During the first game of the season for the Golden State Warriors in 2014, starting power forward David Lee exited the game with a hamstring injury. This injury would cause him to miss the next 24 games of that season.
At the time, his injury was perceived as a significant blow to everything the Warriors were trying to accomplish that year. After all, Lee may have never quite been as good as Zach Randolph, but he was still a consistent 20-10 threat every single night even as he entered the twilight of his career that helped provide balance to a Golden State offense that had perhaps relied too heavily on perimeter shooting in previous seasons.
However, hindsight now shows that Lee’s injury was one of the best things that ever happened to the Warriors. His absence provided an opportunity for Steve Kerr to insert a young talented role player in Draymond Green into the starting lineup. Green would of course become the ideal prototype for the modern power forward on his way to earning multiple all-star selections, winning a Defensive Player of the Year award, and helping lead the Warriors to multiple championships.
And the Warriors may never have experienced the full greatness of Draymond Green if not for a majorly inconvenient injury to what they believed was one of the key pieces of their team.
To be sure, injuries like the Grizzlies are currently experiencing with Ja Morant and Brandon Clarke are certainly never a positive occurrence. In the middle of a season in which wins and losses are not the priority, any missed time for players like Morant, Clarke or even Jaren Jackson Jr. is valuable development that they are unable to receive.
But the point is this: Although injuries are an inconvenient truth and sometimes can even be catastrophic to the goals that a team has, that doesn’t mean that positive developments cannot come from injuries, especially when they create an opportunity for the development of other young players. That was true for the Golden State Warriors in 2014, and it could very well be true for the Memphis Grizzlies in 2019 as they enter 2020.
Now that doesn’t mean that De’Anthony Melton will necessarily grow into the second coming of Gary Payton. Or that Marko Guduric will ever be more than just a bargain-bin Manu Ginobli.
Yet the Grizzlies still have an opening to have greater clarity in understanding what exactly they have in players like Melton, Guduric and Allen (or even Josh Jackson if the Grizzlies’ front office ever decides to end his seemingly inexplicable assignment to Southhaven).
And it’s an opportunity that both the Grizzlies and these prospects would not have if Morant and Clark were not missing time. Melton and Allen in particular have seen significant increases in their playing time over the last three games. Allen has only averaged 18.4 minutes per game in 10 games this year, but he has averaged 27.3 minutes over the last three games. Melton has both spent time in Southhaven and has collected a few DNP’s this year, but he’s played an average of 26 minutes with the absence of Morant over the last three games.
To their credit, Allen and Melton have taken early advantage of their increased opportunities. Melton has showcased a rather complete game, demonstrating why he already has a reputation as a tenacious defender while providing a steady flow to the offense. His recent game against the Pacers in particular was superb, as he totaled 16 points on 6-10 shooting while grabbing 9 rebounds and dishing out 4 assists. Allen has been able to impact the game through his energy and effort even when his shot isn’t falling. His best game came over the weekend against the Minnesota Timberwolves, as he finished with 13 points on 4-9 shooting and 3-6 shooting from three while also grabbing 5 rebounds. Both were instrumental in getting the Grizzlies back in the game against the Chicago Bulls.
Of course, the fact that Allen and Melton in particular have had some encouraging performances lately may not mean much in the grand scheme of things. I once saw social media superstar Kobi Simmons drop 17 in a competitive game against the Warriors. I was also witness to a 30-point virtuoso performance from Wayne Selden Jr. and I will always die on the hill that Selden could have made a better career as an NFL cornerback than he ever could have as an NBA player.
I even subjected myself to watching an entire season in which Andrew Harrison did his best impersonation of an NBA point guard. He had several solid games that year; even blind squirrels find acorns eventually.
However, even if none of the young prospects that the Grizzlies have eventually pan out, they will still have a greater opportunity to figure out whose development they should prioritize. Because whether it was Kyle Lowry, Greivis Vasquez or even DeMarre Carroll, the Grizzlies have always had to make difficult decisions with the younger players on their roster.
A time will soon be coming when the Memphis Grizzlies have to make similarly difficult decisions once again. But it will hopefully be easier when that time comes with the greater opportunity to evaluate their young talent that they now have.
And as Draymond Green proved in 2014, you never know what might happen when the right player is given an increased opportunity.