MEMPHIS – The Grizzlies’ offseason is winding down and training camp opens in a little over a month.
The roster has been in transition, with eight new players and six departures amid a supporting cast makeover that’s taking shape. As August reaches its stretch run, Grind City Media continues its look at who’s in, who’s out and what impact the transition will have at various spots on the Grizzlies’ roster.
In: Omri Casspi, 6-9 PF/SF
Deal: 1 year/$2.1 million incoming free agent
Last season: 5.7ppg. (58.0%FG), 3.8rpg, 1.0apg., 0.4bpg in 53 games
Out: Jarell Martin, 6-10, PF
Deal: Traded on July 23 to Orlando entering final season under contract
Last season: 7.7ppg. (44.6%FG), 4.4rpg., 1.0apg., 0.6bpg in 73 games
On the day Orlando acquired Martin in the trade with Memphis, advanced metrics analyst Josh Cohen of Magic.com summarized the fourth-year forward’s defensive upside. Last season’s numbers revealed Martin held MVP candidate Anthony Davis and versatile forward Julius Randle to a combined 0-for-14 clip from the field as their primary defender, respectively.
Cohen also pointed out in the story on the Magic’s website that Martin’s versatility and athleticism factored in limiting promising Lakers swingman Kyle Kuzma to 17-percent shooting. There was also evidence that Martin, when switched defensively onto reigning MVP James Harden and explosive guard Dennis Smith Jr., held them to a combined 4-for-16.
So, the question might beg: Why would the Grizzlies, who had Martin under contract for one more season at a reasonable $2.4 million - plus the option to make him a restricted free agent next summer - trade away that kind of talent instead of another option to save a few bucks and avoid the luxury tax?
The answer is somewhere in the fact Memphis has waited three years for Martin to convert his promising potential into consistent production. But the wait is up. Despite his raw athleticism and physical gifts, the 2015 first-round pick ran out of development time and the Grizzlies were compelled to move on.
A fresh start was needed for both sides, and Martin joins other recent top-35 draft picks in Jordan Adams, Wade Baldwin, Rade Zagorac and Deyonta Davis who struggled to reach their potential in Memphis.
Casspi isn’t strictly an upgrade over Martin on the surface. The nine-year NBA veteran likely won’t play as many minutes as the 22.7 Martin averaged last season. And he won’t provide nearly the athleticism, scoring, rebounding or defensive versatility. In fact, if Casspi simply offers the threat of off-ball cutting, three-point shooting and the ability to space the floor when called upon – he shot 58-percent overall and 45.5-percent from deep last season with the Warriors – it’s a huge plus.
The main thing was he was a pro, a great teammate and he handled everything beautifully.
-- Steve Kerr
According to advanced metrics, Casspi’s 58-percent shooting from the field ranked in the top 10 among NBA forwards last season who attempted at least 200 shots. His spot-up shooting efficiency in transition also stood out, although the sample size reflects limited playing time. When healthy, Casspi, 30, has been consistent from a production standpoint. However, sustained health has been an issue. He’s played fewer than 70 games each of the last four seasons due to an assortment of injuries, including a sprained ankle that forced the Warriors to cut him just before the playoffs last spring.
“It was difficult to sit with him and tell him we were going to do this, but it was the only decision we could make under the circumstances,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said at the time of Casspi, who has played 552 regular-season games over nine NBA seasons without participating in the playoffs. “The main thing was he was a pro, a great teammate and he handled everything beautifully.”
Count former Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, who had Casspi in Sacramento two seasons ago, among players, executives and coaches pulling for Casspi to catch a break. This is the same player who three seasons ago outshined Steph Curry in a game against the Warriors. Casspi hit seven threes in the first half and finished 9-of-12 for 36 points in the Kings' loss.
“(Casspi) is a good shooter and smart cutter,” Joerger told reporters in Sacramento the season following Casspi's epic shooting display against the Warriors. “He’s been through some tough times. I know his heart is in it.”
Casspi's signing makes sense on many levels for Memphis. He already has deep connections with his new teammates, having bonded with Chandler Parsons, Marc Gasol, Dillon Brooks and Garrett Temple over the years on international trips for basketball or vacations, including as recently as this summer for Gasol's charity game in Spain.
And on the court, despite some recent ups and downs, Casspi has shot at least 40-percent on threes in three of the past four seasons. He’s a veteran, back-end rotation player who will make the occasional big shot, consistently smart plays and won’t hurt the team. He adds depth at the big forward spot where the Grizzlies are expected to primarily deploy Kyle Anderson, Jaren Jackson, JaMychal Green and Parsons.
To some degree, there was always guesswork in the development process with Martin. But even in likely more limited doses, the Grizzlies know exactly what they’re getting in Casspi. They see the same intrinsic value in having him on the roster that the defending champion Warriors saw.
The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Michael Wallace are solely his own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. His sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and he has no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.