As the the 2021-2022 NBA season winds down, it is becoming very clear that the Memphis Grizzlies are one of (if not the) best stories of the season. For many wonderful reasons, the Grizzlies are the darlings of the NBA. One of the more significant causes of why this truth has emerged this season is Desmond Bane.
Without a doubt, Bane has become one of the best shooters in the NBA. From breaking franchise records to entering rare company in NBA history, Bane’s breakout season has rightfully put him in the discussion of Most Improved Player in the league. Yet Bane’s improvement is not just limited to his shooting. Across the board, Bane has become a more complete offensive player, as well as an excellent compliment to Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
Entering this season, it was no secret that Bane was an excellent shooter. However, Bane has made it clear that his value is not just as a shooting specialist on offense. Perhaps the biggest area of growth for Bane this season has been his productivity as a three level scorer. For instance, 54.3% of Bane’s shots as a rookie were threes. This season, that rate has dropped to 47.9%. However, though it may seem as if Bane should take has many threes as possible with his shooting skill from distance, that may not always be the best option based on how opposing defenses are operating.
As a result, Bane has shown significant improvement in his decision making and effectiveness as a scorer. As a rookie, Bane made 61.3% of his shots at the rim and 42.6% of his shots 10-16 feet from the basket. This season, Bane has made 66.3% of his shots at the rim and 45.8% of his shots 10-16 feet from the basket. These improvements have allowed Bane to become more resourceful as a scorer. If defenses are going to push their coverages out to the three-point line to limit Bane’s looks from distance, his ability to either get to the rim or to the mid-range area, along with his improved accuracy, creates an effective counter. The end result is Bane, and the Grizzlies offense in general, remaining highly productive on the offensive end.
Of course, Bane’s improved scoring knowledge and shot accuracy are only two parts to his formula for success this season. The other factor is his improvement as a ball-handler and shot-creator. As a rookie, 70.9% of Bane’s twos and 93.1% Bane’s threes were assisted. This season, 59.6% of his twos and 83.1% of his threes are assisted. Bane’s ball-handling has allowed for him to more effectively attack close outs and make defenses pay when they extend out to take away his three-point shot. He can frequently navigate through coverages to find the best spot to take and make a high percentage shot, as the numbers above show.
As a result of the aforementioned improvements, Bane has certainly changed his profile from a shooting specialist to a significant scorer. If defenses are going to be focused on crowding the paint to prevent Morant from getting to the rim and the Grizzlies from grabbing offensive rebounds, Bane will have plenty of room to operate from the perimeter as a shooter and ball-handler. However, if the defenses then extend out to focus on his shot, Bane can make them pay by driving or creating a good look off the dribble. His improvements as a scorer is a big reason why the Grizzlies have had one of the best offenses in the league this season.
Bane’s evolution as a scorer is not the only area of improvement he has made on the offensive end. Another key to unlocking Bane’s growth as a player was to build off his experience has a playmaker in college. Though Bane was never a true point guard or primary ballhandler, he would handle both duties at times. As a result, the Grizzlies experimented with the idea of Bane as a point guard during the 2021 NBA Summer League.
For much of this season, Bane’s improvements as a playmaker were seen more in flashes than in long stretches of time. The start to his second year in the NBA was similar to his rookie season when it came to passing. As a rookie, Bane had 118 assists compared to 59 turnovers. Before the All-Star Break this year, Bane had 140 assists compared to 90 turnovers. In fact, on a per-36 scale, Bane’s assist rate has marginally increased from 2.8 during his rookie year to 3.3 this season. While it was clear Bane could make good decisions and was a decent playmaker when he needed to be, the significant jump many had hoped for had not yet occurred.
However, over the past six weeks that playmaking leap is in full force. In 18 games since the All-Star Break, Bane has produced 63 assists to only 16 turnovers. A huge increase in actual assists has never been the most ideal way to judge Bane’s improvement as a passer and playmaker, especially when he shares the court with Morant or Tyus Jones. Perhaps the best indicator of Bane’s growth has been his jump in his Assist to Turnover production. Before the All-Star Break, Bane was averaging 1.5 assists to 1 turnover. Since the All-Star Break, Bane is averaging just under 4 assists to 1 turnover.
The significance of this improved playmaking and decision making is that Bane is becoming more resourceful on the offensive end. The rest of the NBA has certainly noticed Bane as one of the biggest shooting threats in the league, and thus he has become a bigger focal point of opposing defensive strategies. As a result, if defenses are more focused on taking away good looks from Bane, his improved ability to make the right pass to setup another teammate is an effective counter to keep the Grizzlies’ offense consistently productive. In fact, with Morant out due to injury, Bane has now taking over back-up point guard duties. This means that even when many of the Grizzlies starters are not on the court, Bane allows points to remain aplenty with the reserves.
Though it is hard to argue against an offensive possession ending with Bane taking a shot, sometimes it may not be the best option. Bane’s improvement as a passer and playmaker allows the Grizzlies to find their best shot option more consistently, a trait that will continue to become more valuable once the playoffs arrive. This has always been one of the biggest benefits when Bane is on the court - the Grizzlies ability to consistently end each offensive possession with the best shot possible. While a three from Bane is often the ideal option, defenses will key on preventing that option from developing. Bane’s growth as a scorer and playmaker significantly improves the Grizzlies ability to find a great shot option no matter what coverages the defense may show.
A big key in the development of any young NBA player’s career is how they adjust back to the league adjusting to them. In both November and February, Bane experienced shooting slumps for a few games. However, the significant overall improvements in his offensive game allowed for him to work through the struggles and make sure they did not last. While it was never a question that Bane’s ability shooting would be sustainable, his ability as a scorer next to Morant now allows the Grizzlies to feature one of the best backcourts in the league every time they play.
This is the most significant and positive outcome to the Grizzlies from Bane’s breakout season. That’s A consistent theme with the best teams in the Western Conference is outstanding backcourts. Bane and Morant have proven time and time again they can compete with, and out produce, these backcourts. That production will be a critical component to the Grizzlies advancing in the playoffs for years to come. And while Morant is obviously the most important factor in the Grizzlies pursuit of a title, Bane’s contributions as the perfect compliment to Morant will play a major role as well.