Drafted all the way back in 2009 by the Minnesota Timberwolves, Nick Calathes has been stashed overseas for a very long time. His draft rights were traded to the Dallas on draft day for a 2010 second-rounder and cash, and he never signed with the club. This offseason, the Mavericks sent Calathes to Memphis for a 2016 second-round pick and the Grizzlies inked him to his first NBA contract.
Calathes spent the last four seasons of his career overseas with Panathinaikos Athens and Lokomotiv Kuban Krasnodar, earning a handful of accolades on the way. These include making the Greek All-Star Game, being named the Greek League’s Most Improved Player and most recently, being named the Eurocup MVP as he led his team to a championship.
So, what will Calathes offer Memphis this season? Though he stands 6’6″ tall, he’s a point guard primarily. Either way, Calathes would be behind both Jerryd Bayless and Mike Miller on the depth chart. His outlook this season is tied closely with Josh Akognon, whom I covered on Saturday. Calathes will battle Akognon to be the fifth guard on the depth chart, and both might end up on the inactive list.
Calathes’ primary niche is as a passer. He has great court vision (aided in part by his height, no doubt), and can make difficult passes look easy. The rest of his game isn’t quite as impressive, but he finishes well at the rim and put up nice rebound numbers for a point guard, again likely because of his height.
While he won MVP in the Eurocup (which is only the second-tier level of competition in Europe), it’s questionable how well Calathes’ game will translate to the NBA. Because he doesn’t shoot the ball particularly well, he might struggle against NBA defenses which will sag off of him. Additionally, his relative lack of foot speed might make defending NBA point guards difficult.
What’s interesting is that Calathes and Akognon, his competition on the depth chart, have two very different skillsets. While Calathes is a passer first and rounds out his game with a modest all-around skillset, Akognon is purely a scorer and nothing else. There’s also a distinct (and perhaps unconvenient) size difference between the two–while Calathes is 6’6″, Akognon is just 5’11”.
The difference between their skillsets could be a determining factor in which one sees playing time, if either do. Akognon’s three-point shooting is something that’s been a much-publicized need for the Grizzlies, but Calathes’ playmaking could be a bit of a need as well given the complete lack of playmakers on the Grizzlies’ bench. Depending on which of the two skills the Grizzlies need more, one of these two players might find themselves a steady 5-10 minutes per game.
In the grand scheme of things, both Calathes and Akognon sit on the end of the Grizzlies’ roster. Expecting too much of them might be a bit ambitious, and the Grizzlies are plenty deep as is. In the end, however, it is reassuring to see that even at the end of the roster, we do have some flexibility in our bench warmers. They’re proven in overseas competition (for whatever that’s worth), and more importantly, they have a wide array of skills collectively.