If you missed part one, check it out here.
Big scoring outbursts and highlight-generating style of play typically catches the eyes of casual fans. For some reason, none of these players in this part necessarily do the job for Grizzlies fans.
Throughout the GNG era, the Core 4 had some exciting complementary players that could get hot and go for 30 or 40 points on any given night. Why were they not seen in similar light to Tony Allen in terms of fan love?
Was it attitude issues? The fact that these performances didn’t translate to winning? Or that they were simply not anyone from The Core 4?
Despite the recognition they fail to receive to this day, these players have put together some of the best offensive performances we’ve seen from the perimeter in Memphis history. The scoring punch from the wing provided has been coveted among the fanbase for years.
Where do these guys stack up? And why don’t they get more recognition?
5) Tyreke Evans, 2017-18
Statline - 19.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.1 steals, shooting line of 45.2/39.9/78.5.
Tyreke Evans put on the best performance of any Grizzly wing this past decade. Unfortunately, it didn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things, as an early-season injury to Mike Conley derailed the entire season.
A “good stats, bad team” argument could be made here. Before Conley sat out permanently, the Grizzlies were 7-6, and Evans played a huge role in the early success. He averaged 18.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 3.1 assists on a shooting line of 52.3/44.8/85.4 — all off the bench.
Evans also completed the 15/5/5 season in franchise history, while also posting the 7th-best 3-point percentage in Memphis history. I don’t know whether that’s good or bad, since there’s been 285 15/5/5 years in NBA history, and the Grizzlies only have 1 of them. Nonetheless, it was a spectacular resurgence from Evans, as he rekindled his magic from his historic 2009-10 rookie season.
Aside from the losing, Evans’ uncertain future and short tenure serves as a cloud over this season. Since he was on a cheap one-year deal, there were rumors that they were going to package him at the deadline for assets — until they pulled back. He then was inactive for most of the post-deadline games, playing in only 6 of the final 28 contests.
Despite all that, it was super cool to see a former Memphis Tiger ball out as a Grizzly in a bounce-back season.
4) OJ Mayo, 2008-09
Statline - 18.5 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 1.1 steals, shooting line of 43.8/38.4/87.9
OJ Mayo walked, so that Ja Morant could fly.
Long before the Ja era, the Grizzlies had an exciting rookie campaign that captivated the fanbase. While the Mayo, Love trade is often ridiculed, people forget how awesome Mayo looked early in his career.
He came out of the gate red-hot, averaging a blistering 23.1 points, 4.5 rebounds, and 2.3 assists in the month of November. Among all Memphis rookies, Mayo still boasts the highest scoring average (18.5), 3rd-best assist average (3.2), 2nd-best steal numbers (1.1), and 2nd-highest 3-point percentage (38.4).
He was that good.
His career ultimately flamed out, and he never really built on that rookie season. Until he left Memphis, his numbers and role declined over the next 4 years. His relationship with Lionel Hollins was also shaky. Mayo’s demise and fall out of the league is sad to see, as he will forever remain one of the biggest “what if” cases in Grizzlies history.
3) Rudy Gay, 2007-08
Statline - 20.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.4 steals, shooting line of 46.1/34.6/78.5
Rudy Gay avoid the sophomore slump and took a massive leap.
His scoring average took a 9.3 (10.8 to 20.1) jump — for reference, Pascal Siakam saw a 9.6 increase in points per game in his Most Improved Player campaign. He also saw increases in his true shooting percentage (49.7 to 54.6), rebounds (4.5 to 6.2), and assists (1.3 to 2.0). As a result, he finished 2nd in Most Improved Player voting behind Hedo Turkoglu.
Rudy put up this stat-line at 21. Could you imagine how much hype he would’ve gotten if he did this in the social media era? This is essentially similar to Brandon Ingram’s leap this year, but in year 2 instead of year 4. Factor in the scoring leap with his elite athleticism, and he would’ve been a highlight star in the making.
Ultimately, seasons like this put his talent on display, and some will use this to point to him being a “good stats, bad team” guy. However, it wasn’t really the case, as he did have some rock-solid seasons even on GNG teams, even if his numbers stagnated after this season. There’s a reason they’ve been trying to replace him for the past 7 years, and that should only validate Rudy’s standing as a top-6 player in franchise history...for now.
These players were a lot of fun. Quite frankly, OJ Mayo and Rudy Gay are probably two of my 10 favorite players to wear a Grizzlies uniform. What they did at their age is what everyone’s salivating about with Ja Morant, Brandon Ingram, Pascal Siakam, and many more of the league’s young stars.
The production from Mayo, Rudy, and Tyreke in these seasons is what you’re probably looking for in Ja Morant’s backcourt partner.
The first few years of their careers — or in Tyreke’s case, his lone campaign — gets overshadowed and unrecognized, because they lost a lot of games. However, it shouldn’t shadow their immense talent, their fun style of play, and the memories and highlights they brought to Memphis.
Stats found on basketball-reference.