If rookie Nick Calathes turns out to be that long-coveted, legitimate back-up point guard for the Grizzlies, then count Mike Conley as the first one to have said, “I told you so.”
“I’ve been very impressed with him,” said Conley, the Grizzlies’ ever-dependable starting point guard. “He’s willing to work, willing to listen. He really knows the game – very heady. And he can shoot the ball better than what I think people give him credit for.
Memphis guard Nick Calathes passes around Chicago’s Taj Gibson during the first half of the Grizzlies’ first preseason game Monday, Oct. 7, in St. Louis. The Bulls won 106-87.
(AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
“He’s gonna surprise a lot of people in the league this year.”
Calathes made his debut Monday, Oct. 8, as the Grizzlies opened preseason play with a 106-87 loss to the Chicago Bulls at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Fans in Memphis can get their first in-person look at Calathes against the Dallas Mavericks at 7 p.m. Wednesday night at FedExForum.
Although a rookie, Calathes is 24 years old and has played four years in Europe. He played two years at the University of Florida before being drafted by Minnesota; the Timberwolves then traded his rights to the Mavericks. The Grizzlies acquired his rights from Dallas and signed him this summer.
“Obviously, it’s been a dream of mine since I was very young to play against the elite level, the top level in the world,” Calathes said. “Now that I’m here, I’ve got to succeed.”
Which the Grizzlies would love, given the parade of failed back-up point guards in recent years. Young players such as Tony Wroten, Josh Selby and Jeremy Pargo all seemed more intent on scoring than passing, and on flash more than consistency. Older players such as Keyon Dooling and Gilbert Arenas didn’t have much tread left on their tires.
O.J. Mayo was a point guard only on sports talk radio. Jerryd Bayless, though effective at the two and still with the team, didn’t fit into his point guard clothes, either.
Calathes? Who knows? He’s tall, 6-6, and veteran Mike Miller so likes his passing – “on time, on target,” but with some spice – that Miller compares him to former Griz point man Jason Williams. Calathes says the NBA point guard he is most like is Greivis Vasquez, the Grizzlies’ last dependable back-up point guard.
“He rebounds, assists and scores,” Calathes said of Vasquez. “And I’ve always been able to fill the stat sheet up.”
Calathes had eight assists with three turnovers and scored nine points and grabbed two rebounds against the Bulls. Which doesn’t tell us much. Coach Dave Joerger is emphasizing an up-tempo offense and Calathes will have to prove he can make good decisions and winning plays at pace, against defenders better than he faced in Europe.
“They’re more athletic in the NBA,” Calathes said, “but in Europe it’s more packed in so the NBA style is more spread out. That helps me create more for other guys.”
The even bigger question: Will Calathes, who is deemed average athletically, be able to play adequate defense against NBA point guards?
“It’s not a concern,” he said. “I know I can play defense. I just have to show it. In Europe, I got a lot better. Obviously, they’ll be guys I have a tough time with but I know I’m a very good defender.”
Conley is confident he can make the adjustment, too.
“Defensively is what people are going to look at first,” Conley said. “Teams are going to scout him and see if he can do it. I’ve seen him play offense, seen him play defense, and he’s got game. I believe he’s determined and he’s got a chip on his shoulder. He’s not gonna let this opportunity go to waste.”