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MikeCheck: Grizzlies embrace return of NBA Summer League play for developing young core

by Michael Wallace | Grind City Media

MEMPHIS – Despite arriving in two different NBA Draft classes, Desmond Bane and Ziaire Williams share at least one developmental function in common as they take the next step in their respective young careers.

They’ll spend the month of August as Summer League rookies with the Grizzlies.

Coming off an All-NBA Rookie Team selection this past regular season, Bane is expected to get his first taste of summer league action as early as Tuesday when the Grizzlies open play in this week’s three-game Salt Lake City Summer League.

Williams, the 10th overall pick in last week’s draft, will be on the verge of his Grizzlies debut as Memphis then transitions to the Las Vegas Summer League that runs through the middle of August. That’s also expected to be the case for fellow first-round pick and forward Santi Aldama.

Ziaire Williams posing outside FedExForum
MEMPHIS, TN - JULY 30: Ziaire Williams #8 of the Memphis Grizzlies poses for a portrait on July 30, 2021 at FedExForum. Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images.

But last year’s rookies will set the initial tone for the Grizzlies in this year’s summer games.

The COVID pandemic prevented Bane’s 2020 draft class from participating in summer league play last year. But with the summer circuit restored this year, the Grizzlies’ offseason development schedule is back in full swing with entries in both leagues.

“We’ve got our full offseason program coming, and our guys are going to be in the gym putting in work day to day, a lot of skill development, the reps our guys are going to get in summer league, I know our coaches are excited about that,” Grizzlies vice president of basketball operations Zach Kleiman said recently. “We can have a real offseason this offseason.”

It’s an opportunity for summer schooling the Grizzlies don’t take for granted.

Over the next three weeks, a team of Grizzlies rookies, first- and second-year players – among other roster hopefuls – are scheduled to compete in three games in Salt Lake City and another four contests in Las Vegas to qualify for seeding in the Vegas league’s postseason tournament.

Technically, the Grizzlies are defending champions in the Las Vegas Summer League after winning the 2019 tournament title. The pandemic shuttered summer league play last season, but the Grizzlies are back and eager to continue building on a team that advanced to the NBA playoffs with the youngest rotation in the league last season.

It’s just the beginning, and I’ve got a lot more to learn. I think we’ve got an extremely hungry group.

Desmond Bane

That rotation includes Bane, the 30th overall pick in last year’s draft, who shot a team-best 43.2 percent on threes in 68 games, with 17 starts last season. Bane headlines the Grizzlies’ Salt Lake City summer league roster alongside forward/center Xavier Tillman, who shot 55.9 percent from the field, finished fifth on the team in rebounding and played 59 games as a rookie.



The lessons Bane and Tillman learned from rotation roles last season will allow them to take on leadership responsibilities and primary roles during their summer league stints as they look to improve.

“Everything’s just been happening so fast, but I’ve definitely learned a lot, how to take care of my body and the up-and-down the NBA brings,” said Bane, who averaged 9.2 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists last season. “It’s just the beginning, and I’ve got a lot more to learn. I think we’ve got an extremely hungry group.”

You could only have so much growth. For rookies like Des and X and Killian and Sean to come in and hit the ground running the way they did, rookies around the league (last) year, I give them a ton of credit. They were really fighting an uphill battle.

Zach Kleiman

In addition to Bane and Tillman, other players on the Salt Lake City summer league roster who played on the Grizzlies playoff team last year are guard John Konchar and forwards Killian Tillie and Sean McDermott. After the season ended, Kleiman said one of the most encouraging takeaways from the Grizzlies first winning season in four years was the rapid progress the youthful core made amid difficult circumstances.

The 2020 NBA Draft was delayed until November, and players didn’t have traditional offseason development, including summer league participation. Training camp, preseason and the regular season were all part of a truncated schedule that started a month after the draft.

It’s pivotal and the starting point on whatever decisions we make. We know what our vision is and hopefully that leads to more success.

Taylor Jenkins

“We maxed out everything we could under the rules, but it was limited,” Kleiman said of the development process in the face of last year’s league-wide challenges. “You could only have so much growth. For rookies like Des and X and Killian and Sean to come in and hit the ground running the way they did, rookies around the league (last) year, I give them a ton of credit. They were really fighting an uphill battle.”

That resilience set the tone for the team’s approach to this summer’s progress.

“It’s the number one thing we always talk about – how we work, how we develop players (and) it starts with protecting what we do and what we’re about,” coach Taylor Jenkins said. “It’s pivotal and the starting point on whatever decisions we make. We know what our vision is and hopefully that leads to more success.”

For the young Grizzlies, success starts in the summer.

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.

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