clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Hustle Report: A heartbreaking finish

The Hustle let a golden opportunity to make the playoffs pass them by.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Stockton Kings v Memphis Hustle Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Week 13 Results

Birmingham Squadron 126 at Memphis Hustle 111 (15-19)

Game 34 Breakdown

Birmingham Squadron v Memphis Hustle Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Key Stats

  • Santi Aldama- 26 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks
  • Ahmad Caver- 18 points, 4 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 steals
  • Ben Moore- 16 points, 9 rebounds
  • Shaq Buchanan- 13 points, 6 rebounds
  • Reggie Hearn- 11 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists
  • Yves Pons- 5 points, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks

The Hustle dropped their season finale and were officially eliminated from the playoffs following their loss to the Birmingham Squadron. The loss hurts deep since the Stockton Kings lost their matchup against SLC on the same night, a loss that would have put the Hustle in the playoffs had the defeated Birmingham. Santi Aldama continued his fantastic play while on a personal back-to-back after lighting up the Phoenix Suns on Friday.

A tough theme for the Hustle season that had gone away in recent games reared it’s ugly head on Saturday. The Hustle shot 23.7% (9-38) from beyond the arc, while the Squadron shot 51.4% (18-35) from deep, outscoring the Hustle by 27 points from beyond the arc. It is simply hard to compete when you are being doubled up in makes from beyond the arc. To make matters worse, both David Stockton and Damien Jefferson played some of their worst offensive games of the season as the Hustle struggled to get anything going consistently. The Hustle held a slim lead at the halftime break, but a 34-20 3rd quarter doomed the Hustle and had them playing catch up the rest of the way. It was ultimately a weird game that saw the Hustle lead by as many as 19, but the Squadron lead by as many as 29.

MVP of the Season

Texas Legends v Memphis Hustle Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Figuring out the “MVP of the Season” for the Hustle was extremely difficult. As expected, Santi Aldama had the best overall numbers. He averaged 22.6 points, 9.3 rebounds and a combined 2.5 stocks (steals + blocks) per game while shooting nearly 50% from the field but just 27.3% from beyond the arc. However, it feels disingenuous to award MVP of the season to an assignment player who appeared in just 16 games for the Hustle, even if he did lead them to a 10-6 record in those games. Instead, it comes down to Shaq Buchanan and Ahmad Caver. Their traditional stats listed below.

Shaq Buchanan: 20.3 ppg (42.2% shooting, 28.3% from deep), 6 rbs, 3.8 asts, 1.9 steals

Ahmad Caver: 16.7 ppg (40.8% shooting, 28.1% from deep), 5.7 rbs, 8.1 asts, 1.9 steals

It was a career year for both Hustle stars, with Shaq scoring a career high in points per game and really taking his scoring prowess to the next level while Ahmad flashed his all-around game and really shined in areas we’d only seen pieces of the past two seasons. In reality, both players deserve the honor of being the “MVP of the Season” with their growth and leadership. Shaq Buchanan deserves credit for playing in every game in the “regular season” despite all the injuries surrounding the Hustle, but Ahmad also seemed to stand out more as the Hustle went on their run late in the season (with the help of Aldama).

I don’t want to discredit the incredible season Shaq Buchanan had, as he carried the Hustle through a really tough stretch of the season with so many injuries. That said, Ahmad Caver is my MVP of the Season with his better all-around numbers and the larger impact felt as the Hustle went on their run to try and make the playoffs.

Hustle Stats

Rio Grande Valley Vipers v Memphis Hustle Photo by Brandon Dill/NBAE via Getty Images

8.1: Sticking with Ahmad, he was 2nd in the G League in assists per game. Admittedly over the past 2 years I had pegged Ahmad as more of a score first combo guard instead of a pure point guard, and he shut me up this season. Ahmad can still certainly get buckets as the “hesi-god” of the G League, but his assist numbers really jumped out this season. Caver even mentioned in a podcast interview with myself earlier this season that his role forced him to be more “score first” in the bubble, but that he really thrives in dishing the ball. Caver was able to put that on full display this season and should have caught the eye of the NBA with his play this season.

32.4%: The Hustle had a poor year shooting the ball this season. The injuries played a role, but the team as a whole struggled with the 3-point shot. As noted above, both Ahmad and Shaq shot 28% from deep on the season and as a team they shot 32.4% from beyond the arc. They were middle of the pack in attempts per game, but with the low percentage of makes they often found themselves being outscored by a fair amount of points from deep in a lot of games. Their dominance in the paint (6th in points in the paint & 2nd chance points) wasn’t enough to overcome the 3-point shortcomings in a few too many games.

In total, the Hustle only had 3 players you could qualify as having “good” shooting seasons when factoring in makes and attempts per game. Sean McDermott (43.6% on 3.5 attempts) had a great final 11 games of the season after missing the first 30+ games of the season rehabbing from a summer knee injury. Damien Jefferson (41.4% on 4.8 attempts) was great off the bench and Cameron Young (40.2% on 6.8 attempts) was fantastic before being traded at the deadline.

Season in Review

2021-22 Memphis Hustle Team Photo Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Health was the theme for the Hustle all season long. Sean McDermott was out the first 30+ games. The Hustle got limited returns on Matt Hurt and Romeo Weems before both were lost for the year with season ending injuries leading into the Showcase Cup. The Grizzlies injury concerns/COVID issues also gave them a limited amount of games with two-ways and assignment guys until the past month.

Because of the injuries, the Hustle struggled with a 2-7 record to start the “regular season” as they often had to play games with just 7 or 8 available bodies. The Hustle then went 4-4 in February before wrapping up the month with a 3 game losing streak. The run saw the Hustle head into March with a 6-14 record and in second to last in the Western Conference Standings as they embarked upon a season-long 7 game road trip.

The Hustle, with the addition of Santi Aldama and the team getting healthy, went 5-2 on the road trip. In March, the Hustle went on a 8-2 run to get back in the playoff picture with a 14-16 record. Unfortunately for Memphis, they finished the season 1-3 in the final 4 game and missed the playoffs by a game and found themselves 9th in the Western Conference. The circumstances are especially painful, as a win on Saturday against a good Birmingham team would have put the Hustle at 6th in the standings and they would have faced off against the South Bay Lakers in Round 1 of the playoffs last night.

Despite the unfortunate end to the season, the Hustle played better than the record suggests. The injuries really derailed the first part of the season, so much so that even their late season surge wasn’t enough to overcome it.

The Hustle will now enter a pretty big offseason. There is always uncertainty with G-League rosters and a ton of turnover year-to-year but the Hustle found success with some core guys but will have plenty of questions to ultimately address. A few highlighted below:

Who comes back? EJ Onu already has already signed with the Niagara River Lions of the CEBL for the G League “off season” and other guys could also decide to play elsewhere. David Stockton, Ben Moore and Reggie Hearn are G League vets and could ultimately decide to play overseas next year and make more money especially if things are more “normal” next season in regards to COVID-19. 3 seasons in the G League has been a theme since I’ve been covering where guys start to look at other options after Year 3. Both Shaq Buchanan and Ahmad Caver finished their 3rd season. Will they be back for a 4th? Or will they get that elusive NBA contract or decide to play overseason.

Freddie Gillespie has gotten NBA chances the past two seasons, does a team take a chance on him heading into next year? What about the guys who were injured? Sean McDermott figures to play a role since the Hustle kept him around despite knowing he’d miss a majority of the season. Matt Hurt and Romeo Weems were 2-starters the Hustle lost early in the season. Do they come back to show they are healthy and prove their worth?

What to do with two-ways? Killian Tillie was promoted from his two-way mid-season this past year, and the team replaced him with Tyrell Terry. Neither Terry or Yves Pons stood out at any particular moment this season other than a couple of highlight plays. With an intriguing draft class and multiple picks (with the Grizzlies not having many open roster spots) what do the Grizzlies do with Terry & Pons? Pons is on a one-year two-way so he may ultimately wind up back with the Hustle on a G League contract or try and catch on with another organization. Terry is on a two-year deal, but it isn’t a difficult business decision to eat the cost and waive him should someone the organization likes be open to coming to Memphis on a two-way (or rewarding a guy like Ahmad or Shaq).

There are plenty of other unknowns heading into the offseason, but one thing is for certain. I’ll be here to update the masses on what goes on throughout the offseason for the Hustle.

For more Grizzlies talk, subscribe to the Grizzly Bear Blues podcast network on Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, and IHeart. Follow Grizzly Bear Blues on Twitter and Instagram.