Nothing is more deafening than silence sometimes.
And yet, more often than not, those that work to achieve something greater than expected of them become more than accustomed to such a sound-free reality. 5 AM workout sessions. Evening weightlifting and training runs. Hours upon hours of work, many times in empty gyms and on empty fields, with nothing filling the void other than your own focus. The drip of sweat that slides down your brow and on to the floor knows more of these moments than many that will get to see the fruits of your labor. And if your chosen obsession is basketball, aside from possibly music pulsing through ear buds or reverberating off of walls the only other noise breaking through the quiet is the consistent bouncing of a ball.
You, your thoughts, and the echo of the rise and fall of the ball as it makes its return trip off the dribble. Or ricochets off the rim. Or splashes through the net.
Success is earned in the space between the sound and the silence.
There are no overnight sensations. Only increasing eyes on those who came in to their line of sight thanks to what they did when no one knew, or cared, who they were.
Desmond Bane has been overlooked his entire career. The Richmond, Indiana product had no Division 1 basketball scholarship interest aside from TCU. Coming out of college Bane was seen as a flawed prospect, one with short arms and questionable ceiling. Perhaps he could carve a nice niche out for himself as a spot-up shooter, but beyond that? NBA aspirations were few and far between. And while some draftniks held Bane in a higher regard than that, when Desmond went 30th overall in the 2020 NBA Draft few were outraged. In fact, the Memphis Grizzlies traded with the Boston Celtics to move up to select Bane. Boston could have had Bane. And yet, they felt the deal for two future second round picks was a better use of #30 overall.
We all make mistakes.
Beyond draft night, the stark reality of becoming a professional basketball player during a pandemic had to be jarring not just for Bane, but for every member of the 2020 NBA Draft class. From being selected to playing for the team that drafted you in roughly a month, these prospects entered the league in as rare a circumstance as any in the history of the NBA. No Summer League. No extended preseason. No opportunities over a longer stretch of time to get to know teammates and develop chemistry. Being thrown to the proverbial wolves was the name of the game - swim or sink. Adapt or die.
Desmond Bane, with his full college career and already elite shooting skill, was set for such circumstances.
Both Bane and Xavier Tillman Sr. made the most of their rookie years as best they could. Desmond was given a bit more opportunity, and he seized it. He was named 2nd Team All-Rookie, converting on over 43% of his attempts from three and scoring 9.2 points per game for the playoff-bound Grizzlies. He provided timely bursts of offense and was a key contributor in 22 minutes per game across 68 regular season showings. He stepped up beyond that in the playoffs, helping this core of young Grizzlies players earn valuable experience and scar tissue for the journey ahead.
Then, instead of Bane being OK with just that level of overachievement, he took advantage of what he had this past summer that he did not have as a professional before.
A summer. Or more specifically, an offseason within a summer to work on his game.
To become a better facilitator and creator off the dribble. To gain confidence in these areas of his game. To apply the same work ethic that got him to the NBA in the first place to his NBA areas of improvement for the first time.
Perhaps in hindsight we shouldn’t be surprised at what has happened so far this season.
Desmond Bane’s shots per game have almost doubled in this, his sophomore season. He has increased his three point shot volume per 100 possessions. His usage rate is up 6% and when you look at his numbers, he has improved as a player in almost every way despite now being locked in as a starter for the Memphis Grizzlies as opposed to the reserve role he had last season as a rookie.
Beyond the numbers, however, you can see a dramatic shift in his comfort level. He is explosive, getting to the rim with greater ferocity to finish dunks or finger roll lay-ups. He is multi-skilled, not just hitting catch-and-shoot threes but also creating for himself off the dribble and getting to spots in the midrange (he is shooting roughly 56% on all shots from 10 feet to the three point line, per basketball-reference.com). He is growing as a defender, utilizing his frame and strength more to try to offset his limitations in terms of length. He also is becoming more of a student of the game in terms of watching film of opponents, like Dillon Brooks (someone he has called a mentor), to gain any advantage or step he can.
His time in Summer League running the point has clearly helped him evolve in to this NBA version of what he did at TCU, but it goes beyond just Summer League. He had the opportunity to settle in to what his team wanted him to be. He had time - valuable time - to focus on his game, and learn and grow. This was not afforded to him, or any of his draft classmates, due to the NBA’s response to the pandemic as rookies. Where once he was forged immediately by the fire, he now could build under a slow burn.
He is reaping the benefits. As are the Memphis Grizzlies.
This pandemic has shown both the best and the worst of us. How we respond to adversity, and how adversity reveals who we are. To go from the college basketball world to the professional one without any opportunity to settle in, to find footing, must have been extremely challenging (in a very fortunate way, compared to the real world struggles of others). Desmond Bane was in a new place he barely knew, much like many others from the 2020 NBA Draft class, trying to find his way. He wasn’t afforded the chance to get used to the waves in the big waters of the National Basketball Association. He dived right in.
There’s a loneliness in that - when you’re forced in to such a situation where you’re alone with your anxiety. Bane had to feel as if his world was spinning far faster around him than he had ever have known it could. And yet, he took to the grindstone and worked, just as he had to do in empty gyms in Indiana and Texas, to get to where he wanted to be. For in these dark moments, in the night of the mind where uncertainty and sudden change can create doubt, Desmond Bane chose to rise. As he had before.
Perhaps you’re surprised that Desmond Bane is thriving in year two of his NBA career. That he is clearly the steal of the 2020 NBA Draft - the one who has taken on the challenges of becoming a professional basketball player while the world around you shuffles in and out of control.
Desmond Bane almost surely is not. His mental toughness and work ethic got him here. And he will stay here, and go beyond, because of it as well.
His basketball career was born in silence from most of the outside world. The noise now won’t matter - not as long as there are echoes off of walls from bouncing balls to fill the space between.