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Two-Way Targets for Memphis: Part One - Ball Handlers

Fresh faces for the fellas in Southaven.

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NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Seton Hall Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Memphis Grizzlies appear to have quite a full house on Beale Street already.

Their roster currently stands at 11 guaranteed contracts for next season - Ja Morant, Tyus Jones, Dillon Brooks, Grayson Allen, Marko Guduric, Kyle Anderson, Justise Winslow, Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Clarke, Jonas Valanciunas, and Gorgui Dieng. Add in the potential retention of Jontay Porter (team option) and 12 of the 15 spots on the squad are already filled - and that is before re-signing De’Anthony Melton (probable), making a selection in the 2020 NBA Draft (#40 if no other dealings are done) and potentially using the mid-level exception to bring in additional talent. Do the math - even if Memphis eats the Guduric contract to try to make roster room, it’s likely that 14 (or even all 15) roster slots are filled well before the season begins in December, January, or whenever.

What does that mean for the likes of John Konchar and Yuta Watanabe, the two two-way players for the Grizzlies this past season who spent a majority of their time before the NBA Bubble in Orlando with the Memphis Hustle, the team’s G-League affiliate in Southaven. Both have the ability to be give qualifying offers in restricted free agency, but the market for both men - especially Watanabe, who has more experience than Konchar - may not be robust. Memphis seems high on Konchar, as he got minutes in the Bubble before the likes of Josh Jackson, but another team could come in with a minimum contract that the Grizzlies may not be able to respond to. It does seem likely, though, that if Memphis decides to move on from Guduric they could simply add the versatile Konchar in his place for a relatively low cost.

With Yuta, his time with the Hustle is almost surely over. More than two years on a two-way doesn’t make a ton of sense for Memphis as an organization. Especially considering the age of Watanabe (25) and the fact he’s likely most effective as a stretch four, his ball-handling and scoring probably do not negate any defensive woes and lack of athleticism that come along with keeping him on the active 15-man roster.

Could both he and Konchar return to the Hustle? In theory, yes. Yet Konchar seems too good to be in that role another year and could fit in that Guduric end-of-the-bench role nicely, and Yuta simply is a victim of circumstance with too many front court players in front of him that are better than him.

Memphis Grizzlies v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Given all of this, it’s safe to make an educated guess that at least one two-way slot will be open for the Grizzlies this offseason, and perhaps two. If that is the case? The smartest way to fill the spot would be to sign an undrafted rookie, like the team did in the 2020 NBA Draft. Almost immediately after the festivities concluded, the Grizzlies signed Konchar. The rest is “history” - Memphis tends to like “getting Jitty”. Things could repeat themselves this year given the uncertainty of the offseason process and the fact Memphis only (currently) has one pick in the draft. It’s the best way to add young talent without having a pick, getting them in your organization while also having a great avenue with the Memphis Hustle to develop their talent.

Who could be some targets that make sense? In this series we will be breaking down nine players that make sense (that have not already been profiled yet by us here at GBB). Today? We begin with ball-handlers - a position grouping that the Bubble taught us Memphis needs to address somehow this offseason.

Honorable Mention

NCAA Basketball: Seton Hall at Creighton Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

3. Myles Powell, Senior, Seton Hall. Powell is not “elite” at shooting the three by any stretch (30.6% from beyond the arc his senior year), but his scoring ability at the rim is superior. His size (6’2”) is still not enough to be a consistently switchable guard, and he needs to develop as an offensive facilitator. But he was a consensus All-American, and he won the Jerry West Award as College Basketball’s top shooting guard this past year. He projects as a combo guard at the next level though, which could help him make up for some possible defensive issues. But he is very much a project when it comes to being that creator for others and not just himself off the dribble.

Time with the Hustle could aid in that transition. Speaking of transition...

2. Jordan Ford, Senior, St. Mary’s. A WCC prospect (shout out Brandon Clarke), Ford shares the fact that he is a graduating senior with Powell. He also has the same shooting ability from three that our winner in this category possesses, especially off the dribble (a career 41.6% from range, albeit on fewer attempts than our #1). Ford is a very heady guard, understanding positioning and timing while pushing the tempo when necessary. A skilled transition player with a high basketball IQ...sound like something Memphis may be interested in?

Like Powell and the choice at #1, his size limits his upside. He also doesn’t have NBA athleticism, meaning defensively he could be a liability at times as he transitions to professional basketball. But he had to work for every shred of attention and ability he has - and the Grizzlies like that a lot.

One guy combines elite skill with the hard-working, battle tested DNA Memphis values. And he is the pick if this organization chooses to go with a “point guard” with their next two-way contract.

The choice - Markus Howard, Marquette.

Syndication: Milwaukee Mark Hoffman / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via Imagn Content Services, LLC

We have talked about the fact that Memphis has a “type” - gritty, chip on your shoulder players who have great skills, but couple them with a tough mentality that will help establish a Grizzlies “standard”. All three of the choices here makes sense in that regard as four year seniors that helped establish their programs as successes. But Howard fits the bill best - he started over 120 games for Marquette, making the All-Big East team three times (twice on the first team) while also being named a two-time All-American (first team this past season). In fact, he was a finalist for the Wooden Award this past season, an honor given to college basketball’s best player. He led all of the NCAA in scoring this season (27.5 points per game) and usage (39.3%), while also posting a career three point percentage at Marquette of 42.7%.

Yes, you read that right. 42.7%. This past season he shot 41.2% from three on an Big East-leading (and 4th in the entire country) 294 attempts. He posted an excellent 29.2 PER and .240 win shares per 40 minutes this past season according to sports-reference.com, and his career 88.2% free throw percentage suggests that his three point numbers are legit. This guy can be a perimeter threat.

So why is the leader in Big East history in made three pointers not on the big board over at Tankathon or The Ringer? Why is he at #61 on ESPN, or #50 on CBS, the only Big Board that we use here at GBB that has him among the top 50 prospects in this draft?

His shooting percentages overall (but especially within the three point arc) went down over time at Marquette, leading some to worry he may have already peaked despite being a relatively young four-year player for Marquette (he turns 22 in March). His size (5’11”, 180 pounds) leads many to fear his limitations on what he can do defensively in terms of versatility, and when it comes to finishing at the rim Howard simply is not as strong in that area as he should be given his experience. You can’t teach height and physical stature - the fact is, Howard does not have a typical NBA body and physically can’t be interchangeable positionally. That surely hurts him in the modern eyes of the NBA.

Given how much he scored and shot at Marquette, he has not shown the ability to facilitate on a consistent basis. Since he is so slight of frame, he must develop that skill before he can be counted on at the NBA level to help lead an offense.

All that means that Howard could very well be available late in the draft, or could go undrafted. If that indeed happens? The Grizzlies need to make a call. Markus has Trae Young-lite upside as a shooter, and if Memphis decides to use their remaining roster spots on wings and bigs acquiring a two-way point guard makes all the sense in the world. Howard would likely light up ySouthaven as a scorer, but with Jason March and company helping grow his game his focus could be on creating for others, not just himself.

The size of the dog in the fight does matter, unfortunately for Howard. But because of his physical limitations, he has a skill set where he is elite. His durability despite his stature (128 career games played) and his ability to score and lead the Golden Eagles to two NCAA Tournaments in his time in Milwaukee shows a mental toughness and grit that would fit with the Grizzlies organization nicely. Perhaps eventually he pushes Tyus Jones - but he doesn’t need to be that guy for now. And if Justise Winslow gets healthy and contributes, or Kyle Anderson remains in Memphis (hopefully he doesn’t) they can be the squad’s de facto “3rd point guard” one more season. Howard can find more pieces of his game with the Hustle that he wasn’t able to explore in college...

All while maintaining that special marksmanship from beyond the arc that Memphis needs to add so much.

On Wednesday, Part II will detail three wings that makes sense for Memphis to target with a two-way contract.

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