Hustle Focus: Versatile rookie forward Ivan Rabb staying busy on Grizzlies-Hustle development track
By Pete Wickham
Grind City Media Correspondent
MEMPHIS – It was just two random moments on the FedExForum court that Ivan Rabb wants to make his permanent home. Moments that, when they started, seemed like sensationally creative ideas.
Each time, Rabb was in midair for an alley-oop pass that was off target. But while they didn’t result in thundering dunks for the NBA G League’s Memphis Hustle, Rabb deftly controlled the errant passes, made the necessary midcourse adjustments and cradled the ball home for a couple of buckets.
“If I can catch it,” Rabb said with quiet assurance, “I know I can finish.”
No oohs or ahhs from the crowd watching the Hustle, who were house-sitting during a Thanksgiving weekend night when the parent Grizzlies were out of town. But in the bigger context, the plays added to a growing catalogue of “Oh, my!” moments as fans, coaches and teammates watch the 20-year-old Californian’s surprisingly polished skill set.
“I think everyone knows he’s as skilled as any big man in the G League now,” Hustle coach Glynn Cyprien said. “He has all the tools for a guy his size, a high basketball IQ and he’s been phenomenal, not just in his individual play, but his ability to know how to get guys into the right position and into our sets.”
That increasingly busy development process for Rabb continues Wednesday night, when the No. 35 overall pick in last June’s draft suits up again for the Hustle at Landers Center against Iowa.
Cyprien said he recruited the former McDonald’s All-American out of Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, and followed his development in two seasons at Cal-Berkeley, where Rabb earned All-Pac 12 honors, including a first-team selection last spring.
Rabb was part of a Pac-12 infusion the Grizzlies added with a pair of draft night trades that netted Rabb and conference Player of the Year Dillion Brooks of Oregon as second-round picks. Brooks has stepped into a starting wing spot with the Grizzlies. Rabb, who signed a three-year NBA rookie contract, has played just three regular season minutes in two appearances with the Grizzlies.
But nobody is unhappy with where he is in his progress, and that includes Rabb.
“I’m always happy for Dillon, or any of my teammates who do well and show they’re ready (and) he was,” Rabb said. “I’m just putting in the work I need now. I know my time will come.”
Through the Hustle’s first 14 games, Rabb was nearly averaging a double-double at 15.9 points and a team-leading 9.0 rebounds.
“When he’s on the court (with the Hustle), he’s the best player out there,” said Jon Roser, analyst on the Hustle’s Facebook Live streaming video broadcasts. “He is a stud.”
Rabb shoots 56 percent from the field and adds nearly two assists and blocks a game. His plus/minus average of 4.4 is also tops on the G League squad.
“He can get open jumpers and hit from 15-to-17 feet in,” Cyprien said of Rabb’s versatility at 6-10 and 220 pounds. “He’s a good passer, a great screener and moves well without the ball. He has to get more consistent with the perimeter shots, and adjust to the physicality of the game, especially his post defense. He’s fine at this level, but it’s a whole different deal in the NBA … but it’s more a case of letting Mother Nature work. He’s got the frame to fill out in time. … and with the situation the Grizzlies have at his position, this is a player they took looking at the long-term. And that hasn’t changed.”
Rabb missed the NBA Las Vegas Summer League because of an ankle sprain, but got into four Grizzlies preseason games and said, “that gave me a good idea of what to expect and what to work on.”
That the Grizzlies’ minor league team now shares the FedExForum practice facility and plays just down the road at Landers Center has been a decided advantage to someone like Rabb. He can soak up basketball knowledge with ease. And regularity.
Grizzlies rookie forward Ivan Rabb is averaging nearly 16 points and nine rebounds through 14 games with the Memphis Hustle of the NBA G League Photo Credit: Joe Murphy/Getty Images
Just consider his schedule from a recent weekend, when he bounced between the active rosters of the Grizzlies and Hustle for a combined five games over a span of four days.
“I’ve been paying particular attention to Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green,” Rabb said of his Grizzlies’ mates at the center and power forward positions. “They do things differently but are outstanding at what they do. I want to take certain aspects of each of their games and incorporate it into what I do.”
Cyprien said the chance to work and practice with the Hustle’s other rookie big men in Austin Nichols and Chance Comanche has paid dividends across the board.
“Austin plays a physical game and Chance has a long wingspan, so that provides Ivan with a good challenge every time we work out,” Cyprien said.
Perhaps Rabb’s most memorable performance so far came in the Hustle’s first road game on Nov. 15 against the Canton Charge. Rabb battled against longtime NBA veteran Kendrick Perkins, who is looking to make it back to the NBA after two seasons away from the game. Rabb more than held his own, scoring 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting and adding 10 rebounds, two assists, two blocks and two steals.
“He gained a ton of confidence,” Cyprien said.
But Rabb’s least memorable moment involved spending 10 days in the NBA’s concussion protocol after taking a blow to the back of the head during a game.
“I don’t know who got me,” Rabb said. “All I know is that I was out cold.”
Since coming back from a two-game absence, Rabb’s scoring has dipped slightly and he’s faced constant double-teams from opposing defenses. Cyprien said Rabb is now learning how to adjust to commanding more attention and fewer one-on-one matchups. Rabb is also trying to regain his rhythm and timing.
“It’s going to take time for him to get back in condition,” Cyprien said. “He could do nothing in terms of workouts or activity the full 10 days, and that puts you back. He’s working hard to get back. It’s coming.”
“I just have to work hard and keep getting reps,” Rabb said.
Cyprien said the enthusiasm for his current situation will serve Rabb well.
“Often you get guys on NBA contracts who are playing at this level, and they don’t try to bond with their teammates or embrace the good things, and bad things about this league, like the early-morning flights or helping with bags, the hotels and such,” Cyprien explained. “But Ivan has worked to fit in, worked to encourage and help his teammates get better. … He knows his time will come.”
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