Can you believe this time last year that we were watching basketball at noon and watching games called “seeding games” to finish out an all-around weird regular season that was getting finished at Disney World?
Well, after a brief intermission, the NBA got back on schedule as the Salt Lake City and California Classic Summer Leagues tipped off last week, as Summer League returns for the first time since 2019. Sophomores Desmond Bane, Sean McDermott, Xavier Tillman Sr., and Killian Tillie are getting their first go of the circuit after the festivities were cancelled last season.
The Memphis Grizzlies are in for a reasonably tame offseason as a majority of the main roster is set as the Summer League experience begins. The Memphis Grizzlies return to Las Vegas for the first time since their Summer League championship run in 2019. As was the case in Salt Lake City, the Memphis Grizzlies Summer League roster will feature some old faces, some new ones, and others familiar to the Mid-South. For a team as young as the Memphis Grizzlies, and as reliant on these players to play within their 10-man rotation, all minutes are good minutes as they prepare for another opportunity with the main roster. Or, for other players on the squad, they could potentially play their way into the, as of this writing, vacant second two-way contract.
We have already seen a majority of these players in Salt Lake City but — as the roster alters — here are some players to watch as things get under way tonight in Vegas.
(Spoiler: There won’t be a focus on Grizzlies vets such as Bane, Konchar, Tillman Sr, etc.)
After a brief moratorium, Ziaire WIlliams is finally officially a member of the Memphis Grizzlies. All eyes will be on the #10 overall draft pick as he makes his debut with his new squad. There are a ton of questions surrounding Williams, but if what we saw when he was in high school at Sierra Canyon (and in spurts during his college career) is any indication —the Grizzlies just got better on the wing on both ends of the floor with the athletic Stanford Cardinal.
Williams endured a tumultuous freshman season that saw him not be able to access Stanford facilities amongst other things due to California COVID protocols. These same protocols along with Pac-12 leadership led to a stop and start season for the former Stanford Cardinal, but Summer League will provide Williams with a sense of stability he hasn’t had since HS, as he will be playing in front of fans for the first time since pre-COVID 2020.
The presence of vets such as Desmond Bane and John Konchar should help ease the transition for a breakout performance for the Grizzlies rookie.
Did the Grizzlies swap Grayson Allen for a younger, cheaper sharpshooter? Potentially.
Merrill — an NBA Champion with the Milwaukee Bucks and Memphis Hustle alum — gives the Grizzlies Summer League squad another shooter on the perimeter, after shooting 45% from beyond the arc in limited run with the Bucks last season. The Memphis Grizzlies have already picked up his team option, making him a part of the main roster, so expect the newly-acquired guard to see quite a bit of playing time in Vegas.
That’s one way to introduce yourself to the league.
University of Tennessee product Yves Pons made sure he was remembered for his performances in Salt Lake City, making impact plays on both ends and flashing potential to be an NBA player on both ends of the floor. He keeps making plays like this:
It will be difficult for the Grizzlies to not offer him the vacant two-way come summer’s end. If he keeps showing the ability to make spot up threes alongside him being a lob threat offensively and his defensive capabilities — sky’s the limit for Pons, and more electric performances are on the way in Vegas.
Memphis Hustle Players - Ahmad Caver & Shaq Buchanan
Ahmad Caver and Shaq Buchanan are two players that have been on the fringes of cracking the Grizzlies roster due to their play with the Memphis Hustle. With Killian Tillie’s deal potentially being converted to a main-roster deal, there’s an open opportunity for one of the two to finally break through past the 10 days and training camp invites and receive a well earned “promotion” to finally at least get consistent work with the main team as two-way players. However, they will face stiff competition due to the emergence of Yves Pons in the Salt Lake City Summer League games.
Currently, the edge would go to the former Murray State guard Shaq Buchanan after a good three-game stretch in Utah in terms of competing for the two-way with Pons.
There are a few others to keep an eye on that have a chance to potentially make enough of an impact to get a look from the Memphis Hustle such as Romeo Weems and Olivier Sarr, who will likely see their minutes increase the longer the Grizzlies are in Vegas, as the vets time will almost certainly diminish.
Some took advantage of their minutes in Salt Lake City but Vegas Summer League is the land of opportunity as the entire league descends on the city of sin for a week plus of good hoops. I would expect these names to be the ones to stand out for the Memphis Grizzlies as their delayed Summer League championship defense begins against the Brooklyn Nets today at 4 PM CST.