By: Christian Dudley (@ChristianDudley)
Former Memphis Tigers star D.J. Stephens has taken his talents abroad. His improved play has not missed a beat since playing for the Memphis Grizzlies in NBA Training Camp.
There may never be another player to suit up for the Memphis Tigers that is as electrifying as what D.J. Stephens displayed in his four years wearing the blue and white.
However, being an electrifying and thrilling dunker is what Stephens wanted to overcome. He wanted to show that he can do more to help a basketball team than just rip an opponent's soul from their chest with one royal flush at the rim.
In an opportunity to represent the city of Memphis -- D.J.'s home away from home -- he was able to showcase all his skills he had developed in his journey since starting his professional career.
In D.J. Stephens' Summer League performance as a Grizzly, heads were turned. Scouts were engaged. D.J. was seen as more than just a dunker, but could he keep it up?
Fast-forward to preseason, the former Tigers star certainly did continue making a name for himself to people other than Memphis locals. In 23.6 minutes per game, he registered nine points, 4.4 rebounds, and nearly one assist and one block per game on 44.4% field goal shooting, including 25% from beyond the arc -- much better overall than your average camp invite.
Rather than signing D.J. Stephens to a contract and enabling him to fill the final regular season roster spot, the Grizzlies went with Indiana's Troy Williams.
Williams -- another wing player -- had an impressive preseason, too. He also managed some surprising performances in regulation games in the early portion of the 2016-17 season; however, the Grizz found it necessary to cut Troy Williams in order to sign a veteran point guard. Their solution wound up being Toney Douglas, who has done quite well in this role.
What could have been if Memphis had chosen D.J. rather than Troy? Though Stephens is not a point guard (as Douglas is), he still has enhanced his intangibles to where his efforts would translate into wins for and NBA team. The Grizzlies were honestly a perfect fit.
While we could question "what if" all day long, Stephens' international statistics are very important to note. While a change of scenery (and continent/country) is surely difficult to adjust toward, D.J. Stephens has embraced his newest journey to Kiev, Ukraine, where he is playing this season.
Stephens has remained hungry. He knows what he must do in order to reach his ultimate goal -- to reach the NBA once again, preferably with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Improvement is an understatement for D.J. Though highlight dunks have been displayed for the international crowd, Stephens has made strides in the finer points of his game.
In nine games with Budivelnyk, the Memphis fan favorite is averaging 12.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.8 assists (with under one turnover per game) and nearly one steal and block per game. Perhaps the most impressive figures are his shooting percentages -- 68.2% overall, including 48.1% (13 of 27) from three-point land.
The Grizzlies surely have their eyes on D.J. as he continues to make strides in Kiev. With excellent improvements in his jump-shooting, expect other NBA teams to be taking notice, too.
According to D.J. Stephens, he is hopeful to return to training camp with the Memphis Grizzlies this upcoming summer. Assuming he receives the second chance, you better believe he will do everything in his power to earn his way onto the regular season roster.