Ivan Rabb is now in his third season in the NBA and as a Memphis Grizzly, and it is a critical one.
Rabb is set to hit restricted free agency in the Summer of 2020, a considerably weaker free agent class than this previous summer. This presents an opportunity for him to cash in on a front office that wants to take a chance on a younger player with potential; but first, he has to show that potential.
2019-20 would be a great time for Rabb to take the next step in his development, but with a glut of players than play center, Ivan could easily be on the outside looking in on the rotation and on the roster in general.
2018-19 Season Overview
49 games, 13 starts, 14.7 minutes-per-game, 5.8 points-per-game, 4.2 rebounds-per-game, 1.1 assists-per-game, .547/.200/.710 FG/3P/FT percentage, 16.1 PER, .586 true shooting percentage, -4.5 on-off +/- per 100 possessions
Ivan Rabb’s sophomore year was quite similar to his rookie campaign. He posted similar counting stats and advanced stats in both seasons and played just over 200 more minutes as a sophomore. As a result, he further solidified his status as a prospect with a somewhat high floor, but a low ceiling. His physical limitations are put on display whenever he is tasked with guarding with biggest of centers, but he plays smart and with a ton of effort. 2018-19 highlighted the conundrum with Rabb: too limited to play center full-time but not good enough as a shooter to play power forward.
It’s very easy to see Rabb crowded out of this frontcourt and potentially the roster. Between Jonas Valanciunas, Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, Kyle Anderson, Miles Plumlee, Bruno Caboclo, and Jae Crowder, the 4 and 5 spots in the lineup are essentially filled throughout the rotation. And that’s just if Rabb is available to even play at power forward. New coach Taylor Jenkins may see him as a pure center. At that spot, Jonas, Jaren, Plumlee (and maybe Brandon Clarke?) have it taken care of. Rabb could be on the outside looking in fairly quickly.
What makes it easier for the Grizzlies to cut bait with Ivan Rabb is that his salary for this season becomes fully guaranteed if he is still on the roster on October 19, 2019. Memphis might just be waiting until the last minute to make a decision and hope someone else solves their roster crunch by trading for Andre Iguodala.
If he is still on the roster, Ivan Rabb will likely be the 5th or 6th option for the Grizzlies when they need to give one of their more regular bigs a break. 10 minutes a game would be a good season in that regard. Or, perhaps better yet for his development, he gets more playing time and more shine on the G-League Memphis Hustle squad so he actually gets a chance for some reps.
2019-20 Best Case Scenario
A depleted roster (through injuries, trades, or buyouts) gives Ivan Rabb opportunity to showcase his talents on the Grizzlies, not the Hustle. In his newly increased playing time, Rabb shows noticeable improvement over his last two seasons on both ends of the floor and raises his stock before he hits restricted free agency. He increases his value by showing a consistent ability to defend the rim and rebound at higher levels than he has thus far.
Rabb has been okay as a prospect in his first two seasons. But what’s been disappointing after two seasons in the league has been the little-to-no improvement year-over-year. Rabb’s floor is reasonably high as a prospect, but nothing he has done over the past two seasons has led anyone to believe his ceiling is anywhere near an All-Star level. Erasing some of those doubts and improving, particularly by gaining strength to defend other centers and defending them well, can make 2019-20 a home run of a season for Rabb as he looks to cash in on a second contract, potentially next summer.
2019-20 Worst Case Scenario
A true worst case scenario would be that Rabb is cut by the Grizzlies before his guarantee date and doesn’t sign with another team for the rest of the season. Even if the Grizzlies do cut him, some team will take a shot on him for an NBA or G-League deal without a doubt. So this is unlikely.
But the real horror facing Ivan Rabb would be living in rotation purgatory. Good enough to keep on the back end of the roster, but too far down the rotation to actually play and develop. All of the established veterans get their time while even a rookie in Brandon Clarke passes Rabb in the rotation. Even being sent down to the G-League would be preferable as he gets to build on his game in live action. In this worst-case scenario, he toils on the end of the bench with the only opportunity to play coming in garbage time. With this inconsistent playing time, Rabb brings inconsistent performance, giving the Grizzlies more of a reason to let him walk next summer without even a qualifying offer.
After two seasons, it appears that Ivan Rabb is a middle of the road prospect. He’s not terrible, but Rabb will not be changing the future of any franchise considerably. With JJJ, Valanciunas, and the promise of Brandon Clarke, there might not be a spot for Rabb to even contribute.
When Rabb sees the floor this season (no matter what team), he’ll bring a high basketball-IQ and a high motor. He deserves a spot somewhere. But, it is easy to see him left off of this Memphis roster, especially with the exit ramp that is his non-guaranteed contract.
Expect this to be the season where Rabb sinks or swim as a third-year player. Front offices would like to see some noticeable improvement out of him if he is to get significant offers in restricted or unrestricted free agency. This is the year to do it.