One of basketball’s enduring lines is that if you’re open, there’s a reason. Does the same hold true for a player once projected as mid-first-round NBA draft choice slipping to No. 41 overall?
In other words, why was San Diego State shooting guard Jamaal Franklin still there for taking by Memphis in the middle of the second round?
A draft night story at utsandiego.com tried to answer that question with a headline: “Jamaal Franklin can only blame himself.” The story then went on to explain that “the Grizzlies drafted a shooting guard who led the conference in technical fouls, polarized a fan base and was voted the Mountain West’s most-hated player of all time.”
Taken in a narrow context, all of that sounds like an indictment. And if you were the opposing fan on the receiving end of a middle-finger salute from Franklin, maybe you would be inspired to vote multiple times in that most-hated MWC social media poll, too. But let’s be clear: in this day and time any sort of minor misconduct, such as flipping the bird, is easily captured, disseminated and given unbalanced weight.
Joe Murphy (NBAE/Getty Images)
More likely, teams strayed from Franklin because while he was the only player in the country to lead his team in points (17), rebounds (9.5), assists (3.3) and steals (1.6), they had a hard time imagining his 28 percent shooting percentage from 3-point range translating into a solid NBA shooting stroke. Even back in April, when draftexpress.com projected Franklin to go 24th overall, he was derided for his shot selection: “… he too often settles for long-range jumpers and difficult shot attempts.”
Worth noting: draftexpress.com also lauded Franklin for “strong scoring instincts and ability to create off the bounce.”
Franklin’s take: “I was forced to score 20 points a game. The other people, the Ben McLemores (of Kansas), they can score 10 points a game or 5 points and still win the game. If I score 5 points in a game at San Diego State, we were gonna lose.”
It is a fair point. Even if that attitude undoubtedly ingrained some bad, try-to-do-much, habits. Yet if the 6-5 Franklin were a tall glass of water, the Grizzlies see the glass as half-full.
“When we looked at Jamaal, like every player, you have parts of their game you have to develop,” said player personnel director Stu Lash. “But from my experience, it’s a lot easier to develop skill (such as shooting) than heart and mindset. He’s clearly a guy that fits our culture.”
So much so that Grizzlies CEO Jason Levien immediately dubbed Franklin “The Grindson,” playing off veteran Tony Allen’s nickname, “The Grindfather.”
In a perfect world, Franklin would become equal parts Allen and Kawhi Leonard, Franklin’s former Aztec teammate who quickly went from a suspect shooter to deft marksman for the San Antonio Spurs. Franklin admits becoming a perimeter defender at Allen’s level is a goal, not a present reality, and says the same for Leonard’s shooting ability.
“I always want to be better,” Franklin said. “If you look at my phone, I put stuff on there all the time to motivate me. Little blogs, and stuff people say. I’m a person that loves criticism more than people giving me good feedback. I love proving people wrong.
“When you go to San Diego State you automatically have a chip on your shoulder,” he said. “People don’t think you can’t win as many games as you do. That’s why I fit in here. A lot of people underestimate the Grizzlies. Everybody with the Memphis Grizzlies plays with a chip on their shoulder.”
If sliding to No. 41 in the draft hasn’t made the chip on his shoulder larger, well, Franklin almost wouldn’t be human. But what Lash likes is this: “That’s something he has in him regardless of how draft night went.”
There’s also no reason for Franklin to feel anything like he did at San Diego State – “having to do everything,” as he put it. Here, he is a secondary character with room to grow in his role and not the star of a one-man show. He’s even looking forward to getting help with his shot.
“A shooting coach definitely could help me adjust and edit my shot,” he said. “I’m not a perfect player. I don’t have a perfect shot.”
But perhaps, a near-perfect opportunity.
“A lot of people will say it’s a bad thing I slipped,” Franklin said. “But hey, three years ago, I actually was redshirted. Now I’m an NBA player. How happy can I be? I’m ecstatic right now. I don’t have to worry about going to study hall anymore.”