Improving on a 39-point victory in their Salt Lake City summer league debut won’t be an easy task for the Grizzlies, but their comfort level and continuity will certainly give them a shot.
The Grizzlies return to action Wednesday night against the Utah Jazz’s White team coming off a 104-65 dismantling of the Jazz’s Blue squad in Tuesday’s opening game of summer league play at Vivint Arena. If the Grizzlies looked like a team that’s been there before, there’s good reason.
It was only three months ago when Memphis carried the NBA’s youngest playing rotation into a first-round playoff series against the Jazz. The Grizzlies won the series opener in Salt Lake City against the league’s top-seeded team before losing in five games to close out their first playoff appearance in four years.
The Grizzlies are back in Utah with a summer league team that started five players who combined to play in 206 NBA regular season games last season. Anchoring that group are rising second-year veterans Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman, who combined for 25 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and three steals in a game the Grizzlies dominated from start to finish.
Bane and Tillman were on the floor for the Grizzlies during that playoff series in May, and intend to set the summer league tone by leading with a level of postseason intensity.
I’m comfortable being vocal when I see stuff and being able to keep my teammates accountable and allowing them to keep me accountable for sure.
“I don’t think you can put a price on experience, and I think we got real quality experience throughout the whole entire season last year, but in the playoffs especially,” Bane said. “It’s a really good start to the summer for sure. Leading by example is first and foremost.”
The Grizzlies coaching staff tasked Bane with taking on more playmaking responsibilities this summer to expand on his game after leading the team in three-point shooting last season. The 6-6 shooting guard will spend the bulk of his time at the point this week as the Grizzlies play three games in four days before moving on to the Las Vegas Summer League next week.
Tillman, a 6-8 forward/center, wants to build on his 11-point, 13-rebound double-double from Tuesday night. But development this summer isn’t as much about stats as it is about the statements he’s making as a frontline leader with an eye on expanding his voice next season.
“I’m more than willing to do it, especially going into next season with that second unit,” Tillman said of being the focal point on defense. “I’m comfortable being vocal when I see stuff and being able to keep my teammates accountable and allowing them to keep me accountable for sure.”
Rookie first-round picks Ziaire Williams and Santi Aldama aren’t expected to be available to join the summer league team until they clear NBA draft night trade guidelines later this week. But the Grizzlies got huge contributions from another set of rookies they picked up after the draft on free agency development contracts.
Former DePaul swingman Romeo Weems and University of Tennessee standout Yves Pons delivered impressive debuts with relentless energy and effort plays on Tuesday. Weems led the Grizzlies with 17 points and added six rebounds, three steals and a block in 19 minutes. He made both of his three-point attempts and was perfect on five free throws.
He’s going to be a really good player. He’s got long arms and defensively he’s very confident. He’s really trying to play the right way and was successful with it.
Pons, a 6-6 dynamic athlete around the rim, showed some versatility in his game by also knocking down a pair of threes and blocking two shots. His 12 points off the bench included three highlight-reel dunks, punctuated by flushes on two lobs in transition. Pons, the SEC’s 2020 Defensive Player of the Year, signed a Two-Way contract on Monday, and is positioned to spend time with both the Grizzlies and G League’s Memphis Hustle this coming season.
Grizzlies summer league coach Darko Rajakovic had high grades for Weems and Pons, who both went undrafted last week but have quickly stood out in their initial days with Memphis.
“Energy, relentless, ability to defend one through five,” Rajakovic said of Pons’ explosive ability on both ends of the floor. “He still has a ways to go in coverages but his physical ability covers a lot. He was just free and cutting. When he had open shots, he shot without second thoughts.”
For Weems, who just turned 20 this summer after two college seasons, the intangibles matter.
“Since he walked in our gym, he showed a big desire to work our way,” Rajakovic said of the 6-7 guard/forward. “He’s going to be a really good player. He’s got long arms and defensively he’s very confident. He’s really trying to play the right way and was successful with it.”
The Grizzlies face Jazz White at 8 p.m. before wrapping up the Salt Lake City summer league with Friday’s game against the Spurs. Tuesday’s game featured a familiar face, with former Grizzlies first-round pick Jarell Martin playing for the Jazz Blue team as he looks to regain an NBA roster spot. Martin spent three seasons in Memphis before he was traded to Orlando in 2018, and then spent last season playing in Australia.
Rajakovic wants to see the Grizzlies maintain their 20-20 vision on both ends of the court in Wednesday’s matchup. Memphis forced 21 turnovers and dished 26 assists on Tuesday, which are benchmarks for success in coach Taylor Jenkins’ system.
“That’s something we’ve preached since training camp,” Rajakovic said.
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