Hasheem Thabeet is supposed to be the defensive presence in the middle that the Grizziles have sought for so many years. Thabeet is also supposed to be the least NBA ready player taken in the lottery this season. That is particularly disturbing when you consider that Thabeet was taken with the 2nd pick in the draft.
The good and bad news is both of these opinion about Thabeet seems to have been confirmed in the just completed Las Vegas Rookie League.
First the good news, Memphis completed the summer league undefeated. No team was able to shoot even 40% from the field agains the Grizzlies. Opposing teams averaged a mere 69.2 ppg against the Grizzlies and that includes an 86 pt game by New York who is not exactly the type of team that challenges teams in the paint. Thabeet completely shut down DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers who had been averaging 18.5 ppg and 8.5 rpg heading into the game. So one could say that Thabeet’s defensive presence had an effect on team’s shooting.
Now for the bad news and there is a lot of it. Thabeet, despite being taller than any other player in the league managed to shoot only 45% from the field. Many times Thabeet had a significant advantage over his defender but was unable to extrapolate that size advantage into easy baskets, usually do to a poor ability to establish deep position in the paint. Thabeet maybe tall but he is not strong enough right now to use that height advantage to his benefit on the offensive end. That isn’t likely to change once he starts playing against legitimate big men in the NBA.
Thabeet also was unable to grab rebounds despite his size advantage. There were many explanations for this from his trying to block too many shots to his presence forcing such bad shots that the rebounds were going out to the perimeter. While these excuses have some validity it still doesn’t explain only 4.6 rebounds per game in 25 minutes a night. If Thabeet is supposed to strengthen the Grizzlies on the boards then he will have to show some ability that was not on display in the summer league. Former Tigers standout Joey Dorsey led the Summer League in rebounding at 14.8 ppg.
And what about those blocked shots? What happened to the player who averaged over 4 blocks a game in the Big East last season? In the summer league Thabeet managed a grand total of 4 blocks. Darrell Arthur had 6 blocks in comparison. Hamed Haddadi, the Grizzlies other project big man, had 8 blocks in just over half the minutes of game time. Haddadi also had nearly as many rebounds. Now Haddadi did play against the 2nd string summer league players more than Haddadi and that helped his statistics somewhat but Haddadi looked more skilled offensively as well and has a far better passing game.
The other major black eye was Thabeet’s foul problems. In just 125 minutes of court action Thabeet committed 26 fouls. That’s more than one foul in every 5 minutes of court-time. If he had been playing under NBA rules of only 6 fouls allowed per game (instead of the more generous summer league rules of 10 per game) he would have been player far fewer minutes despite the games being 8 minutes longer.
Finally the issue of effort was brought up by the announcers of the games. This may hurt most of all as it appeared that Thabeet was not hustling up and down the court. Shooting can be improved with work. Defensive positioning can be fixed by work. Rebounding can be improved if the player is willing to work hard. A player without the desire to work on these things can’t be improved. Thabeet needs to show Memphis he has the drive and not just the height to be an impact player in the NBA if Heisley and Wallace want to change the perspective of this team with its fans.
So the only positive Memphis fans can take from the Summer League performance of the highest draft pick in Memphis team history is that other teams shot poorly against the team. Whether that was from Thabeet or just a high level of overall team defense can’t be said for sure.
Time will tellwhat the answer will be.