Grizzlies

How Much Success Can Be Squeezed From Grizzlies Summer League?

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Summer League basketball is a beautiful thing.

It is an oasis for basketball-deprived fans struggling through the barren offseason. It’s a time of excitement and hope, as fans get their first looks at their favorite teams’ draft picks and the potential they will bring to the franchise. Between the drama of draft night and the overreactions to signings and trades, Summer League gives fans real, pure basketball to latch onto for a few wonderful weeks.

Grizzlies fans found themselves square in the middle of this crowd.

The team’s offseason moves leading up to Summer League didn’t move the needle for most of Grizz Nation. They traded away fan-favorite De’Anthony Melton and acquired both Jake LaRavia and David Roddy well ahead of their projected draft positions. They re-signed Tyus Jones but did nothing else in free agency.

As such, Grizz fans were very ready to watch some Summer League action and have a little fun watching real basketball. There were ups, downs, surprises and fan-favorites, and the Grizz Lead team enjoyed it all alongside the rest of Grizz Nation.

While Summer League is a time for overreactions and general absurdity, the team did its best to rationalize what they saw and provide some nuanced takes on it all. Whether or not they succeeded is for others to decide.

Which non-Grizz player were you most impressed with after Summer League?

Chris Ingram (@chriman_): Scotty Pippen Jr. I’ve kept up with him since his days at Sierra Canyon and then his transition to Vanderbilt. Kids that have legendary parents are intriguing because they usually have a hard time carving their own lane due to the expectations placed on them.

Pippen Jr. didn’t have the flashiest collegiate career at Vandy, but he definitely was of the most impressive guards in this year’s Summer League circuit. He probably won’t play much his rookie year in a Lakers uniform, but he showed a lot of potential this summer.

Nathan Qualls (@MemGrizzHomer)While he didn’t even generate the most buzz on his own team, I was really impressed with Jalen Williams out of Oklahoma City. I was able to see him live in Salt Lake City, and he looked borderline unstoppable. His jumper was a thing of beauty, but I was most impressed by his quickness and explosion off the dribble.

His combination of size, shooting and athleticism is the kind of thing that you can’t teach, and if he’s able to consistently put it all together, then the Thunder are going to have possibly the most dangerous young core in the league.

Daniel Greer (@DanielGreer): Paolo Banchero – This is an uncontested layup for me. I’ve had Paolo as the best player in the draft all year and he looked the part. In both games he played, he was the best player on the court,  showing his outside shot, post up moves and play making. Banchero is my favorite to bring home the Rookie of the Year!

Ian Sparks (@icsparks22): Keegan Murray was outstanding. The numbers speak for themselves as he averaged around 23 points a game on 50% shooting, both of which ranked first among the top-four picks (Banchero, Holmgren, Smith Jr. and Murray). Not only are the numbers there, but his play style seems to translate well to the professional game, too.

After an up-and-down Summer League, which rookie were you most impressed with? Do you think any of them will contribute to the team this season?

ChrisThe rookies have been pretty underwhelming. They each have had a flash-in-the-pan type of moment, with David Roddy having probably the best Summer League between the four.

I’m very intrigued with Kenneth Lofton Jr., though. He is currently my second-favorite Grizzly behind Ja Morant, and I’m rooting for his success with this team and within the league as a whole.

The dude has skill. Now it’s just about finding out what exactly his role can be to help this team win at a high level. Watch out for him to be in the running as the starting four if Jaren is finally moved to the center position in the next two to three years or even as an instant offense guy off the bench.

If I had to choose who makes more of an impact their rookie year, I would have to say Jake LaRavia. Playing alongside Ja and Tyus – as well as having Desmond Bane on the floor at the same time – will open up a lot of three-point shots for him.

NathanThe only rookie I’ve been thoroughly impressed with has been Lofton Jr. Obviously expectations are low for undrafted rookies, but even if he had been drafted as a late first-rounder, I would’ve been impressed. His pure skill and understanding of how to use his body are rare for a rookie, and I imagine he’ll have a future as a rotation player with Memphis.

As far as contributing for this year, I’d say the safest bet is Roddy. While LaRavia will optimally step into a three-and-D role in the regular season, I thought Roddy looked more comfortable as Summer League went on and looked more like a plug-and-play guy than the other rookies. His high IQ, motor and nose for the ball fits what the Grizzlies look for, and if he can consistently knock down shots he might even find himself in the regular rotation.

Daniel: Kenny Lofton Jr. – He is already the favorite of Grizz Nation as he should be. He was able to average 12.3 PPG on 55.6% shooting. He was impressive and showed that securing him to a two-way deal prior to Summer League was a smart move. I can see Lofton playing roughly 20 games this season, but this will be a season to get his body right for NBA play.

Chandler should only play backup guard minutes if Ja or Tyus are out.

Roddy and LaRavia both have potential to get rotation minutes, but one of them won’t consistently get minutes. I could see LaRavia securing a consistent spot in the rotation early and Roddy playing spot minutes depending on the matchup.

These players have high potential, but they all need a full season to develop. 

Ian: Who else can it be but Kenny Lofton Jr.? In the SLC Summer League, Junior took it to lottery-pick Chet Holmgren with physical play and had his way with him. Not only that, Lofton was the most consistent player over the course of the summer, too.

While Roddy and LaRavia had certain flashes this summer, they were pretty underwhelming overall. Having said that, it’s not the end of the world. Both showed some valuable skills that the Grizz could use this year, whether it’s LaRavia’s shooting or Roddy’s quickness and ability to drive on offense.

I don’t think the question is WILL they contribute, but rather how much. Unless the front office has a secretive move left to play, both of those players – along with Chandler and Lofton Jr. – will get some minutes, especially early in the year.

Which non-rookie Grizz were you most impressed with or encouraged by, and why?

Chris: I was encouraged most by Ziaire. What I had to accept, which I’ve admitted isn’t fair by any means, is that Ziaire may not take the same second-year leap that Desmond Bane did last year. He may not take on the on-ball duties that Bane did last year, either. 

I’m more-so encouraged by Ziaire focusing on what he is truly gifted at and honing in on bettering those skills. His dribble pull-up game looks to be improved which I honestly believe will be his bread and butter due to his quickness and length. Obviously he wants to keep improving his three ball, but adding and polishing other pieces to his game each off-season will allow him to be an important piece for the Grizzlies for a long time to come. 

NathanLet me say this to start – I owe Santi Aldama an apology. At the beginning of Summer League, I thought he was nowhere close to being an NBA rotation player. But he really settled in and showed me different, and I have a renewed confidence in his development.

That being said, Ziaire Williams takes the cake. While he left a lot to be desired with his ball handling, everything else looked beautiful. His vision was incredible, he looked much more confident in his jumper, and even the aforementioned ball handling looked better at times. 

But the main thing Ziaire showed was the potential for elite shot creation. While he’s far from the likes of Kobe Bryant or Kevin Durant, Ziaire was great at using his body to create shots off the dribble. He created from three, midrange and down low. That is a skillset that the Grizzlies desperately need.

While Morant is an elite scorer, having someone to create their own “unguardable” shot when defenses key on Morant is paramount, and Ziaire absolutely showed the potential to do that with his 6’-9” frame.

Daniel: Santi Aldama. Let me preface this by saying I don’t think Aldama ever finds a consistent role on this roster. He did impress me by actually producing, however.

The fans were so out on Santi early on in this Summer League due to their own overblown expectations. I don’t know if Santi is on Twitter, but he had to have seen a lot of the comments going around. He showed exactly how he could affect a game even if it was in Summer League. Aldama has the size to play in the NBA, but his shot, defense and ball skills need to really improve for him to take the next step. 

Ian: Ziaire Williams. When Memphis took him with the tenth pick last year, there were a lot of questions. After a shaky start to the season, though, he found his footing and became an important role player for Memphis. As we figured beforehand, he spent a lot of time with the ball in his hands initiating the offense this summer, similar to Desmond Bane last year. 

While his progress (as of now) isn’t on par with how much Bane jumped last year, he still had a very successful Summer League. His court vision improved, and the game seemed to really slow down for him, as he was able to dish it out to teammates with efficiency. His shot off the dribble improved nicely while still remaining comfortable from beyond the three-point line, as well.

There is more in store for Ziaire, and sometimes it takes until that third year or so for players to figure it all out. But there is no doubt in my mind he will play a big role in what the Grizzlies want to do this year.

What is your biggest takeaway or reaction from the Grizzlies’ Summer League?

Chris I initially gave the Grizzlies a C- for the players they came out of draft night with. After Summer League I would give their draft night a B- with what we were able to see.

Roddy came on late and looked to have gotten a lot more comfortable towards the end of Summer League. Lofton Jr. has a real chance to get rotation minutes if he can continue to score against NBA talent, which is crucial for an undrafted rookie. LaRavia will need to be empowered to shoot more in the regular season, but I’m not discouraged from his Summer League performance.

As far as Vince Williams and Chandler, I believe they’ll spend a lot of time in Southaven for the next two years. But at the end of the day, I’m not counting on these five guys to move the needle in our postseason hopes. Other moves will need to be made if that’s a focus for the Grizzlies front office.

NathanThe Grizzlies better have the same internal development as last season. 

While there were plenty of good things from the young fellas, there was very little to satisfy the concerns around shooting improvement headed into the season. If Ziaire continues to build on his shot making and creation, that will be a big help. 

But if there isn’t continued improvement from Bane and Morant, then there is a very real chance Memphis takes a step back this season. Especially with Jackson’s injury and lack of offseason development, I don’t see where the improvements are going to be for a team that was entering contender status at the end of last season.

Daniel: In years past Summer League was really a time where Grizzlies fans didn’t have any high expectations. The front office was miserable at drafting and seemed to always swing and miss.

But this Grizz Nxt Gen era has taken the franchise to new heights. The expectations are crazy high for our rookies, which is refreshing. This is a look into the future of how things will seem to continue. The front office will push young players into roles that will strengthen their game and allow for other drafted players to launch their way onto this team.

Ian: These young players have to be ready to step in to a role immediately and contribute. That being said, it’s unfair to expect so much out of a crop of young players that have only played a handful of games. We’ve grown accustomed to players like Ja, Trip and Bane being able to contribute every night while just being in their early 20s.

But let’s be real here: it’s unlikely that anyone from this draft class will be as good as them this early. Not many players in the entire league are as good as those three no matter how experienced they are. 

The young guys will be fine and will continue to develop and get more accustomed to the professional game with time. Lofton Jr., Roddy and Laravia will get some spot minutes early on to give them a little taste of what it’s like in the NBA and allow them to work on their game.

As far as Kennedy Chandler, I do think he gets some minutes running with the second unit, because he does provide energy and quickness on the defensive end. 

Santi showed flashes in those two games at the tail end of the summer that were very promising, but it will take a lot more than just two Summer League games to cement yourself in a squad like this. I think he’ll have a chance to get some important minutes early in the season with Jaren being out to show why he belongs here.

Final grades for the Grizz Summer League?

ChrisIt was a B- performance.

Ziaire, Lofton Jr., and Roddy were the ones that showed the most promise. Tillman did Tillman things and he should continue to be ready when called upon as he has been since his rookie year. Aldama had two good games but will have to show more consistently before I’m sold on his role with the team going forward.

But overall, I’m excited to watch the development of these young guys, and if nothing else we can count on this organization to make sure they have every opportunity to succeed.

NathanI’ll give them a B-, as well.

I did not have high expectations for this team with regards to their Summer League record, but I did have expectations for their individual performances. Lofton, Roddy, Aldama, Tillman and Ziaire all lived up to those expectations more often than not. LaRavia, Chandler and Vince Williams Jr. left a lot to be desired. 

Lofton obviously was the star of the summer for Memphis, and Ziaire showed improvement in key areas. Roddy and Aldama both settled in and looked like potential contributors by the end of the summer. The real concern lies with consistency and LaRavia’s hesitance to shoot. Every rookie throughout the league has areas of improvement, but if Memphis’ new guys are going to contribute right away there is a lot of work to be done.

DanielI give it a B.

I had minimal expectations for this team in Summer League. The front office was looking to get Ziaire on the ball and into a role that doesn’t necessarily fit his game. The team had a limited amount of really good guard play, which is something all good Summer League teams have. The development of all the players was hit or miss at times, but that’s expected with young players.

The one big standout for me was Kenny Lofton Jr. He showed once again that it doesn’t matter what level he is on he continues to stand out. The Junior “Bullyball” took over Summer League and will continue into Southaven before it eventually takes over the 901.

Ian: I’ll give it a solid B.

There were moment where Memphis looked very good and smooth on offense, as evidenced by the fact that they tied the Summer League record for points in a game at 120.

On the other hand, there were some games where they looked overwhelmed.

This is expected with young squads, but as we know, it’s the development that matters.

Ziaire got better. Lofton Jr. showed that he should’ve been a draft pick and that he deserves a contract. Roddy got it going later on, and Laravia showed that his shooting stroke is immaculate. And all of these guys will continue to get better.

While some may (understandably) still be wanting more from Memphis’ front office, there is still so much to be excited about with this team. 

With Summer League wrapped up, the Grizz Lead Team will be doing deep dives on the current roster. Look out for the articles via Grizz Lead (@Grizz_Lead) and the podcasts via the Grizz 901 Podcast (@Grizz901Podcast).

About Nathan Qualls

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