Whether it is at the games or on message boards or even on the radio, I hear people asking “Why doesn’t he get more playing time?” — and typically that player is either Josh Selby or Tony Wroten.
I understand why people would want to see those two young guys on the floor more often. To say that Selby lit up Summer League would be an understatement of epic proportions. He averaged 24.2 ppg with a shooting line of .557/.643!!!/.889. That’s not a typo. He hit over 64% of his 3-point attempts, averaging 5.4 made threes per game. That’s incredible. Wroten played pretty well during Summer League, too. He showed a lot of promise and displayed some amazing athleticism.
So, it is easy to see why people would want to see more of these two young players. They are loaded with that ever-enticing word: Potential.
However…this is not the Memphis Grizzlies of 3 years ago. This is not a team that is trying to figure out how to make it out of the basement and back into the playoff picture. Instead, this is a team that is has been to the playoffs the last two years and is expected to be there again this spring. In fact, they now sit in the #4 spot in the Western Conference (the same spot they ultimately finished last year after losing a tiebreaker to the Lakers for the #3 spot) behind the Thunder, Clippers, and Spurs. In other words, they are now the hunted, instead of the hunters.
With that newfound role comes new pressures — for the players, the coaching staff, and the front office. The coaches have to put the best players out on the floor each and every night that they can. Sometimes, that means making changes on the fly. That’s why a guy like Wayne Ellington might play 26 minutes in Sacramento (scoring 26 points in his second huge game of the year) and then play only 5 scoreless minutes against the Warriors in the next contest.
That also means that they have to determine who is ready to play important minutes among the reserves. In the case of Selby and Wroten, they have obviously decided that they aren’t quite there yet. That’s why Wroten is on his third stint back in Reno with the D-League. It’s why Selby has played a total of 46 minutes this year, mostly in mop-up time. The staff simply doesn’t feel comfortable putting them out there instead of Jerryd Bayless or Wayne Ellington.
Young players typically do not get playing time on contending teams. If either Selby or Wroten were truly ready, then they would be getting more playing time. Hollins isn’t going to shoot himself in the foot and jeopardize wins by not playing guys who deserve it. And even though players get better by actual game experience, coaches aren’t going to let them do that at the expense of winning games.
Of course, you don’t have to take my word for it. Instead, let’s look at those teams we’re currently looking up at in the standings. Y’all want to be better, like OKC, right? The Thunder’s young players are Perry Jones, Jeremy Lamb, and DeAndre Liggins. They’ve all appeared in about 13 games each this season (out of 36) and average around 5-7 minutes per game when they do play.
Lamb (#12 pick in 2012) – 14 games, 4.8 mpg
Jones (#28 pick in 2012) – 12 games, 6.7 mpg
Liggins (#53 pick in 2011) – 30 games, 5.8 mpg
For comparison’s sake, here are the Grizzlies’ young guys’ stats:
Wroten (#25 pick in 2012) – 6 games, 2.3 mpg
Selby (#49 pick in 2011) – 36 games, 7.8 mpg
The Clippers only have one young player on their roster:
Trey Thompkins (#37 pick in 2011) – 24 games, 5.0 mpg.
The Spurs have 2 young players on their roster in Cory Joseph and Kawhi Leonard. Leonard was acquired from the Pacers in the George Hill trade and became the starter after Manu Ginobili’s hand injury in early January during last year’s lockout-shortened season.
Kawhi Leonard (#15 pick in 2011) – 85 games, 25.0 mpg
Cory Joseph (#29 pick in 2011) – 38 games, 8.6 mpg
So, with the exception of Leonard in San Antonio (a top 15 draft pick), none of these guys are getting serious playing time. The two guys picked near the same place as Wroten (Jones and Joseph) haven’t played significant time at all, and have spent plenty of time in the D-League (26 games in 2 years for Joseph, 11 games this year for Jones). The two second round picks have played fewer games and minutes than Selby over the past two years. These things aren’t my opinion — they are verifiable facts.
Championship-level teams, which many people consider this Grizzlies team to be, rarely look to 1st and 2nd-year players for contributions unless they are thin at a position — which the Grizzlies aren’t at either guard spot — or suffer injuries. From where I sit, the Grizzlies simply aren’t in a position to give these two young players enough playing time to warrant them being part of the regular rotation. That’s not a knock on either of them so much as the fact that there are currently better players ahead of them on the depth chart. And as far as I’m concerned — that’s a good thing.