Grizzlies Summer Pro League Orlando Preview

By James Hipp

As the Memphis Grizzlies prepared for their first Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League game Saturday afternoon against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the 15 players on the roster weren't the only ones looking to improve and impress.

Memphis Grizzlies assistant coach Shawn Respert and assistant coach/advance scout Jason March are splitting the head coaching duties, with Respert coaching the first three games and March manning the sideline for the final two guaranteed games.

For Respert, who starred at Michigan State and played four seasons in the NBA, coaching three games will allow him to continue doing what he enjoys most – teaching the game of basketball.

“I went into coaching with the idea that I have a lot of experience playing the game, and had knowledge from great coaches that was passed on to me,” said Respert. “The opportunity to relay this knowledge presented itself in coaching.

“I’m excited that other people, especially Coach Joerger and Rick Adelman when I was with him for six years, both saw something that they could take advantage of and I could use in my ability to teach the game of the basketball.”

On the other hand, March’s time at the helm during Summer League presents the chance to showcase what he’s learned over the years as he continues to work his way up the basketball ladder.

“I was in the video room for several years, and then advance scouting last year,” said March. “It’s finally an opportunity to get on the floor and coach and just put to use everything I’ve seen over the years.

“It’s an opportunity to get on the floor and hear my voice. Just like the players; they’re all out there for opportunities. It’s the same way for us (coaches). We’re all down here for that reason.”

The duo, along with video coordinator/player development Steve Jones, make up Memphis’ Summer League staff, and will be charged with coaching a team featuring four players under the Grizzlies’ control and 11 Summer League signees.

Two of those four players, second-year guard Jamaal Franklin and forward/guard Janis Timma, are returning for their second consecutive Summer League stints with the Grizzlies, making them the de-facto “veterans” of the squad.

According to March, there is no doubt that the role of team leader will fall squarely on the shoulders of Franklin, who Memphis selected 41st overall in the 2013 NBA Draft. During his rookie season, Franklin played sparingly for the Grizzlies, averaging 1.9 points and 1.1 rebounds in 7.7 minutes in 21 games played.

Franklin also spent time playing for the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA D-League, where he excelled and averaged 15.8 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 16 games.

“I’m expecting him to be a leader. He’s been with us and he knows what we’re about. He knows our style of play. I think his job is to just show these other guys that haven’t been around that this is what we’re about, that we’re a defensive team first,” March said. “That’s what we do; we guard people. That’s what you want to see him show other guys who haven’t been around.”

While not in the rotation for a veteran-laden Grizzlies team as a rookie, Franklin took advantage of the experience by immersing himself in the playbook and soaking up as much knowledge as he could.

“The other part with Jamaal is that he’s a smart player,” said March. “Even with him not playing much last year in the regular season, the one thing we always knew about him is that he knew every play and that he knows where to be on the floor at every position.

“He’s able to go show these guys about this play or that play because he’s seen it and he knows it. He should be the leader. This is his show. He should be the guy.”

Unlike Franklin, Timma spent last season playing for BK Ventspils in Latvia, where he averaged 11.9 points and 5.3 rebounds while earning the Latvian Basketball League Playoff MVP award. The Summer League staff has been impressed so far with the improvement in Timma’s game from last year to now.

“You can tell he’s put in a lot of work since we saw him last year. He’s stronger and he moves better,” said March. “What we are looking for this year is for him to be more aggressive now that he’s been around. If he misses a couple shots this year, he shouldn’t stop shooting. He still has to be aggressive and keep his confidence.” 

Joining Franklin and Timma are Memphis’ two most recent draft picks in guard Jordan Adams out of UCLA and forward/center Jarnell Stokes out of the University of Tennessee.

Compared to the Las Vegas Summer League, which starts on July 11th, the Orlando Pro Summer League starts almost a week earlier, meaning that the turnaround for the recently drafted rookies is quicker than usual.  How they handle the adjustment period is something that the coaches will watch closely.

“They come from teams where they were the big guys, and how they respond to being players that have to not shoulder the whole load, but be a part of the puzzle is a major mind game that I think rookies play with themselves,” said Respert. 

“It’s definitely different than college. You don’t have someone telling you where to be every second and you are on your own. You have to mature very quickly,” March said. “It’s about saying ok, now it’s time to go to work, carrying everything forward, getting better everyday and putting all of that stuff behind you.”

On the court, the coaches will also be looking for energy, effort and a willingness to learn from Adams and Stokes.

“The first thing is that you want to see effort and energy every day. They should be thrilled to be a part of this, so they should be working every day even if they’re tired, and they’re going to get tired,” said March. “For rookies, you’re looking at the little things right now. You want to see if they’re able to pick up a play in a timeout, if they know where they’re supposed to be on the floor, and if they don’t know where they are supposed to be, are they going to ask you a question so they can find out?”

As the team looks forward to starting play, Respert already has something in mind that he wants to accomplish.

“We want to make sure that all our roster guys have improved in some mental capacity,” he said. “Did they get an opportunity to dive into our playbook and see where they can take advantage by using their own individual strengths and skillsets?”

The Summer League signees

Of the 11 players that are Summer League signees, three of them worked out for Memphis during the recent pre-draft process in University of Memphis point guard Joe Jackson, Florida State forward Okaro White and University of Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin. Another player, Jack Cooley, is back after playing on the Grizzlies’ Summer League team a year ago.

With Jackson and Wilbekin at the point, Memphis will look to push the pace during Summer League.

“Joe’s speed and ability to push the tempo a little bit when he’s in the game is a unique ability by itself. He is going to automatically improve the pace of place for us,” said Respert. “I felt like Scottie was more of a solid and safe point guard with his playmaking ability.

“Both of (Scottie and Joe) need to be a little more aggressive in practices, but I like that they both value the possession of the basketball and don’t go out there and play with reckless abandon.“

Cooley, a Notre Dame graduate who played in Turkey last season, excelled last Summer for Memphis, tallying double figures in five of his six Summer League Games and averaging 15 points and 9.2 rebounds. Now, Grizzlies coaches are thrilled to have him back.

“Jack is a great player to have on your team. He picks up every play right away and he’s very easy to coach. He does everything he’s asked to do. He will bang. He will set screens. He does all the little things that you’re looking for and that a lot of guys won’t do, said March. “He rebounds. He boxes out. He hits guys. He’s a very good jump-shooter as well. He gives you a little bit of everything.” 

As for White, he finished his four-year career as a Seminole among the top-25 in Florida State history in nine different categories and earned All-ACC Defensive Team honors as a senior.  During his Grizzlies workout, White’s athletic ability and length are what stood out.

“Whatever he lacks in bulk, he certainly makes up for with his athletic ability with his length and his jumping ability,” said Respert. “People might think he struggles in the paint with physical play, but he really can affect shots with his length and is a great weak-side shot blocker and rebounder who runs the floor well. “ 

How the Summer League standings work

Unlike the NBA, Summer League standings will not be determined by win-loss record. Instead, a point system will be used to determine which teams will advance to the championship after five games.

A point system will establish the standings leading up to the final day, with eight points awarded each game based on: four points for winning the game and one point for winning a quarter (in the event of a tied quarter, each team will receive 0.5 points). In the event of ties in seeding heading into championship day, three tiebreakers will be in place: 1) total point differential; 2) total points allowed; 3) coin flip.

The two teams with the highest point totals will play in the Championship game on July 11.

Update July 6, 2014

The Grizzlies record stands at 1-0 following Saturday's team debut and win over Oklahoma City.

Next Game: Sunday at 2pm against the Pistons

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