MikeCheck: Dorsey hopes post-trade spark triggers opportunity to grow with Grizzlies
MEMPHIS – Perhaps 82 games simply weren’t enough.
When it comes to the shooting guard position, the Grizzlies exited the season facing the same dilemma that existed when training camp opened way back in late September: Who’s at the 2?
Grind City Media’s ‘Offseason Outlook’ series opened with a detailed look at how the franchise’s decision on point guard Mike Conley’s future looms as the biggest question facing the Grizzlies. What plays out alongside in the backcourt at shooting guard will be intriguing in its own right.
Six different players made at least one start at shooting guard for the Grizzlies, who essentially kept a revolving door spinning into the nightly rotation as they juggled injuries, trades and style changes throughout a turbulent 33-49 season. Memphis emerged from a second straight season having missed the playoffs. And now, a revamped front office is searching for a fourth coach in six years.
A franchise in transition is aggressively seeking stability from top to bottom, and that includes at several key spots on the roster. Quietly, as one of the team’s more underrated acquisitions, Tyler Dorsey spent the final weeks of the season trying to play his way into a role in the Grizzlies’ shooting guard mix moving forward. Dorsey’s goal is to pick up next season where he left off this past season, when he started the final 11 games amid the most productive stretch of his career.
While it’s unlikely the 6-foot-5, offensively versatile Dorsey is in the opening lineup when the 2019-2020 season tips off, it’s hardly out of the realm of possibility that he’ll be competing for a rotation role. With restricted free agency looming this summer, Dorsey’s future is largely in the hands of the Grizzlies. They can extend him a qualifying offer and have the right to match any deal Dorsey gets.
Tyler Dorsey #22 of the Memphis Grizzlies smiles during a game against the Dallas Mavericks on April 7, 2019 at FedExForum in Memphis, TN. Photo by Joe Murphy via Getty Images.
And that’s what made this season’s stretch run at shooting guard basically a runway audition.
“For me, this was all about taking advantage of my opportunity, because I didn’t get much of an opportunity before I got traded here,” Dorsey said as he assessed his second NBA season. “So to get here and gradually build into it was great. Some unfortunate injuries happened, so I got a lot more opportunities and tried to take advantage of it and finish strong, the right way to keep building.”
Dorsey, 23, was the sixth and final starter of the season at shooting guard, a spot that saw Garrett Temple open the year in the backcourt alongside Mike Conley. From there, the Grizzlies flipped from Shelvin Mack to Jevon Carter to Justin Holiday to Avery Bradley to Delon Wright. When Conley injured his ankle and sat the last two weeks, Wright moved to the point and Dorsey to shooting guard.
No position dealt with as much transition or as many injuries as that spot. Temple and Mack were dealt away at the February trade deadline, and Bradley would miss the final month of the season with a shin contusion. Dillon Brooks, a starter last season as a rookie at shooting guard or small forward, underwent season-ending toe surgery on Jan. 11 that cut short his second NBA season.
Dorsey was acquired in what was essentially a throw-away trade that sent Mack to the Hawks, who waived the veteran journeyman soon after. Dorsey was Atlanta’s second-round pick (No. 41 overall) out of Oregon in 2017. Dorsey teamed with Brooks on the Ducks’ Final Four run two years ago, when he scored at least 20 points in eight straight games through the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments.
Staying mentally prepared is what’s hard ... You’ve got to keep the right mindset, because when that time comes, you better be ready. There aren’t any excuses after that.Tyler Dorsey
But the opportunities for development and playing time that rarely came during his rookie season with the Hawks were plentiful down the stretch after Dorsey arrived in Memphis. In his first start with the Grizzlies, Dorsey scored a career-high 29 points and dished nine assists in a March 22 overtime loss at Orlando.
By the time the Grizzlies put the finishing touches on a blowout win over the shorthanded Warriors in the April 10 season finale, Dorsey had averaged 14.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 11 starts for Memphis. During four games with the G League’s Memphis Hustle, Dorsey averaged 24.3 points on 50.8 percent shooting from the field to help the team secure its first playoff berth.
The Grizzlies gave Dorsey an opportunity to make progress after he fell out of the rotation as the Hawks prioritized dynamic rookies Trae Young and Kevin Huerter.
“It was definitely tough mentally, just staying ready,” Dorsey said of the transition from Atlanta to Memphis. “And then midway through the season, something opens up and it’s your turn. It’s a long season, so staying mentally prepared is what’s hard. It’s keeping your mind right. It’s easy to be like, ‘Man, I’m not playing because this or that happened.’ But you’ve got to keep the right mindset, because when that time comes, you better be ready. There aren’t any excuses after that.”
Dorsey knows the Grizzlies have plenty of other business to settle before they get around to addressing his status. But he hopes there’s an opportunity to continue establishing himself in Memphis.
“I’m a new face and people haven’t seen much,” Dorsey said. “But I knew coming here I had to prove myself. I’ve been working hard for these moments. I’ve never, in my two years in the NBA, played with as much confidence as I have since I got here. I’ll be a free agent this summer, so I have no clue where I’m going to be. But I definitely like it in Memphis. I feel like it can be just the start of something.”
Shooting Guard Subplots
Player: Tyler Dorsey, 23
Measurables: 6-5, 183 – 2 NBA Seasons
2018-19 Grizzlies Stats: 9.8ppg, 3.3rpg, 1.9apg in 21.3mpg, 42.9 fg% (21 games)
Contract Status: Restricted Free Agent
Player: Avery Bradley, 28
Measurables: 6-2, 180 – 9 NBA Seasons
2018-19 Grizzlies Stats: 16.1ppg, 3.1rpg, 4.0apg in 31.6mpg, 46.3 fg% (14 games)
Contract Status: 1 year remaining, $12.9M (Team Option)
Player: Dillon Brooks, 23
Measurables: 6-6, 220 – 2 NBA Seasons
2018-19 Stats: 7.5ppg, 1.7rpg, 0.9apg in 26.8mpg, 43.5 fg% (18 games)
Contract Status: 1 year remaining, $1.6M (Team Option)
Player: Justin Holiday, 30
Measurables: 6-6, 181 – 6 NBA Seasons
2018-19 Grizzlies Stats: 9.5ppg, 3.5rpg, 1.4apg in 29.1mpg, 38.9 fg% (44 games)
Contract Status: Unrestricted Free Agent
Player: Julian Washburn, 27
Measurables: 6-8, 210 – 1 NBA Season
2018-19 Grizzlies Stats: 2.2ppg, 2.3rpg, 0.8apg in 14.1mpg, 33.3 fg% (18 games)
Contract Status: Two-Way (NBA/G League) Contract
There’s no way to get around this: Every shooting guard on the roster was either injured for the stretch run or is essentially a free agent this summer. The combination of new front office and coaching staffs and a potential top-8 lottery pick could make way for a clean slate.
Bradley, a playoff-tested veteran, seemed rejuvenated alongside Conley after the trade deadline. But his $12.9 million team option for next season might be way too steep to pick up, especially if the Grizzlies trade Conley and rebuild around rookie power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. Memphis also holds a $1.6 million team option on Brooks, and Holiday will be an unrestricted free agent. So it appears the team is ripe for a reboot at the position, which could be addressed in the draft or via free agency.
No matter which direction the Grizzlies take with the roster, Dorsey’s combination of age, relatively low salary range and promising production makes him an intriguing asset to bring back.
He’s the personification of a draft pick the Grizzlies didn’t technically land at the trade deadline, a prospect who could add depth on the wing with more development. If the roster trends younger this offseason, it won’t make much sense – financial or otherwise – to reinvest in veteran role specialists like Holiday or Bradley.
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