For the third straight season, the Memphis Grizzlies are one of the biggest surprises in the NBA. However, this time not only should it come as no surprise that Memphis continues to build on success after success, but their winning ways are occurring as a sustainable winner getting closer to contention than as a rebuilding team.
Even more impressive is that the Grizzlies have done it while shuffling through different players being available on a game-by-game basis due to league protocols and injuries. While it is true every team in the NBA is dealing with large amounts of absences to key players, few continue to win at the level the Grizzlies have since Thanksgiving.
A big reason for that success is that Memphis, in a season where it doubled-down on the young talent on its roster, has been rewarded by seeing nearly every significant rotation piece become a valuable contributor. Though some have been on the court significantly more than others, nearly every starter and consistent rotation member has succeeded in their roles and remained successful when asked to fill a bigger role. In fact, several of these talents have grown to compliment each other well on both ends of the court as well.
Without a doubt, the most important developments on the roster center on Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, and Jaren Jackson Jr. This trio is the foundation of the future for Memphis, and their continued growth on both ends of the court will be the biggest factor in determining the Memphis ceiling for the future. First round picks such as Ziaire Williams and Santi Aldama will also be extremely important to the Grizzlies success, as those are skill sets the Grizzlies have high hopes of complimenting Morant, Jackson Jr., and Bane for years to come.
Yet, for the Grizzlies franchise, one characteristic that continues to shine and gain significance is their ability to identify and develop talents at all levels of their roster. Beyond the cast of regular contributors, players such as Killian Tillie and John Konchar have shown continued improvement and have stepped into bigger roles as other roster members have been absent.
Both Konchar and Tillie arrived in Memphis as undrafted, two-way talents with similar (yet different) backgrounds. In terms of collegiate competition, Tillie and Konchar experienced varying journeys with Tillie attending Gonzaga and Konchar attending Purdue-Fort Wayne. However, both players played four years in college, and showed unique skill sets for their positions that attracted the attention of the Grizzlies.
In the case of Tillie, his consistency as a shooter at his size was eye opening in terms of what Taylor Jenkins seeks from his big men when they are on the court. For Konchar, his ability to add value outside of scoring in a myriad of ways, especially rebounding and defense from the guard position, was highly intriguing. For both players, their basketball IQ and overall awareness also made it seem as if they could become more at the NBA level than many anticipated.
Beyond their talents and projections, it was simply about getting a chance. For Tillie, it was overcoming injuries to finally put his natural talent, which many considered worthy of first round consideration, on display. For Konchar, it was simply gaining an opportunity to show his work ethic and skill set in an NBA development track. For both players, it was the patience and perseverance to trust in the tutelage of the Grizzlies and know their opportunities would come.
As time has progressed, both Konchar and Tillie have not only seen their opportunities but their skills grow. From being used sparingly in each of their rookie seasons to both being trusted as a starter multiple times this season, the trust they have gained from Jenkins and his staff is evident. Whether it comes as a starter, a critical rotation piece off the bench, or making a difference in the closing moments of a game to earn a win, both Tillie and Konchar have shown their value on multiple occasions.
Numbers also show that Konchar and Tillie are not simply earning more playing time due to effort and persistence. Both players have shown clear improvement in their games. While Konchar’s rebounding, defense, and playmaking all remain productive to elite for his size, his value as a scorer has progressed this season. Among players with 50 or more 3 point attempts this season, Konchar leads the NBA in 3P%. Sure, the rest of the league may not see Konchar on the level of Desmond Bane as a three point threat any time soon. However, when he is given the chance, Konchar’s improved scoring ability makes him even more valuable in terms of how he can impact the game.
Though quality is still developing for Tillie’s game, his ability to add impact also stands out beyond the box score. While his overall shooting numbers may not be that impressive, he has hit plenty of big shots this season. He has displayed versatility in his defense. Tillie can certainly defend the rim with good shot blocking instincts; however, he also has shown the ability to guard on the perimeter against smaller, quicker opponents. This allows Jenkins to get creative in utilizing Tillie in different lineups and schemes, which is highly valuable when more significant talents are unavailable.
The efforts and improvements of both Konchar and Tillie have resulted in both players earning long-term commitments from the Grizzlies. Konchar is in the second year of a four-contract, while Tillie agreed to a two-year contract a few weeks ago. While both players will continue to step up when needed this year, their roles could become even bigger beyond this year as the Grizzlies have decisions to make on several other roster members over this summer.
Roster decisions and commitments will continue to become more critical, and costly, for the Grizzlies as the future progresses. With a major commitment already in place with Jaren Jackson Jr., the Grizzlies will also need to make long-term decisions on Morant, Kyle Anderson, Tyus Jones, Brandon Clarke, and Dillon Brooks, among others, over the next year or so. Those decisions will result in bigger parts of future payrolls going to a smaller number of players. A byproduct of that natural development is a higher level of importance for the Grizzlies to gain value from cost efficient sources.
This is why the development of players such as Tillie and Konchar are so important now and moving forward. Neither player may ever be a starter for a significant stretch or a key part of a future Grizzlies’ playoff rotation. However, both players will remain important as quality depth pieces. Both Konchar and Tillie are productive in the roles they are asked to fill, and remain productive as they are asked to fill more significant roles. While that productivity may only come in the regular season moving forward, it remains critical as it plays a part in the Grizzlies maintaining the positioning they want for a playoff push while missing their best players over significant stretches.
The emergence of both Tillie and Konchar this season has been so much fun to witness, two of the many amazing narratives from this roster. From highlight reel dunks to game changing performances, such as Konchar’s 15-point, 17-rebound line that earned the Grizzlies a win this past Thursday, both players have shown they can impact winning in multiple ways. Without a doubt, Tillie and Konchar will continue to benefit and improve from the Grizzlies investment in each of them, while Memphis will continue to benefit from the valuable play and efforts of both players.
Overall, the Grizzlies “skill” to develop talents such as Konchar and Tillie will only grow in value as it becomes more critical to gain significant contributions from cost-efficient roster pieces in the future.