March 3, 2013; Orlando FL, USA; Memphis Grizzlies point guard Tony Wroten (1) shoots a three pointer against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Memphis Grizzlies defeated the Orlando Magic 108-82. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

What We Can Learn From Summer League So Far

Summer League is, summarily, a way for teams and fans to get a sense of which young players are worth grabbing and keeping, and which are not. Usually of particular interest are the draft picks taken by the team that year, and the second year players, to see how the draft picks might stack up against NBA competition and how the second-year guys have improved, respectively.

How a Summer League team performs usually has little to no bearing on the team itself, but how the important players perform usually turns out to be vital for the franchise.

Unfortunately, the Grizzlies Summer League so far has not been encouraging.

Mar 21, 2013; Dayton, OH, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Jack Cooley speaks at a press conference the day before the second round of the 2013 NCAA tournament at University of Dayton Arena. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

I wrote two days ago about the Grizzlies loss to the Cavs Summer League squad, and how it was far from encouraging for all the major players: Tony Wroten looked smart and in-control of the players and floor, but couldn’t hit a shot anywhere, from close or far away. Janis Timma looked awkward, and it’s hard to get excited about a shooter who can’t shoot (he’s made 1 three out of at least 7 attempts). Jack Cooley looked good, but might be really turnover prone and probably couldn’t find playing time in a backlogged Memphis Frontcourt. The whole team shot 24% from the floor.

In the second quarter against the Bulls, they shot 18%.

What the Grizzlies needed, need, and will probably still need as the season begins is three-point shooting. Two nights ago against the Cavaliers, the Grizzlies shot 2-24 from behind the three point line. In the first game they were 3-19. The Summer League roster is not going to be the team’s source of the shooting they need.

The one bright spot on the shooting front could be Jack Cooley, formerly of Notre Dame, and phenomenal performer up to this point in Vegas. Shooting-Wise, he was 50% from the arc last night, 2-5 for both games. It’s certainly not a large sample size, but there’s something to be said for that too: he’s probably the only guy on the Grizzlies squad who isn’t just jacking up bad shots the whole time, and he’s also been the only offensively efficient player on the squad, shooting about 50% from the floor both nights.

Cooley could be a legitimate stretch four for the Grizzlies, something they could use really desperately. A shooting big man would allow a lineup with Conley, Prince, and Gasol to actually have some floor space, not to mention the possibility of actual full-of-three-point-shooting squads, i.e., Conley-Bayless-Qpon-Cooley-Gasol.

The problem, as has already been discussed, is that there’s no clear spot for him on the roster. His use and role are clear, but with a bench already full up of ZBo, Gasol, Kosta Koufos, Ed Davis, and Jon Leuer, he probably couldn’t find any real time.

Cooley has uses beyond his three point shooting that makes him even more enticing though: he hawks the boards hard, and grabs a surprising amount of rebounds for a 6-10 guy: 7 and 9, respectively, well over 10 per 36 minutes. His defense, too, isn’t great, but it’s solid and totally usable with a Gasol or Randolph or Koufos behind him.

The major risk with Cooley, as it stands, is his hands. A really uncomfortable amount of his scoring came off of near-turnovers, and then, he did turn over the ball a lot, 3 times both games, over 5 times per 36 minutes. At least 4 of those 6 turnovers were off of beautiful drop off passes from Wroten that he didn’t see coming and dropped. Not to mention the fact that he was also blocked once per game.

The guys is smart and a solid offensive player, but he could be a serious liability against quicker defenses who are better at forcing those kinds of mistakes, so he’s a real gamble in that sense. But who knows, he might have Matt Bonner-like upside.

The biggest disappointment here has been Janis Timma. Timma was the Grizzlies’ last pick of the draft from Latvia, and he was chosen for his potential as a spot of shooter. However, in Vegas, he has been nothing short of really bad. His three point shot has been off, to say the least. He has shot less than 10% so far from the 3-point line.

Less. Than. 10%.

Part of the problem is that Timma’s vision and decision making has been awful. He insists on taking the ball up on every rebound or steal he gets without any real ability to do anything. He never swings he ball, but he has a tendency drive in or dribble around only to make awful, slow passes out of plays. Almost every shot has been contested and generally bad.

Then, on defense, he’s slow and entirely reactionary: he never knows how to predict a player’s movement and is, as a result, always literally one step behind with no semblance of the athleticism necessary to catch up.

He’s not good. A lot of his mistakes are mental, so there’s no way to know whether his shot is better than it looks, and he might be able to learn. But I don’t see much upside in trying to teach him.

Then there’s Tony Wroten, really, the big story of the Grizzlies’ Summer League squad up to this point. A member of the squad last year, and often talked about prospect, Wroten is viewed as having the kind of potential to be a really solid backup for Conley, and maybe even a starter in his own someday.

When you watch him, it’s easy to see how he has that reputation. He’s huge, smart, hyper-athletic, and knows how to get the ball to the people who most need the ball. His assist numbers don’t do him near justice, since the team has, on average, shot well below the 30% mark, making assists difficult. He has the kind of vision, smarts, and athleticism to potentially impact the NBA.

The weird part is, there are a lot of wrinkles to Wroten’s game that feel easily dismissible…but that just won’t go away.

For one: his inability to finish his shots. Wroten finished at a respectable 4-9 from the floor against the Bulls squad, but even then, other than his 2 three-pointers (which he was, admittedly, fairly open on) those other shots were moves at the rim he should have made. Against the Cavs, though, he only hit 1-14. At least 2 of his 5 threes were from the corner and open, and he had so many pretty moves to the rim that just missed.

So it’s really tempting to say, “well, he has the right moves, his shot selection is good, so he’ll make them eventually. The important part is that he’s making the right decisions.” In large part, that’s what makes him so appealing. But, well, history isn’t on that side. Last year he was a 38% shooter from the floor, with a sad TS% of 46.1%. His shot selection has gotten a little better in LVSL, but not significantly. He just can’t finish his shots yet, and that’s a pretty huge problem.

On the flip side, he’s a terrible pick and roll defender. For these Grizzlies rookies, the defense probably isn’t the most important part of their game: the Grizzlies need an infusion of offense, the other players can take care of the Grit n’ Grind. But the point guard bench is pretty devoid of decent defenders, and with Bayless and Pondexter likely to be leading the bench squad, the reserve point guard probably needs to be able to defend.

Wroten…cannot. At least he could not in the last two games. Marquis Teague and Andrew Goudelock made a mockery of him and Timma. There was one play against the Bulls were Teague hedged so hard against the pick that Teague looked flabbergasted as he waltzed right in to the wide open lane. Teague had 7 assists in a game where even the best point guards don’t tend to get more than 5.

Also, here, Wroten gets trapped by the pick, and shows such a lack of lateral quickness that he literally trips over himself trying to catch up to Dion Waiters.

Wroten has a lot of potential, and a lot of smarts, but it’s hard to know how exactly he might impact the game, and, sadly, it’s hard to be too optimistic there.

Someone to watch, though, might be Gerald Robinson. He hasn’t done much thus far, really, to warrant any kind of real excitement, but he’s looked really good in his limited time. He doesn’t do much that’s stupid stupid, and he made some truly beautiful passes in the Bulls game, and is an incredibly quick guy capable of carving it inside and finishing. We saw that a couple times both games.

I haven’t seen enough of Robinson to be able to say if he’s a real prospect, but I think he’s gotten lost in some of the Wroten hype and has looked really good to me.

So that’s the Summer League Summary so far.

Don’t forget to watch the Grizzlies Summer League game this evening at 8:30 ET on NBATV, which I’ll be live tweeting from the Beale Street Bears twitter account! (@Bealesteetbear)




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