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MikeCheck: Selden making most of summer league assignment as Grizzlies stay unbeaten in Utah

by Michael Wallace | Grind City Media

SALT LAKE CITY – Under ideal circumstances, Wayne Selden wouldn’t be here.

He’d be spending this part of the summer working out with his personal training staff. He’d be making plans for the final vacation he’d get to take before preparing to return to Memphis in early September for pickup games in advance of the start of training camp. 

In other words, Selden likely would be watching the Grizzlies’ summer league team from afar right now. Instead, the third-year swingman found himself in the middle of Tuesday’s action at the Utah Jazz Summer League, rescuing the Grizzlies from a near second-half collapse in a 95-92 win over the Jazz. 

Wayne Selden Jr.

Selden scored six of his game-high tying 20 points in the final two minutes after Memphis squandered the 26-point lead it built midway through the game. He made a jumper to put the Grizzlies back ahead 87-86 with 2:03 left, then added a pair of free throws and a driving layup to help put the game away. 

As a result, the Grizzlies (2-0) are the lone unbeaten squad in the four-team field heading into the final day of play on Thursday, when they face the Spurs at Vivint HomeSmart Arena.

But the last role Selden, 23, wants to embrace these days is as a summer league team savior. The 6-5 chiseled swingman has much bigger ambitions. But the Grizzlies are having to rely on Selden again in summer league play, in large part, because they couldn’t count on him to stay healthy during an injury-plagued regular season that saw him miss 44 games with right quadriceps and knee issues.

Because of that setback, Selden was never really able to build on his breakout performance last summer, when he was named to the Las Vegas Summer League All-Tournament team after averaging 22.7 points, 3.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.7 steals over a sensational six-game stretch. 

After sitting out of the Grizzlies’ debut win Monday over the Hawks in Utah, Selden was inserted into the starting lineup Tuesday alongside center Deyonta Davis, forward Jaren Jackson Jr. and guards Kobi Simmons and Jevon Carter. The goal for Selden was to knock off some rust and use whatever summer game action he gets to maintain his health and conditioning. 

I feel like I’m in pretty good shape right now, but you can always get better with it. So I think that’s the biggest thing for me. I just want to play in as many games as I can next season.
-- Wayne Selden Jr.

“Just keep getting in better shape, just keep training my body,” Selden said as the Grizzlies look to finish 3-0 on Thursday before moving on to Las Vegas Summer League play on Saturday. “I feel like I’m in pretty good shape right now, but you can always get better with it. So I think that’s the biggest thing for me. I just want to play in as many games as I can next season.”

First, there’s the formality of getting through next week. Selden and the Grizzlies are facing a July 10 trigger date to guarantee his $1.5 million salary for next season, which is the final year on his contract. At an athletic 230 pounds and with the ability to attack the basket, finish against contact and also shoot 40-percent from three-point range, the Grizzlies have been intrigued by Selden’s potential since he was signed to a multiyear deal at the end of the 2016-17 season in time for the playoffs. 

But Memphis is also at a crossroads at the shooting guard and small forward positions, where there essentially are no players under guaranteed contracts beyond next season. The Grizzlies are expected to address their need for a veteran wing scorer with all or part of their $8.6 midlevel exception in free agency, but some of the team’s potential targets have committed to deals elsewhere. 

Which brings the situation back to Selden. The Grizzlies would prefer to bring him off the bench but aren’t opposed to starting Selden alongside point guard Mike Conley, who is expected to return healthy for training camp after recovering from heel surgery that cost him 70 games last season. 

The team must also replace the scoring void created by the departure of Tyreke Evans, who averaged 19.4 points, 5.2 assists and 5.1 rebounds in 52 games last season. For now, Selden is the longest tenured shooting guard on a roster that currently includes second-year wings Dillon Brooks and Simmons along with MarShon Brooks, who signed on late last season after a four-year stint in China.

While Monday’s win over Atlanta was highlighted by breakout performances from rookie draft picks Jaren Jackson Jr. and Jevon Carter, Tuesday’s spotlight was on the Grizzlies’ returning summer league prospects. Selden, Davis and Simmons combined for 57 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists on 22-of-44 shooting from the field in a game of wild momentum swings against the Jazz.

Once the Grizzlies surrendered all of their 53-27 lead by the middle of the fourth quarter, the coaching staff turned to Selden, Davis and Simmons to settle the team in the final minutes. It wasn’t exactly unfamiliar territory for the group. Selden and Davis were part of the Grizzlies’ playoff rotation two seasons ago, and all three got extensive opportunities over the course of last season’s 22-60 finish.

“Those guys have been in those situations before, so we were pretty confident and comfortable playing them down the stretch,” said Grizzlies’ assistant J.J. Outlaw, who coached Tuesday’s game. “There’s a big learning experience to be had, which is exactly what this is for. On one side, that’s good. But we blew a 26-point lead. We got away from things we were doing well, and that was disappointing.”

Outlaw detailed a specific set of expectations this summer for the more experienced players.

“Those guys have to be our leaders – they’re the guys who have been through the wars, to some degree,” Outlaw continued. “That’s where their maturation process has to take another step, too.”

While it’s unclear how many more games Selden will be asked to play this summer, Simmons hopes to use both Salt Lake City and Las Vegas opportunities to showcase improvement from his rookie season. Simmons ranks among the leading scorers in Utah at 20.5 points a game. It’s a small, yet encouraging sample size. After shooting just 42.3 percent overall from the field and 28.2 percent on threes in 32 games last season, Simmons is shooting 51.6 overall and 42.8 from deep through two games in Utah.

It feels great to build on things like my shooting. As soon as last season ended, I took two or three days off and then got right to working on my jumper. It was shot after shot, trying to build on my range and building confidence. I just want to keep it going.
-- Kobi Simmons

“I guess I’m a veteran out there now, so I want to use what I’ve been working on throughout this offseason and stay aggressive,” Simmons said. “It feels great to build on things like my shooting. As soon as last season ended, I took two or three days off and then got right to working on my jumper. It was shot after shot, trying to build on my range and building confidence. I just want to keep it going.”

So far this summer, the young Grizzlies appear to be developing in the right direction.

The rookie draft picks have made solid first impressions. 

Second-year players are progressing from last season. 

And then, of course, there’s Selden.

“I’ve been down this road before,” he said of summer league breakthroughs.

Should all go according to plan this time, Selden won’t need to head back this way ever again.

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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