Grizzlies

Lofton is Memphis’ Latest Diamond in the Rough

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One of the most exciting and unexpected rookies in the NBA this preseason is undrafted rookie, Kenneth Lofton Jr. 

Junior is not your ordinary undrafted rookie. He has skill, power, finesse, a smooth shooting stroke and defensive ability. With what he has shown through summer league and the preseason, there should be plenty teams wondering why they didn’t take a flyer on him.  

He doesn’t look the same as any NBA player – he’s built more like an NFL defensive lineman – but his feet are light in the post, and he hits defenders like an unstoppable force. He’s got a blend of size and balance the NBA doesn’t usually see and it leaves fans wanting to see more. 

Not Your Average Undrafted Rookie

Lofton attended Louisiana Tech for two years before declaring for the draft. His first year at LaTech, the McDonald’s All-American earned CUSA Rookie of the Year and All-CUSA third team honors. His second year at LaTech, he averaged 16.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, earning him All-CUSA first team honors. 

One of the knocks on Junior entering the NBA was that the competition he faced at LaTech was subpar compared to the competition his peers faced. That is true, but no college conference is at the level of the NBA, and several successful NBA players have come from mid-major programs (Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, Paul George, Ja Morant).

But when Junior played for the U19 National Team and won gold against France in 2021, he held his own and was an integral part in defeating France and Victor Wembanyama, the projected top pick in the 2023 draft. Junior had 16 points and seven rebounds in that game and went to work on the French center. 

Kenny Can Cook

In the summer league, Junior took it right to Chet Holmgren, a top three pick from this year’s draft, and gave him the business. 

In Lofton’s first preseason game, he battled Serge Ibaka, and won with a similar move. 

Holmgren enters the league with the rim protection as his calling card and Ibaka has been a rim protector for years. Both were bullied in their own playground by this undrafted rookie. 

Lofton’s skillset

Another question mark around Lofton out of college was his size. The thinking was that he wass a little too short to play the power forward position, but he wasn’t athletic enough to play on the perimeter.

From what fans have seen from him so far, those worries were largely unwarranted. He has shown that what he does can translate to the highest level, and he’s been productive on the floor. 

He’s more than a low post player; he has the skillset to play in transition and make good reads (crediting his younger days as a guard), and he has been confident shooting from the perimeter. 

https://twitter.com/BrandonSimberg/status/1544824479540543495

He’s been better defensively than some expected given his physical limitations. Junior won’t ever be a DPOY candidate, but he’s been disciplined and worked hard on the defensive end, which is a good sign. With more reps and experience, he should improve in that area, as well. 

Where He’ll Play 

At the time of this article, Junior has a two-way contract with the Memphis Grizzlies, so he’ll be splitting his time between Memphis and Southaven with the Hustle. But there is the potential he can play his way into a fully guaranteed contract or spend more time in Memphis due to random openings in the rotation.

Everywhere Junior has played, he’s shown an efficient scoring touch and been productive in his time on the floor, so no one should be surprised to be seeing more of him in the future. Starting out, he should take any opportunity he has to improve his game and work on his stamina so that he’s ready to play whenever he may be called upon. 

Guys that are Good at Basketball

The Grizzlies organization may have a secret recipe to finding talent, and it may be a lot less complex than we all think. They have taken guys with high basketball IQs, and they are seeing it work out in their favor more often than not.

With a player development staff that has turned two late round draft picks into top 100 NBA players (Desmond Bane and Brandon Clarke) in the last few years, Kenneth Lofton Jr. is in a great place to continue to develop. Grizz fans should be more than excited to have him in the 901.

Every level that fans have seen Junior, he’s been productive and shown that he knows how to compete. Now he just needs to be willing to continue to work on his craft.

In just a few short months with Memphis, he’s already shown he will be prepped and ready when his name is called.

CRAVING MORE GRIZZLIES?

Check out last week’s Deep Dive Piece on Kennedy Chandler by Ian Sparks (@icsparks22), Memphis-Made Chandler Landed in the Perfect Place. And be sure to check out the Grizz 901 Podcast, where the Grizz Lead guys get on to discuss these Deep Dive players and much, much more!

About Jesse Elsea

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