The 2021 NBA Summer League is underway and the Memphis Grizzlies did not disappoint in their first showing against the Brooklyn Nets summer squad.
After a draft that left many Memphis fans befuddled at the front office's decision to trade a low post juggernaut in Jonas Valanciunas, all eyes were on the Grizzlies 10th pick, Ziaire Williams. The young man out of Stanford entered the Grizzlies organization with some questions and concerns after a less than stellar season in his sole year of NCAA basketball.
Another person of interest for Grizz fans in this year's Summer League is Santi Aldama. After selecting Aldama with the 30th pick in the draft, the front office left many Grizz fans scratching their heads at the team's plans for the future.
Questions like: "Will Ziaire Williams hit his ceiling?", "Is Ziaire's game throughout college basketball his career trajectory?", and "Who in the world is Santi Aldama?" seemed to hang in the air as fans anticipated seeing the Grizzlies' summer squad take the court in Las Vegas. The Summer League is a great place to have some questions answered and for fans to gain a concept of what a player's first year will look like. However, it's also a place for sophomore player to show what they can do as well. Here is what I took away from yesterday's game against the Nets.
Desmond Bane is a starter.
There is no doubt in my mind that Desmond Bane is the day one starter as the Grizzlies shooting guard. Gone are the days of GBB site manager Joe Mullinax's Twitter campaign, #STARTBANEYOUCOWARDS. After a great showing at the Salt Lake City Summer League, Bane stormed onto the scene in yesterday's game against the Nets, controlling the offense as both scorer and facilitator. Bane scored a scorching 32 points and drilled six shots from beyond the arc, the last shot being a dagger from way downtown. Bane filled out the stat line with two rebounds, four assists, and two steals.
While an argument can be made that Bane is just picking on rookies after establishing himself as an NBA level shooter during his rookie year, Bane showed he has more skills in his bag than just being a spot up shooter.
A sequence that comes to mind that showcased Bane's growth was where he drove almost the full length of the court and was able to drive to the hoop and score with a layup. In transition Bane handled the ball with ease and changed his pace to freeze a defender. After a screen from Tillman around mid-court, Bane then picks up the pace and uses his 6'6", 215-pound frame to drive strong to the basket and lay it in at the rim.
While this might not be the type of play Bane goes to all the time, the confidence he exuded as he drove speaks volumes.
It looks like Bane has worked on his all-around game and is comfortable with driving to the basket and is learning to create for himself off the dribble. If Bane can begin to create for himself and make shots there is no telling what the rest of the Grizzlies (specifically Ja Morant) will be able to do as defenses shift their focus to the Grizzlies' promising shooter.
Something else I noticed is that Bane looked patient in his decision making and wasn't just a shooter. He was using screens well and read the defense and took what they gave him, which lead to an incredible offensive performance.
If Desmond Bane is not the starter at the shooting guard spot in the Grizzlies first game of the 2021 NBA Season I would be surprised.
Xavier Tillman Sr. will be a difference maker
There is a reason the Grizzlies front office was ready to move on from Jonas Valanciunas. While he was an integral part of the Grizzlies playoff run last season, it is clear that the front office wants this team to be filled with younger players who all have tremendous upside and can be developed into great players. What you saw would be what you would get with Jonas Valanciunas. However, Xavier Tillman can be the stretch four the Grizzlies need with the skills to play in the low post, facilitate, play great defense, and at times shoot the three.
Xavier Tillman Sr. impressed me just as much as Desmond Bane did in yesterday's game against the Nets. Both players are obviously established professionals playing among rookies. The success both players had can be attributed to that fact. HOWEVER, the confidence Bane and Tillman played with is what should be exciting about these performances.
Tillman posted a solid stat line of 15 points, eight rebounds, and a whopping seven assists, and three blocks playing as a forward. Tillman also boasted a +/- of +26 through 28 minutes and 38 seconds of playing time. Tillman also went 1-3 from three-point range.
The stats that make me giddy with excitement is the rebounding, blocks, and assists. With the loss of Jonas, the Grizzlies are going to need a player to step in and grab the rebounds left behind that used to belong to a walking double-double from Lithuania. If Xavier Tillman can find himself close to double digit, or in double digit rebounding numbers then I will be more than satisfied.
In his rookie season, Tillman only averaged 1.3 assists per game. That number just doesn't jump off the page at you. Keeping that in mind, in many pre-draft profiles I've been reading on Tillman in many pros columns on a pros-and-cons list Tillman was accredited as a fair playmaker at his size. Imagine if you will that Tillman can bring his assist numbers up and at times facilitate a bit during games.
I'm not saying that the offense should run through Tillman like it did with the Warriors and Draymond Green. I am saying that with an offensive force like Ja Morant, a sharpshooter in Desmond Bane, a certified dog who can get a bucket in Dillon Brooks, and a promising shooter and post player in Jaren Jackson Jr., having a stretch four that can read a defense and make good passes consistently can make a team go from good to great.
Killian Tillie is fighting for a spot
As the Grizzlies roster takes shape and the team decides what players will make the active roster, who will play on two-way contracts, and who will go to the G-League, Killian Tillie fought to have his name put in some conversations. Tillie shot an impressive 6-10 from three-point range and scored 24 points in yesterday's contest. While I doubt Tillie will make the main roster, if he can continue to post shooting numbers like that and tighten up his total field goal percentage I think he will at the very least remain on a two-way contract or perhaps fight for that 15th spot on the active roster.
Ziaire Williams played a solid game
Ziaire Williams might not have had a flashy, high scoring, hater silencing debut for the Grizzlies in his first game with the team, but he did put together a solid game, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
Williams posted a stat line of seven points, two rebounds, an assist, a block, and a steal against the Nets. He shot 3-7 (42.9 percent) from the field.
He impressed me early by using his size and length to disrupt the passing lane, picking up the steal and then drove all the way down the court finishing at the rim with ease, jamming it home with a two-handed slam. His other two scoring possessions were tough drives to the basket were he used his size and length to score inside for high percentage shots. On one possession Williams drove baseline and was able to get the lay up to fall through contact and those possessions can only get better as he adds more muscle and strength.
The biggest takeaway here is that the Grizzlies might not be crazy for banking on Williams' potential. While Williams might not show up as polished as Moses Moody or James Bouknight I think the potential is there. Williams played a great game where he contributed to a win and didn't try to be "the guy". Playing alongside a future superstar in Ja Morant and other great players like Jaren, Bane, Brooks, Anderson, etc. Williams has time to learn and grow as the Grizzlies commit to building solid NBA level players who have youth on their side, building a great squad for years to come.
While it is "only the Summer League", the Grizzlies have already shown that they are there to compete, develop, and possibly dominate. The more Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman Sr. play and lead with veteran leadership the easier it will be for prospects like Ziaire Williams to learn at their pace and acclimate to the NBA game. While it's highly possible the Grizzlies have seen enough from Bane and Tillman and won't play them much longer, the rest of the Summer League roster has the opportunity to show what they can do as the team prepares for the approaching 2021 NBA Season. As for me, I can't wait to see what happens next this summer and rest in the fact that this team's future is incredibly bright.