subject as he has been lauded as a great teammate and civilian during his Sacramento tenure. Just about everything you would want to know about his locker room presence can be gleaned from this Commercial Appeal piece by Peter Edmiston. If that wasn’t enough for you, Sacramento’s ABC affiliate KXTV recounted Temple’s involvement in the community:

“Off the court, Temple took on a leadership role in the greater Sacramento community. In December 2017, Temple adopted Sacramento High School in Oak Park in an effort to inspire and motivate local kids and create positive change in the city he played in.”

Everything you read about Temple makes you believe he’ll be a great teammate.

Excluding the bizarre Kawhi Leonard saga, Anderson comes from one of the most impeccable organizations in the league. The San Antonio Spurs have had nary a crisis over a 20-year stretch of dominance including five championships 15 years apart. Head Coach Gregg Popovich has been heralded as one of the league’s greatest ever coaches and leaders. Any time you can get a guy who’s been molded by that system (outside of Kawhi I guess) you feel lucky.

As for the two rookies, it happens to be a bonus that both have spent time in Memphis. Carter’s mother is a Memphian and Jackson Jr. has visited family in the 901. That relative comfort should help ingratiate them into the community with ease.

If you have any doubts about the rookies’ ability to mesh with teammates or their ability to be role models in the city, look no further than the below video produced by Grind City Media. The whole thing is excellent, but starting at the 2:20 mark, you can hear Jackson talking enthusiastically just after he’s been drafted with head coach J.B. Bickerstaff.

“Coming in, I felt like it’s definitely more important for me to go to a team that’s established. Just coming in any way to try to win. I’m really—any... ANYthing you need, coach. ANYthing. I’m ready.”

It’s not just what he says, but how he says it that shows so much. When you hear him say he’s ready to do anything, it’s genuine and confident. That’s what you love to hear from a guy you hope one day to build your team around.

Carter, in addition to excelling in infectious areas of the game which highlight hustle and effort, was a favorite of West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins. Carter was a two time captain of the Mountaineers, and Coach Huggins said of him, “Jevon certainly sets an example with his work ethic, and he puts more time in than just about anyone I have ever coached.”

High Basketball IQ

If you type in “Kyle Anderson high basketball IQ” into Google you will get hits not only from our own great and wonderful site, but also the likes of DraftExpress, Bleacher Report, the LA Times, the New York Post, NBADraft.net, Wikipedia, and our own parent site, SBNation. Other than playing slow, it seems that Anderson’s play is synonymous with intellectual. It may well be that those two things are actually linked.

Likewise, if you do the same for any of Temple, Jackson Jr., and Carter, you will see similar though slightly less pronounced results. As mentioned briefly earlier, Temple recognized a weakness in his game: shooting. In 2013-14 he shot a putrid 20.7 percent on less than a half a three point attempt per game. Just three seasons later he almost 40 percent from deep.

NBA: Detroit Pistons at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

Now this improvement alone doesn’t necessarily prove that he has a high basketball IQ. But it shows that he is self-aware, it shows he knows his strengths and weaknesses, and it shows that from that self-knowledge he is willing to work to maximize or minimize those areas.

It wasn’t enough that the Grizzlies wanted guys who play hard. They wanted guys who would play hard AND play the right way. We’ve seen some Grizzlies players who show a lot of hustle, but who don’t seem to know what they’re doing...

[This is where I was going to embed the video of Lance Stephenson dribbling out of control and falling on his face, but I spent a really solid 20 minutes looking for it on the internet and inexplicably am unable to find it. I’m sorry to have disappointed you all.]

However, Carter, Jackson Jr., Temple, and Anderson would much more likely be characterized as prudent than reckless. None of these guys are flashy and they all work hard to play the game well.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers at San Antonio Spurs Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

Conclusion

I’m sure you could probably think of more than just three themes to summarize the Grizzlies’ offseason acquisitions. Some might say “shrewd,” others may suggest “short sighted.” You say, “GnG!” someone else says, “outdated.” Until these players actually hit the hardwood it’s simply speculation as to how this offseason will be remembered.

But it does feel like the team has done some good work to build around the pieces they already have. It may not be enough in a crowded Western Conference, but they tried without giving up too much (so far—there are more moves on the horizon, it seems). That’s a feat in and of itself.

In the end, though, we may be able to synthesize the three themes down to one. Whether it materializes this way or not, it sure seems to be the intent behind the moves. But it feels a lot like the Grizzlies want to build a “winning mentality.”

They want it for their aging stars, they want it for their impressionable young guys, and they want it for their fans. We’ll have to wait and see if their plan pans out.