The Grizzlies’ 2013-14 NBA season came crashing to an abrupt end exactly two months and a day ago, as they could not escape the clutches of a Game Seven showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder to advance into the second round of the playoffs.
If you’re anything like me, and since you’re here reading this I’m assuming you are, you’ve been itching for your next taste of Memphis Grizzlies action since the moment that terminal buzzer sounded.
Luckily for freaks like us, the NBA indulges in what is known colloquially as the Summer League — or as I call it, the “Sandbox.”
For those of you who may be less-versed in the NBA, the concept behind the Summer League is quite simply an opportunity for the less-exposed basketballers to get their names out to NBA scouts and their faces on some highlight reels. It is not to be confused, however, with one for the Ed Davises of the world to go and work on their craft.
Top-billed rookies, undrafted rookies, sophomores, D-Leaguers, overseas castoffs, and many more of the ilk, round up for the summer squads of NBA franchises for a few weeks of some much needed basketball action. Naturally, the end result is a rather green compilation of missed free throws, unrefined defensive schemes, and run ‘n’ gun sets, but getting to see some unfamiliar faces get their feet wet and play around against more heavily concentrated competition than they typically navigate is a fun endeavor for all involved — hence my nickname the “Sandbox.”
After many moons of indulging in the evolving Las Vegas tradition, the Grizzlies have opted for a more magical setting this time around, as they take their talents to Mickey Mouse’s neck of the woods for the less-heralded, but more-grounded Orlando Summer League experience. They will be welcoming a cadre of players onto their summer squad this year; some of which you may recognize, some you will certainly get to know shortly, and others that you may soon forget. The list of lucky young aspirants includes Grizzlies players Jamaal Franklin, Jordan Adams, Jarnell Stokes, and last season’s draft-and-stash Janis Timma, as well as Summer League returnee Jack Cooley, and University of Memphis guard Joe Jackson.
If I haven’t lost you yet, you can check out the Summer League on NBAtv, or via the Summer League Live package through NBA League Pass, which allows you access to archived games — an incredibly useful tool given the inconvenient scheduling of some of the games. In addition, I will be posting modified versions of this post, to serve as a companion piece to this Summer Sandbox Series, if you will.
The Grizzlies are set to take the stage for the first time this Summer League season tomorrow night, with the rest of the details as follows:
Who am I?: One of the main sources of intrigue among #Grizznation, Franklin was the lone draftee of the Grizzlies last season at the 41st overall pick. He appeared in 21 games last season for the Grizzlies, playing sporadic minutes off the bench, but tore the cover off the ball in his time down in the D-League for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants.
What to watch me for: Ball-handling and Shooting. The suddenly maligned Jason Levien brought immediate endearment to Franklin among the Grizzlies’ fan base by dubbing him the “Grindson” in a post-draft interview. However, in doing so, he also pigeonholed public perception of his upside as an NBA player into that of a strict defensive stopper. To the contrary, Franklin was a master jack of all trades in his time at San Diego State, becoming the only Division 1 player in the nation to lead his team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals. He missed out on the opportunity to show off the diversity of his skillset in the last Summer League due to being held back by an ankle injury, but should be all systems go this time around.
Who am I?: The first first-round pick of the Pera-era, that’s who! Jordan Adams was a sight to behold among analytics models galore, drawing great projections from ESPN’s new stat guru Kevin Pelton, Jacob Frankel of Hickory High, and judging by the fact that the Grizzlies selected him I’m assuming John Hollinger’s stats model finds itself on that list as well. Many viewed Adams as a reach at #22, but I was a bit more enthusiastic than most, jumping for joy that he fell that far.
What to watch me for: Just playing basketball. Robert Pera said it best in his interview with Chris Vernon when he stated, “A lot of guys try to draft great athletes and turn them into basketball players… [Jordan Adams] is already a great basketball player.” The questions about Adams are obviously rooted in issues with his athleticism and conditioning, which are issues that aren’t likely to be magnified in this form of setting. His ability to continue finish through and around contact in the paint the way he did in college against NBA length is probably the biggest concern of mine, because it’s a feature that made him one of the most efficient scorers in college basketball. Unfortunately, as we see with the Grizzlies’ Orlando roster, Summer League isn’t exactly the place for that type of competition.
Who am I?: Tennessee Volunteer, native Memphian, glass-cleaner extraordinaire. Jarnell Stokes was acquired in a draft day trade to much fanfare as much for his backstory as for his game. Bearing the closest resemblance to Zach Randolph of any Grizzlies prospect for some time, in a perfect world Stokes is primed to assume the mantle at the power forward position for Memphis some 3-5 years from now.
What to watch me for: How well he uses his backside. No, seriously. If there is any category in which Stokes finds himself elite, it is the way he utilizes his 260+ pound frame to wrestle for position when the ball is up in the air. His 7’1 wingspan doesn’t hurt his cause, either. He maintains that while people credit him for his ability on the boards, they’re equally as quick to gloss over the level of polish on his offensive game. If he uses this next week to show that he can face up a bit and create offensively, there will be a lot to be excited about regarding this year’s second round steal. Especially given the fact that he’ll should not be short on opportunity, with Ed Davis’s impending departure through unrestricted free agency.
Who am I?: It’s hard not to get behind last year’s 60th overall pick. Timma’s a 6’7 Euro prospect who unlike most of his peers of the distinction possesses an NBA-ready frame, tat-game, and an A+ potential to become Beno-lite on Twitter. What’s not to love?
What to watch me for: Assimilation. Sure, technically this is not a basketball skill, but with Timma all the tools are there. Having seen him in person last year, the comfort level, however, was not. He’s a capable ball-handler for a guy his size, but the style of play, apparent communication barriers, and uncharacteristically tumultuous shooting woes seemed to rattle him off his horse in Vegas — his first go-round playing in an American style rodeo. I expect if he shoots it well this time, it will open up the rest of his game.
Who am I?: “Cactus” Jack Cooley is who you are! Bang Bang! Okay, seriously, though. Cooley was the unsung (or much-sung) hero who stole the show of last year’s Summer League squad, after Frankiln and Jon Leuer sat out the exhibition and Tony Wroten wet the bed. Cooley probably could have parlayed his summer showing into a middling training camp invite for some team at the very least, but instead opted to take his talents overseas to Turkey for a much nicer payday.
What to watch me for: The same ol’ Jack. He rebounded his ass off last year. But the surprising element of Cooley’s game was rooted in his ability to be more than just a glorified garbage man, as he showed he can step out and shoot a bit too. I would expect about the same from him in Orlando this year. His lack of athleticism will stand to limit just how far he can grow his game beyond that, but he’s fun as heck to root for in this type of setting.
- Joe Jackson, PG, Memphis Tigers – The self-proclaimed “King of Memphis” needs no introduction to the people of his city, but for those of us that do not reside within its limits, he’s a 6’1 speedster point guard whose game has been described by Andrew Sharp of Grantland as “basketball meth.” Jackson is one of two undrafted rookies on the Grizzlies’ summer squad that attended a draft workout with them, so the interest is there. At the very least, his invite could be perceived as an audition for their D-League affiliate, the Iowa Energy.
- Scottie Wilbekin, PG, Florida Gators – If I’m running with a theme of WWE Attitude Era nicknames, Scottie “2 Hotty” Wilbekin has to be in the running. Fresh off a senior season in which he won SEC player of the year honors, manning the helm for a Florida Gators team that made its return to the Final Four, stands in as the other undrafted rookie on the squad to have worked out for the Grizzlies. His game is in a sense dichotomous to Jackson’s, as he profiles at the lower end of the athleticism spectrum, but with more of a jumpshot.
- Kalin Lucas, PG, Iowa Energy – Sensing a theme here? The Grizzlies appear to be fishing for point guard help in Orlando, and the next contestant is the incumbent starting floor general for their D-League affiliate, Kalin Lucas. Lucas missed two months of action towards the tail end of last season due to injury, but was one of the most productive lead guards in the D-League before his season was derailed, averaging 15 points and 5 assists per contest. With the Grizzlies taking over the Energy, Lucas may not have much time left as an Iowa mainstay, but he’ll get a chance to prove his worth here.
- Justin Cobbs, PG, California Golden Bears – I aim not to proclaim myself an expert on these guys, but from what I gather, Cobbs is a big, strong point guard coming off his senior season at Cal, who was the definitive focal point of his team, leading in points and assists. He’s also already well-versed in playing for a team with a bear as its mascot, so he has that going for him.
- Terrico White, SG, Hapoel Isreal (Isreal) – Oh hey, a non-point guard… and another Memphian, at that! White is likely going to struggle to see the floor over the more heavily prioritized Franklin and Adams at the two, but fits the reclamation project profile to a tee. Injuries derailed White’s progress, but the Grizzlies’ own John Hollinger wasn’t really too crazy about him as a prospect to begin with, stating in 2010: “I didn’t understand the fascination with White — even the year he played point in college he barely averaged two assists a game. If he makes shots he’ll probably stick, but he didn’t shoot particularly well in college.”
- Edwin Ubiles, SG/SF, Kyoto Hannaryz (Japan) – Logging in at 27 years of age, Ubiles ranks as the elder statesman of the group. Surprisingly I actually know of this guy, because he played his college ball at Sienna — a heated conference rival of my alma matter, Marist College. In fact, I was at a game in 2010 where he came off the bench to put a whooping on us (I’d say I hated him for it, but this was a regular occasion at Marist). So yeah, that’s my Edwin Ubiles story. Never expected to hear of him again in this setting.
- Niels Giffey, SF, Connecticut Huskies – Hailing from the NCAA Champion Huskies, the natively German Giffey was a role player in college, but could conceivably project as a role player in the pros. He has also made a name for himself as a starter on the German national team, has good size for an NBA wing (6’7, 6’10 wingspan), and has displayed an ability to knock down the long-ball (48% on 3’s last year). The factors of athletic question marks and his inability to be more than a role player at the college level have kept him off draft boards, but if he keeps shooting the way he did at UConn, he could carve out a niche for himself at the next level, be it here or overseas.
- Okaro White, F, Florida State Seminoles – A combo forward out of Florida state, White has prototype size (6’8, 6’11 wingspan) and athleticism to play the 3, but hasn’t shown that his perimeter skills could catch up with them. The defensive potential is certainly there, but unless he can prove to scouts that he can shoot and dribble a bit in Orlando, it will be hard to see him sticking. Perhaps he could be Iowa material?
- Deon Thompson, PF, Bayern Munich (Germany) – Thompson is a 6’8 forward with the frame of a bruiser, but a game that doesn’t always show it. After failing to latch onto an NBA roster after his senior season in at North Carolina, Thompson has been a Summer League regular, even spending the 2012 festivities with the Grizzlies team in Vegas. He spent last summer on the Bulls squad, and put down 10 points on the Grizzlies when they squared off.
- Jarrid Famous, C, Tamadon Zouk (Lebanon) – Woah, a big man! Besides having an awesome name, Famous is interesting because he’s a big 6’11 body and has some familiarity with the organization. Though pre-affiliation, he has played two prior stints with the Energy, and also spent training camp with the Grizzlies in 2012. The output of his career has been underwhelming thus far, but there is always an interest in a guy with the package of size and athleticism that he possesses.
As displayed above, the first game tips off tomorrow at 4PM CST, as the Grizzlies pick up right where they left off against the summer roster of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Luckily for the Grizzlies, Zach Randolph is not expected to be in attendance, because the Thunder plan on trotting out sophomore center Steven Adams as part of their lineup. In addition, the Thunder will be represented by Perry Jones, Jeremy Lamb, Andre Roberson, and 2014 draftees Mitch McGary, Josh Huestis, and Semaj Christon.
To stay up on Summer League, and all other things Grizzlies, check me out on Twitter @StevieDanziger.