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Desmond Bane and the new conversation around consolidation

Desmond Bane has been awesome this year, and his leap could change potential moves down the road.

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Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

2022 has always been pegged as the potential year for consolidation for the Memphis Grizzlies. The talk about that star trade has been there since the rebuild really took off in the 2019-20 season, as many around the Grizzlies Twitter sphere would dream about Bradley Beal or Zach LaVine rocking Beale Street blue.

That’s likely fair to dream about, given the assets and depth at disposal. They have Kyle Anderson, Tyus Jones, Dillon Brooks, Steven Adams, and Brandon Clarke coming off the books over the next two off-seasons. They have 3 first-round draft picks in the 2022 draft, and surely they won’t bring on use all 3 — though never say never. The Warriors first-round pick in 2024 has lost its luster, although it does convey when Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson are 34 years old and older. Zach Kleiman and company have the combination of good talent, draft capital, and cap flexibility to put together a formidable trade package for an All-Star talent.

While some sort of consolidation will loom around 2022, given these factors and the Grizzlies rise in the Western Conference, the conversation around it has changed.

A lot of that is because of the emergence of Desmond Bane.

The leap Bane has taken probably joins Ja Morant’s All-NBA breakout into the coolest player development for the Grizzlies this season. The Grizzlies prioritized his development this offseason by trading away incumbent starter Grayson Allen and by giving him valuable on-ball reps in the Summer League. They’re paying the dividends off of it.

Again, the benefits of actually having a NBA offseason, as opposed to starting training camp 2 weeks after the draft and regular season hoops a month and 5 days after.

In the midst of Bane’s rise, he’s gaining a lot of attention. His case for the Most Improved Player award continues to grow. He’s been a frequent topic on national podcasts when the Grizzlies’ performance has been discussed, including ESPN’s Brian Windhorst suggesting that Ja Morant and Desmond Bane might be a top-5 backcourt in the league right now on his Hoop Collective podcast. Analysts are doing statistical comparisons with Desmond Bane and sophomore-year Klay Thompson. And there was also this fascinating tweet that shows what Bane has done better than some of the league’s best talent this season:

And through all that, Bane’s status within the Grizzlies pecking order has changed, just not in shot attempts but in long-term prioritization. Prior to this season, he’d likely be lumped into the same category as Dillon Brooks, De’Anthony Melton, and Brandon Clarke. It’s fair to say that his “untouchable” status should be closer to Jaren Jackson Jr.’s than that crowd.

Bane has been that good, and he’s changing the idea of how — and maybe when — the Grizzlies should consolidate down the road.

San Antonio Spurs v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Desmond Bane has added to his offensive portfolio. Last season, he was primarily a 3-point specialist that brought doses off playmaking and off-the-dribble creation towards the end of his rookie year. This year, he’s become a more potent 3-level scorer that’s become masterful moving without the ball and has provided a good amount of secondary playmaking next to Morant.

His prowess as a pull-up shooter has been the most noticeable area of his offensive growth. It’s not just the added moves and dribble combos to his bag. Bane looks more comfortable handling the ball and firing shots off the dribble. He’s also improved his dribble navigation through the defense, primarily in pick-and-roll coverages.

Through this added comfort handling the ball, Bane has seen a big jump as a pull-up shooter, in terms of frequency and accuracy.

Bane is firing more unassisted jumpers, as only 72% of his shots are assisted, down from 81% last season — per Cleaning the Glass. He’s also increased his mid-range shooting rate from 26% to 32%.

It’s nothing that marvels the likes of mid-range maestros like Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, or Khris Middleton. It’s fine given his firepower from the outside. However, the growth in this area comes with his accuracy.

This season, Bane has raised his shooting percentage on pull-up 2’s from 37.1% to 46.2%. That sort of accuracy has helped propel him into a more lethal offensive weapon. He can leverage his wicked 3-point shooting by attacking closeouts to find opportunities inside the arc — whether it’s scoring around the elbows or the paint, or finding his teammates.

Bane has also continued his stellar 3-point shooting, connecting on 41.3% of his triple attempts. This year, he’s expanding his arsenal from 3 by adding some stuff off the dribble. Obviously, the fly-by pump fake gathers the most attention — and rightfully so, it’s incredibly rad. He’s also expanding his bag from deep with arrays of dribble moves and with stellar off-ball movement.

Bane is firing 3’s off the dribble more frequently, as 16.8% of his shots are pull-up 3’s — compared to 11.4% last season. He’s also making more of those attempts too, as he’s shooting 38.6% on pull-up 3’s, up from 35.1% last year.

So, with the context of consolidation, let me just start with a few of the companies he’s currently in.

  • Of players with 150+ pull-up attempts, he’s one of only 9 players that’s shooting at least 45% or better on pull-up 2’s and 35% or better on pull-up 3’s. The other players are DeMar DeRozan, Mike Conley, Kevin Durant, Zach LaVine, Trae Young, Darius Garland, Evan Fournier, and Jrue Holiday.
  • He’s one of 12 players shooting 40% or better from 3, while attempting 6 or more 3’s a game. He joins Steph Curry, LaVine, Bojan Bogdanovic, Pat Connaughton, Kevin Love, Devin Booker, Luke Kennard, Patty Mills, Lonzo Ball, Kemba Walker, and Joe Harris.

The only players that intersect these stats are Zach LaVine and Desmond Bane.

Pretty good if you ask me!

Though he may not be on the same level as LaVine, or maybe just a few on this list, it does illustrate that what Desmond Bane is providing as an offensive player is pretty elite. And to make things better, he’s also only 23 years old.

So given his age, and the improvements he’s made, isn’t Bane the guy you want next to Ja Morant long-term? He’s proven himself as an elite shooter that can create off the dribble for shots inside the arc, and he can also provide the secondary playmaking necessary to unlock more scoring opportunities for Ja Morant. He’s also built himself up to be an average defender with room to grow in team schemes, given his physicality from the 2-guard spot.

With Bane’s skillset, age and his cost control with his contract (roughly $5M over the 2022-23 and 2023-24 seasons) and potential extension down the road, it’s not far-fetched to suggest that he might be the starting shooting guard of the future next to Ja Morant. And if they’re already getting their names in the hat for the “best backcourt in the league” conversation at 22 and 23, then the possibilities for them at 25 and 26 could be limitless.

That’s scary.

Los Angeles Lakers v Memphis Grizzlies Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

So how does this affect the Grizzlies and potential consolidation efforts?

Let’s start with the targets. These consolidation talks began with the starting shooting guard position, with the dream of building a star backcourt with Ja Morant and another All-Star. Devin Booker and Zach LaVine won’t happen anymore now that their teams are great. It’s unclear if CJ McCollum would be much of an upgrade over Bane, or Dillon Brooks, either. Bradley Beal is the fun target — the “Beal on Beale” campaign is always a popular one. Bane’s emergence though has made a consolidation trade for a star shooting guard less necessary.

(Though the right trade at the right price is always welcomed!)

It seems more likely that this sort of trade could be for either a big wing, one that could masquerade as a 4, or even just a versatile 4 in general.

Jaylen Brown or Ben Simmons are the ideal options in this regard. However, one of Bane or Brooks will be involved — and saying “no” to a deal, because both are included is acceptable. But could they even look towards hybrid 3/4’s like Harrison Barnes or Jerami Grant? My personal favorite is waiting for Toronto to pivot towards a new era and try to add Pascal Siakam to the core — friendly reminder, he was 2nd-best player on a title-winning team just 2 and a half years ago.

And even with these trade targets, the list of players that you’d trade Desmond Bane for has shrunk big time over the past 12 months.

The Grizzlies — as well as Bane’s — leap has also helped the timeline of this consolidation trade as well. It seemed like they would be making this sort of deal to propel them from the play-in tier up into the top 4-5 one. However, with this leap, they could buy some time to really strike.

And that seems best fit for two purposes.

For one, Ben Simmons is the only All-Star on the open trade market. They could buy their time to wait for a few more All-Stars, perhaps better fits, to demand out of their situations. Secondly, they could follow a route similar to the 2019 Raptors and the 2021 Bucks where they trust their drafting and player development, and wait to make that necessary move until they’ve hit their absolute ceiling without a ring. That’s not to say they shouldn’t pull a quasi-consolidation effort for someone like Barnes or Grant to use assets to help them win a potential playoff series. However, they could buy themselves some time to make that all-in consolidation trade.

There are a lot of reasons why this has become the case: Ja Morant’s All-NBA rise, the player development instilled by Taylor Jenkins and his coaching staff, Zach Kleiman’s drafting moves around the margins, and the improvements these young players have made towards becoming rotation players that impact winning.

Desmond Bane’s leap from 7th man to borderline All-Star in year 2 has been one of the biggest reasons why the Memphis Grizzlies are in this current position — and perhaps why the conversation on how Zach Kleiman may make the big trade could change.

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