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VOL. 130 | NO. 193 | Monday, October 5, 2015

Young Energy Could Boost Veteran Grizzlies

By Don Wade

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Of the 15 Grizzlies players on guaranteed contracts, four are entering their second season in the NBA and one is a rookie.

The Memphis Grizzlies are a veteran team with a rotation that’s tough to crack. But young guards Jordan Adams, left, and Russ Smith – along with forwards Jarnell Stokes and JaMychal Green – still can make an impact.

(Left: AP Photo/Brandon Dill; Right: AP Photo/John Raoux)

While all of those players currently reside outside the team’s regular rotation, the four second-year players have a chance to carve out a niche for themselves; rookie forward Jarell Martin fractured his foot in a summer workout and his development figures to be delayed.

But forwards Jarnell Stokes, JaMychal Green and perhaps especially guards Jordan Adams and Russ Smith will have many opportunities to show what they can do during the preseason, which starts with a Tuesday, Oct. 6, home game vs. the Houston Rockets.

The Grizzlies also have five players on the roster with 11 or more years in the NBA, so over the 82-game grind of the regular season there will be nights when the Grizzlies could benefit from an injection of youth.

“When you look down your bench and you’re looking for a spark, or in a tough place, Russ Smith is a guy that is a bundle of energy that can come in and give you something different,” coach Dave Joerger said. “Jordan and Russ both just gotta be ready for their opportunity. If Mike (Conley) or Beno (Udrih) go down, Russ Smith is gonna go from zero to 18 minutes in a matter of 24 hours.”

Smith, a 6-foot, 165-pound point guard, is a skill set unto himself. His IndyCar-like speed and ability to score in flurries at Louisville led to his play being deemed “Russdiculous.” The term also covered those times he was just flat out of control.

He played little as a rookie, averaging just 5.4 minutes and 2.5 points in 12 games with Memphis. But his 16 points and four assists in 10 minutes on April 13 at Golden State is legend. The Grizzlies trailed by 29 points when Smith entered the game and ended up only losing 111-107 as Smith turned so-called garbage time into a renaissance recycling project.

The key going forward: knowing when to go full throttle and when to let off a little.

“That’s the biggest challenge for him going from college to the pros,” said vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger, “knowing when to turn the Russdiculous on and off. But he’s learning that. You could see how much progress he’s made – he had a tremendous summer league – and he’s improved his outside shot, which is a big thing for him. Because if he has that threat of a jumper when the defender goes under the screen, well, how are you gonna stay in front of him?”

In the five Orlando Summer League games, Smith averaged 14.8 points and 6.2 assists. The Grizzlies went 5-0 and he dished out nine assists in the championship game. Yes, it’s just the summer league, but Smith’s goal was to be dominant and he pretty much was.

“I don’t think anybody performed better than me,” he said. “I believe that with all my heart.”

In 25 games with the Iowa Energy of the NBA Development League last season, Smith averaged 18.1 points and 4.2 assists. But he realizes those numbers in that league are not enough to earn real time with an NBA playoff team.

“To be fair, last year I may not have been the player a coach can trust,” Smith said. “This year, I feel I’m more than capable.”

Adams, who is 6-foot-5, also averaged 18.1 points in the D-League, albeit in just 11 games. He averaged 8.3 minutes and 3.1 points with the Grizzlies and shot 40 percent from 3-point range, though it was a small sample size. He’s coming back from knee surgery and being eased into things during training camp.

Asked if he was that guy standing in the back of the room with his hand up to indicate he could help the team’s 3-point shooting, Adams laughed and said, “Yeah, put both hands up, actually. I think I can fill that position. Our coaches see us every day. I’m pretty sure shooting doesn’t go unnoticed.”

Stokes, the 6-foot, 263-pounder from Memphis who played at the University of Tennessee, also was on the Memphis-Iowa shuttle last season. In 19 games with the Grizzlies, Stokes averaged 3.0 points and 1.8 rebounds.

“Jarnell, he didn’t play a lot last year,” general manager Chris Wallace said, “but he had his moments when he came in and rebounded the ball, played with physicality, and helped us.”

Green, a more athletic 6-foot-9 and 227 pounds, averaged 2.6 points and 1.9 rebounds in 24 games with Memphis. He showed enough that in March the team gave him a two-year contract.

“This team can (be better),” Conley said. “Guys that didn’t get to play much last year – Jordan Adams, Russ, JaMychal, Jarnell – can take some reps off the older guys and hopefully keep us fresher. They have a different skill set. And Russ plays like a mini-Russell Westbrook. He’s everywhere, never gets tired.”

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