Wait...no, never mind, he isn’t playing. But Ja Morant will certainly light up the highlight re...
Oh, yes, that’s right, no Ja Morant either.
But Brandon Clarke and Grayson Allen will make this fascinating to wat...
Of course, the NBA’s rules are dumb and they aren’t eligible to play until Las Vegas after the trade involving Mike Conley finalizes July 6th.
So when the Grizzlies take the floor against (ironically) the host Utah Jazz on Monday night in Salt Lake City at 8 PM CT, they will not be showcasing the stars whose future is so bright that Memphis has gone from “convey or don’t convey” to an actual direction and purpose in about four months. That doesn’t make it meaningless, however - there is plenty at stake and to watch for as Head Coach Taylor Jenkins makes his debut leading the summer Grizzlies first in Salt Lake City and then in Las Vegas later this week.
Here are some keys to the next few days as the Jenkins era begins.
Coaching staff and scheme
There hasn’t been much talk about Jenkins and his progress towards developing a full coaching staff. The first real glimpse at the possibilities came with the unveiling of the summer league roster for Salt Lake City: some holdovers (Vitaly Potapenko, who figures to stay due to a multi-year contract as reported by Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian, and J.J. Outlaw), a connection from the past of Jenkins (Brad Jones, current Memphis Hustle Head Coach who has been rumored to perhaps be making the move up to the Grizzlies staff), and the rest - Alex Jones, Brett Burman, and Michael Noyes.
No disrespect to the other three men, who may well wind up being on the staff of Jenkins, but Potapenko/Outlaw/Jones are the most likely guys to be on the bench with Jenkins.
Beyond those working with the players in game and on the floor at practice, seeing how Jenkins manages the different-but-the-same summer league structure will be interesting to watch play out. It will be our first opportunity to look at the basics of his schemes and how he plans to use and attack pace/spacing on both ends of the floor, and while it won’t be as attractive watching Jevon Carter and Ivan Rabb pick and rolls instead of Ja and Jaren ones, the way the pieces are put in place should make for interesting television.
Speaking of Ivan and Jevon...
Big summers ahead for Rabb and Carter
Any time the team you play for drafts players at your position, there is reason for uncertainty. Morant and Brandon Clarke (eventually) being in Memphis, and the return of Jonas Valanciunas, makes for some tight roster space...and surely Ivan Rabb and Jevon Carter have noticed. Add on the (likely) presence of Delon Wright for the next few years, and the way the NBA has made it more of a priority that big men are able to switch defensively and shoot the three on offense?
Ivan and Jevon should be nervous.
Carter has a fully guaranteed contract this season, so barring him having some epic collapse he will be a Grizzly this coming season. But Rabb’s contract won’t be fully guaranteed until July 15th - also, coincidentally, the final day of summer league out in Vegas.
Ivan needs to display growth in his game. He must show improved range, both in terms of his shot and his defensive movement near the paint and beyond. He has to be able to dominate lesser competition - entering year three in the NBA, he should be a force for much of his time on the floor the next two weeks. We know he can rebound, and we know he has touch in and around the rim. More is needed, however, to warrant a long-term investment. Perhaps that comes at the center position - arguably the weakness of this roster currently, beyond Jonas Valanciunas - but he must show development when in that role as well to warrant main roster depth consideration there.
Jevon should be better in year two...mostly because, aside from a random performance or two at the end of a lost season, he couldn’t have shot the ball any worse. Carter at least has the ability to be defensively elite on his side - Rabb isn’t elite at anything, as of yet. Jevon’s niche being defensive in nature bodes well for his value in theory. But he cannot guarantee himself a roster spot, much less playing time, if he is an offensive liability. Improvement needs to be shown here too.
From two guys fighting for their roster lives, to two guys happy to have a shot at the show...
Memphis has both of their current two-way contract players participating in summer league...and they both bring with them very interesting skill sets and possibilities to the Grizzlies.
Yuta Watanabe, who Grizzlies fans are almost surely familiar with despite his two-way deal, returns to Memphis to begin the second year of his contract. He is fascinating for reasons beyond his Japanese-American origin story - he is a big combo forward who can score the ball in a variety of ways, and at times even ran the point for the Memphis Hustle from the forward position. He is capable of defending multiple positions as well, which is nice in a switch-heavy scheme. Even with the transition in coaching and the front office, Watanabe fits what the Grizzlies want from a player - versatile, and smart. How he has improved in just a couple months will be fun to watch unfold.
The new guy, John Konchar, is almost like Watanabe in terms of why Memphis likes him (smart, can be multiple things in multiple situations), just smaller. Our Lauren Harvey did a wonderful profile on him - which you can read here - so this space will focus more on his fit alongside Yuta, and Jevon, and Ivan. That core of four guys should, in theory, cause some problems for various opposing lineups...especially on the perimeter defensively. Rabb sets decent screens, and is long enough to allow all three players to have space to create in the pick and roll. It should make for open shots in corners and at the rim for Rabb on finishes.
That’s what 41% from three will do for you. Konchar brings that, and much more to the table. He may well wind up being the best undrafted free agent from this class - that journey starts in Utah.
What else to watch for
- THE MEMPHIS HUSTLE REPRESENTS! Dusty Hannahs, Tyler Harvey, Doral Moore, and former Grizzlies two-way player Julian Washburn all are on this roster, and should provide welcome depth and chemistry to a team that will be adjusting to new coaching.
- IT’S ALL ABOUT WHO YOU KNOW. Shaq Buchanan - college teammate of Ja Morant - is on the squad, and hopes to use the connection to Ja to show he belongs in an NBA training camp. He showed flashes of strong defense while with the Racers...he must display that here as well.
- A COUPLE UNDRAFTEES TO WATCH: Simi Shittu (Vanderbilt) and Lyle Hexom (Peru State) both, again, fit the type of the new Grizzlies - Shittu has length and the ability to be a pretty big forward that can facilitate, and also is athletic enough to grab a rebound and go out on the break by himself. Meanwhile, Hexom has a pretty impressive offensive repertoire and can both shoot the three (42.9%) and can both create as a pick and roll facilitator and finisher at the rim. At 6’8”, he fits the idea of positionless basketball and both he and Shittu could be real contenders to play for the Memphis Hustle and get a training camp invite.
The Grizzlies take on the Utah Jazz Monday night at 8 PM CT. They will then take on the San Antonio Spurs at 6 PM CT on Tuesday July 2nd and the Cleveland Cavaliers at 6 PM CT Wednesday, July 3rd before they head to the Las Vegas Summer League, which begins Friday July 5th.