MikeCheck: Mack’s winning pedigree fortifies Grizzlies’ backup PG spot amid Chalmers’ exit, Carter’s recovery
MEMPHIS – If the Grizzlies’ offseason has felt like a dizzying blur of the NBA draft process, coaching staff additions, summer league development, free agency, trades and roster upgrades, take comfort.
You’re not alone.
There’s very little “off” regarding the NBA offseason these days. Need proof? Training camp opens in a little over a month, and we’re within 50 days of the Grizzlies’ Oct. 2 preseason opener against the Rockets in Birmingham. The roster has been in transition, with eight new players in tow and six departures amid a supporting cast makeover that’s nearly complete.
As the month of August winds down, we’ll periodically take a closer look at who’s in, who’s out and what impact the transition will have at various spots on the Grizzlies’ roster.
In: Shelvin Mack, 6-3 PG
Deal: 1 year/$2.02 million incoming free agent
Last season: 6.9ppg. (48.8%eFG), 2.4rpg, 3.9apg., 0.8spg in 69 games
Out: Mario Chalmers, 6-2, PG
Deal: Unsigned unrestricted free agent
Last season: 7.7ppg. (37.9%FG), 2.4rpg., 3.0apg., 1.2spg in 66 games
Despite all of the equity Chalmers established in his first stint with the Grizzlies two years ago after arriving from Miami, it was impossible to rekindle any of those vibes upon his return this past season. The clutch shots. The energetic playmaking. The veteran savvy. Unfortunately, that all fell well short of expectations. After 18 months recovering from 2016 Achilles surgery, Chalmers struggled in his return to Memphis to regain form from the meteoric rise in that first stint.
The combination of Mike Conley’s season-ending heel injury, former coach David Fizdale’s dismissal in November and a season that went completely sideways less than two full months after it commenced prevented the Grizzlies from getting any meaningful production out of the backup point guard spot. Chalmers, who had long ties to Fizdale, was one of seven different reserves the Grizzlies trotted out at the position by the end of a 22-60 season. None really stood out as absolute keepers.
Chalmers may still land on an NBA roster once camps open. The experience and defensive feistiness remain, as evidenced by his team-leading 79 steals last season. But his age (32), recent injury recovery and declining shooting numbers rendered Chalmers expendable and replaceable.
Look up ‘Reasonable NBA Backup Point Guard’ in the proverbial basketball dictionary, and Mack’s photo and career bio likely appear. The Grizzlies have been in a never-ending search for a reliable option behind Conley, and Mack is the latest test case. The move for Mack was smart and safe because the seven-year veteran arrives with four seasons of playoff experience and a solid relationship with Grizzlies’ new lead assistant coach Chad Forcier from last season in Orlando.
I’ve been on winning teams. I’ve played with All-Stars and max (contract) players, and I’ve been able to mix in with all kinds of players. I’m a leader and I feel like I can get the best out of guys.-- Shelvin Mack
But Mack’s timely addition may also pay off from the outset should Jevon Carter’s recovery from thumb surgery this week sideline the rookie second-round pick for the initial stages of camp and preseason. Mack is clearly a short-term stopgap, but he’s built for this assignment. His role over the years included backing up All-Stars John Wall in Washington and Jeff Teague in Atlanta before he averaged a career-best 12.7 points and 5.3 assists over 27 games after being dealt to the Jazz to close out the 2015-16 season.
Between Mack, Carter and returning backup Andrew Harrison, the Grizzlies boast three defensive-minded, physical slashers. None are considered knockdown shooters from deep, which still leaves a void at that spot for a team annually at or near the bottom of the NBA in three-point shooting and scoring. Unlike the others, Mack isn’t a project. He’s as close to a proven commodity as you get at that price and position.
“I bring a winning attitude,” Mack said during an interview in Orlando last summer about the qualities he brings to a team. “I’ve been on winning teams. I’ve played with All-Stars and max (contract) players, and I’ve been able to mix in with all kinds of players. I’m a leader and I feel like I can get the best out of guys.”
Neither Chalmers nor Mack were signed at that spot with long-term intentions. But the newcomer is clearly an upgrade over the outgoing player at this stage of their careers on the same type of deal. Much like they did initially with Chalmers, the Grizzlies are hoping a mid-career vet with a winning background can provide depth and a needed spark. Mack brings a winning pedigree. The Lexington, KY native won 30-games as a prep senior, twice reached the NCAA title game with Butler, contributed on a 60-win Hawks team and recently helped the Jazz end a five-year playoff drought.
The Grizzlies are done with the guesswork at backup point guard. They seek productive assurance, versatility and reliability. Mack can play behind or alongside Conley. And at 6-3, he can defend both guard spots in the Grizzlies’ quest to unleash a team full of interchangeable pieces in a positionless brand of basketball.
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.