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Starting the next chapter with the Memphis Hustle

Things change quickly at the G League Level

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Memphis Hustle vs Rio Grande Valley Vipers Photo by Christian Inoferio/NBAE via Getty Images

Time seems to move faster at the G League level compared to the NBA level. “Eras” are shortened as players earn call up’s or decide to go overseas. The Memphis Hustle aren’t immune to this, as they are expected to enter next season with a vastly different team from the last few years.

Jason March’s tenure as head coach could not have started out any better. A franchise and G League record 10-0 start to the campaign fueled the Hustle early. The Hustle were dominant to start the 2019-2020 season with assignment player Josh Jackson leading the way alongside Dusty Hannahs and Jarrod Uthoff. Two-way players John Konchar and Yuta Watanabe had their contributions as the Hustle looked well on their way of making some noise in the postseason. Even after Josh Jackson’s call up, the Hustle got timely help from their two way players and an increased role allowed Shaq Buchanan and Ahmad Caver to shine. Unfortunately for the Hustle, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the 2019-2020 season early leaving the Hustle with a “what if?” after going 26-15, good for second in the Western Conference, before the rest of the season was cancelled.

Raptors 905 v Memphis Hustle Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

A year later, the Hustle went 6-9 in the G-League bubble after struggling to adjust to the circumstances surrounding the G League for their shortened season. The only major roster changes for the Hustle was the Dusty Hannahs trade for David Stockton and trading Jarrod Uthoff to the Erie Bayhawks for the 1st round pick that became Freddie Gillespie.

The Hustle roster was mostly the same (at least for G League standards) heading into last season. Shaq Buchanan and Ahmad Caver led the Hustle through an injury-riddled campaign that saw them finish the season 15-19 just outside the playoff picture. If we looked at the Hustle through an NBA lense, they’d be projected to make a leap this upcoming season. Better health would hopefully surround both them and the Grizzlies, alongside another year of growth for their young players, and the Hustle should find themselves in the thick of the playoff race.

Instead, however, the Hustle will look vastly different this upcoming season. Both Shaq Buchanan and Ahmad Caver will be playing overseas after spending 3 years with the Hustle. Freddie Gillespie joins them, deciding to play for Bayern Munich of the Basketball Bundesliga. The Hustle recently traded David Stockton to the Fort Wayne Mad Ants in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2023 G League Draft. The Hustle also picked up the returning player rights to Derrick Walton Jr. and Kenny Williams, both of whom are not expected to be with the Hustle next season. Two-way players Tyrell Terry and Yves Pons will also not be back, at least on their two-way deals. At the very least, the Hustle will have to replace 78.8 points per game, 27.4 rebounds and 22.4 assists from last season’s squad.

2022 Las Vegas Summer League - Memphis Grizzlies v Boston Celtics Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

We are still a ways away from the official roster being set but it is already bound to look much different from the last few seasons. Kenneth Lofton Jr. and Vince Williams Jr. join the Hustle on two-way deals and figure to get solid minutes, presuming health on the Grizzlies end. Joining those two will be EJ Onu. There hasn’t been anything officially announced with him, but he’s the only player that has been used for promotions for the Hustle season next year, so he seems likely to be back after spending the offseason with the Niagara River Lions of the Canadian Elite Basketball League as well as the Grizzlies Summer League squad.

Joining those 3 is a trio of Exhibit 10 deals in Dakota Mathias (technically acquired via trade), Jacob Gilyard and Keve Aluma. Unofficially, Romeo Weems also is expected to be back next season after spending Summer League with the Grizzlies. Weems appeared in just 3 games last season for the Hustle before suffering a season-ending wrist injury.

Despite the roster turnover, the 2022-2023 season could provide Jason March with the wins he piled on in his first season as head coach. Relying on good health is always a stretch, but with laxxed COVID-19 protocols, it is hopeful we don’t have a situation like last season where a record number of players are called up on hardship deals. In turn, if the Grizzlies stay healthy they should get assistance from a few assignment players. Kennedy Chandler will probably spend more time in Hustle red than Beale Street Blue, while the Grizzlies big man rotation will make minutes scarce for some guys. This could lead to assignment minutes from David Roddy or Jake LaRavia depending on Jenkins’ rotations regardless of Jaren Jackson Jr.’s injury status.

A starting 5 of Chandler, Mathias, Williams Jr., Roddy and Lofton Jr. is certainly good and entertaining. It will give the Grizzlies guys meaningful reps in the system, while also allowing room for growth and to make mistakes. With the absence of Buchanan and Caver, there is also a leadership void to fill with the Hustle. Both Buchanan and Caver made the transition easy for guys like Santi Aldama, Killian Tillie and Sam Merrill last season. This upcoming season, however, there isn’t a clear cut “leader” in the clubhouse. David Stockton has been traded and the only other vet on the roster could be Reggie Hearn. Hearn has a lengthy G League career, but last year was his first with the Hustle. This presents a unique opportunity for these young guys who figure to start the year with the Hustle to not just work on their game but also their leadership abilities.

Lakeland Magic v Memphis Hustle Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Regardless of how the rest of the roster shakes up, it will be weird for Jason March as he embarks upon his first season without both Buchanan and Caver. A relatively fresh start, however, could be exactly what the Hustle need after the last two seasons have been heavily impacted by COVID-19 and injuries.

It wasn’t long ago Jason March was listed on ESPN’s Coaching Prospects radar after his start to the 2019 season. March has the chance this season to jump back in the ranks of G League coaches who seem capable of making the leap to become an NBA head coach. Regardless of how the next few months go, the next Hustle team will look more different than it has at any point in March’s Hustle tenure. It will be up to March to lead the Hustle into the franchise’s next chapter.

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