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2020-2021 Memphis Grizzlies Player Previews: John Konchar

Can the fan-favorite and analytics darling become a mainstay in the Grizzlies’ rotation?

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies-Media Day Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

In free agency, the Memphis Grizzlies made long-term investments in three promising, home-grown prospects: De’Anthony Melton, Jontay Porter, and John Konchar. The final of those three, Konchar, inked a four-year deal worth $9 million. This deal is a low-risk, high-reward move by Memphis brass, as if the Konchar experiment doesn’t pan out as planned, he can be cut without the burden of financial headache. And if John ends up evolving into a valuable two-way cog as a Grizzly (which is quite possible), the Bears of Beale Street will have him locked in on a dirt-cheap contract for the foreseeable future.

With key, starting-caliber pieces in Justise Winslow and Jaren Jackson Jr. down for the court to begin this new season, Coach Taylor Jenkins will be forced to rely on the depth of his group - the productivity of his bench unit could ultimately determine the team’s playoff chances. The injury-riddled state of the Grizzlies’ top dogs may prove to work in Konchar’s favor, as fate has granted him his best shot thus far at cracking the rotation. Memphis’ front office signed him to a four-year extension for a reason - they believe Konchar’s skill set and play style to be conducive to team-wide success as well as to sustaining the tough-minded, rugged mentality that has defined Grizzlies basketball for some time.

2019-20 Overview

Back in the summer of 2019, Konchar, then an undrafted free agent joined Memphis on a two-way deal. He put together a commendable collegiate career at Purdue-Fort Wayne which spanned four years and saw him be named to the All-Summit League Team. But Konchar was 23 years old when he entered the 2019 draft, and Purdue-Fort Wayne has yet to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, so his superb all-around play as a college athlete didn’t generate a great deal of buzz.

The parameters behind a two-way deal inhibited Konchar from holding a meaningful role in Memphis during his maiden season. Players who signed a two-way contract last season were unable to stick around on an NBA roster for more than 45 days. As a result, Konchar logged just 19 games with the Grizzlies and averaged 2.8 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 1.2 assists in 9.5 minutes per contest. Because Memphis was gunning for a playoff berth in 2019-20, Konchar primarily saw the court in garbage time - when the game was already decided. While John’s per-game splits don’t jump off the page at first glance, his impact while on the court was undeniable and the advanced stats back up this notion.

Konchar, who stands at 6’5”, is classified as a shooting guard, yet his rebounding prowess - particularly on the offensive glass - was off the charts. According to Cleaning the Glass, Konchar ranked in the 100th percentile among all wings this past season in offensive rebounding percentage (11.7%) and he didn’t much fare much worse in grabbing defensive rebounds, as he finished in the 94th percentile (16.1%). Offensive rebounding is considered to be an attribute of bigs, not wings, but Konchar is a rare breed who can reliably generate extra possessions for his team. His board-snatching prowess can be attributed to his impeccable nose for the ball, as Konchar is an expert at following his teammates’ misses - a significant number of Konchar’s baskets as a Grizzly stemmed from offensive rebound put-backs.

Along with his rebounding chops, Konchar also showcased his impressive ability to finish at the rim. John isn’t an explosive athlete who jumps out of the gym, but he’s still an athletic finisher who’s a threat in transition; Konchar can hang in mid-air and score creatively around the cup, and he’s no stranger to muscling his way through contact. Per Cleaning the Glass, Konchar converted on 67% of his field-goals at the rim as a Grizzly, which had him in the 79th percentile. Not too shabby.

Projected Role

The Grizzlies have accumulated an impressive amount of depth at the wing position over the past few seasons, with their newest acquisition being 2020 NBA Draft selection Desmond Bane, a prospect heralded by draftniks. Memphis now boasts a depth chart of Dillon Brooks, Grayson Allen, De’Anthony Melton, Bane, and Konchar at the shooting guard/small forward spots (not to mention the injured Justise Winslow). The four players listed before Konchar are likely to monopolize the majority of available minutes at the positions. As such, Konchar will have to make a lasting impression during the preseason to justify consistent minutes when the regular season rolls around.

Konchar projects to be a fringe rotation player this upcoming campaign, especially to start 2020-21 considering the injuries to Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow. He is a standout hustler, rebounder, and finisher around the rim, and these traits of his will become apparent as the season wears on. Konchar will average anywhere between 10-15 minutes per game; John should find himself with a defined role (unlike the year prior), but when taking into account Memphis’ wing depth, Konchar may accumulate a handful of DNPs over the course of 82 games.

Season Best Case Scenario

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Houston Rockets Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

When asked earlier this month about which components of his repertoire he attempted to refine during the off-season, Konchar explicitly mentioned his three-point jumper and handle. This is wonderful news for Grizzlies fans, as the development of said aspects of his game will be key to working his way up the pecking order. With this in mind, it should not come as a surprise that the best-case scenario for Konchar is that his long-range shooting and ball-handling chops are strengthened and he usurps the likes of Desmond Bane and Grayson Allen in the rotation. Additionally, John becomes part of the ten-man unit that Coach Taylor Jenkins said will be implemented to start the season and suits up for about 20 minutes per contest.

Konchar was a 41.6% three-point shooter in college, but in 20 games as an offensive focal point for the 2019-20 Memphis Hustle (the Grizzlies’ G-League affiliate), he nailed just 31.6% of his treys. Konchar approaches his collegiate efficiency from deep, and the tenacious spirit and fire he plays with on both ends lead to him being recognized as the glue-guy of this Grizzlies team.

Season Worst Case Scenario

NBA: Preseason-Memphis Grizzlies at Minnesota Timberwolves Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Konchar’s analytical success with the Grizzlies last season was well-documented here at GBB. But it’s worth noting once again that his sample size with Memphis was relatively small, as he only suited up 19 times for the Grizzlies. Therefore the worst-case scenario for Konchar is that his splendid advanced metrics prove to be misleading, and his effectiveness and efficiency both plummet due to an increased workload. John spent the lion’s share of his NBA minutes dueling against end-of-the-bench talents, so one could contend it’s still up in the air as to whether he’s capable of holding his own against starting-caliber players and even top-tier reserves.

Konchar has yet to see significant run time against the very best the league (and the world) has to offer. If all goes awry, John will struggle to cement his place in Coach Jenkins’ rotation due to his inexperience, as his defining strengths will shine less bright against those who are proven and experienced NBA performers.

2020-2021 Memphis Grizzlies Content Day Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Overall Expectations

Konchar is an intelligent and multidimensional basketball player who belongs in the NBA. However, the Grizzlies signed him to a four-year contract knowing he’s far from a finished product. John has only a modicum of NBA experience under his belt, so Memphis faithful shouldn’t get discouraged if he encounters some growing pains in 2020-21. His outside shot is a work in progress. His handle is shaky. But expect Konchar to see the court for the Grizzlies more often than he did as a rookie, and expect him to continue to display his unique rebounding capability as well as his penchant for making winning plays and getting his hands dirty. While John is not without his warts, Memphis believes he has the potential to be a difference-maker on the next great Grizzlies team - and Konchar will unveil, albeit in flashes, why the franchise holds him in such high regard.

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