MEMPHIS – Grizzlies interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff may not be quite ready to evaluate the job he’s done under tough circumstances, but he’s certain about the progress made by several of the team’s younger prospects this season.
“To be honest with you, there’s been a bunch of them,” Bickerstaff said of players he believes have made the biggest strides this season. “If you look at every single one of our young guys, they’ve improved in some form or fashion. And that’s difficult when you’re playing a lot of guys, and they overlap at some positions.”
The Grizzlies will conduct season-ending exit interviews on Thursday to close out a frustrating, injury-riddled season. But as the team shifted its focus from Monday’s 113-94 loss in Minnesota to Wednesday’s finale at Oklahoma City, Bickerstaff pointed to the gradual improvement he’s seen from many who have developed their games throughout a difficult season.
It starts with rookie Dillon Brooks, who’s averaging a season-high 17.8 points a game in April after his scoring average had increased from 10.1 points a game in February to 14.8 in March. Over that same stretch, his fouls per game have decreased from 3.4 in February and 2.1 in March to 1.2 this month.
Another example has been rookie Ivan Rabb, who has benefited from increased playing time over the past month and enters the final game of the season averaging 11.2 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds on 57.5-percent shooting from the field in five April games. Rabb and Brooks, both picked in the second round of last June’s draft, combined for 29 points, 12 rebounds and five assists at the starting forward spots in Minnesota on Monday after contributing a total of 30 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, four steals and two blocks in Sunday’s home win over Detroit.
While more playing time has led to increased production, Bickerstaff has seen specific improvement in certain aspects of their games. Brooks has struggled with his shooting touch recently, but Bickerstaff has been encouraged by the 6-6 swingman’s conditioning, durability and attention to detail on defense, particularly when assigned to defend some of the league’s elite wing players. Brooks will become the first Grizzlies’ rookie in a decade to play all 82 games when he lines up against the Thunder.
“It just shows everyone around the league that I’m a grit player, that I can play all 82 games and I’m reliable,” Brooks said. “I’m going to be there throughout my whole career.”
Meanwhile, Rabb has shown a competitive edge against top NBA power forwards and a versatile offensive repertoire that includes athleticism around the basket and a shooting stroke with range. A top priority for the 6-10 Rabb this offseason is adding bulk to his wiry, 220-pound frame.
When you look at Dillon, Wayne Selden, Kobi Simmons, Ivan and (Deyonta Davis) – you can go down the list and they’ve made huge steps. They’ve been committed to the process and put in a ton of work.— J.B. Bickerstaff
“We really feel we’ve got two guys who have proved and will continue to prove to be steals in that draft,” Bickerstaff said of Rabb and Brooks, who were selected at No. 35 and No. 45, respectively. “When you look at Dillon, Wayne Selden, Kobi Simmons, Ivan and (Deyonta Davis) – you can go down the list and they’ve made huge steps. They’ve been committed to the process and put in a ton of work.”
The Grizzlies (22-59) are in position to potentially build on last year’s developing draft class. Regardless of the outcome of Wednesday’s game in OKC, Memphis is locked into the league’s second-worst record and the second-highest odds behind Phoenix to land the No. 1 pick in the May 15 draft lottery. Under the current lottery format, the Grizzlies will pick no worse than fifth overall in the June 21 NBA draft.
GRIND CITY STABILITY
Arguably the biggest question hanging over the franchise entering the offseason was whether controlling ownership of the Grizzlies would change hands as part of a “buy-sell” process executed earlier this season.
That question was answered Monday afternoon, when Robert Pera informed the league and Grizzlies’ season-ticket holders that he was committed to not only maintaining controlling interest in the franchise but also to ensuring the team would remain in Memphis.
That (decision) serves to reinforce our dedication to continue building a successful NBA franchise. We have made significant investment in our organization in recent years and considerable strides towards our goal of sustained success. We will continue to do so and are confident that you will see the results of those investments in coming seasons.— Robert Pera
“We recognize that this has been a trying season for you as fans,” Pera wrote in an email to fans. “That (decision) serves to reinforce our dedication to continue building a successful NBA franchise. We have made significant investment in our organization in recent years and considerable strides towards our goal of sustained success. We will continue to do so and are confident that you will see the results of those investments in coming seasons.”
The Grizzlies will miss the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. Pera purchased a controlling interest in the Grizzlies in 2012. Since then, the franchise and FedExForum have undergone massive upgrades and the team has signed franchise anchors Mike Conley and Marc Gasol to long-term deals.
Top team executives believe the ownership decision maintains stability for both the franchise and the city of Memphis. The Grizzlies are expected to go through their normal offseason evaluation process with the front office and player roster. A decision also looms with Bickerstaff’s status after the season.
KEEP AN EYE ON …
Russell Westbrook. The NBA’s reigning Most Valuable Player needs 16 rebounds in Wednesday’s regular-season finale against Memphis to become the first player in league history to average a triple-double in consecutive seasons.
Westbrook enters the game averaging 25.6 points, 10.1 assists and 9.9 rebounds. He’s grabbed at least 16 rebounds in six games this season, including Monday’s win over Miami that allowed the Thunder to clinch a spot in the playoffs.
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.