Memphis Hustle Season Preview | Opening Night Roster
With the announcement of the Hustle Media Day taking place on November 1, 2018, the Memphis Grizzlies’ G League affiliate, the Memphis Hustle, released their training camp roster. Since then four players, Curtis Phillips, Jalen Jackson, Jay-R Strowbridge, and Nino Johnson have been waived to finalize their opening night roster. Curtis Phillips and Nino Johnson were the 2018 G League Draft picks out of White Station, and Jackson and Strowbridge were two local tryout players.
With everything finalized, it’s time for basketball. The Hustle tip-off for the first time in Rio Grande Valley against the Vipers on November 3, 2018. After that and a game in Sioux Falls the following Monday against the Skyforce, they bring it back to the Landers Center on November 9 for the home season opener against the Vipers again.
2 Way Players
Yuta Watanabe - 6’9” - George Washington University - Forward
In perhaps the most interesting story from the Grizzlies’ offseason, would be the arrival of Yuta Watanabe in Memphis. The 24-year-old Japanese-born forward has a more than impressive résumé from his four years at George Washington University. There, he broke historical grounds becoming the first Japanese-born player to gain an NCAA D1 basketball scholarship and was the Atlantic 10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 with 16.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks in 36.6 minutes.
In 2013, The Japan Times dubbed him “The Chosen One.” Little did they know that five years later, Watanabe would sign a Two-Way contract with the Grizzlies and Hustle, which would give him the opportunity, when he steps on the floor in the regular season as a Memphis Grizzly, to become the second EVER Japanese-born player.
The fans’ first sighting of Yuta came in the Grizzlies Open Practice back on September 28, and afterwards Garrett Temple MC’d a dance contest among the rookies and other young players to Drake’s summer hit “In My Feelings”. Yuta went last… and stole the show. Afterwards he said on Twitter, “I'll never ever dance again in front of people. I was so nervous and that was horrible I need JJ to teach me some moves.” Jaren Jackson, Jr., simply replied, “nah u got it.”
And if there was some chance that didn’t do enough, in his second game in the preseason, his energy, clutch shot-making, and defense not only sent the game into overtime and clear a way for a Grizzlies 109-104 win over the Indiana Pacers on October 6, but also let Grizzlies fans know who he is.
Because of injuries to JaMychal Green and Chandler Parsons, Yuta’s NBA debut came a little earlier than expected on October 27, 2018 in a blowout win over the Devin Booker-less Phoenix Suns.
DJ Stephens - 6’5” - University of Memphis - Wing/Forward
Since he competed for a spot in the 2016 preseason, “DJ Stephens should be on the Grizz/Hustle” comments and rumors have constantly poured in. Finally, someone got it right.
Last season, while with the French LNB Pro A team, Le Mans, DJ played 33 games total, and became the League’s 6th Man of the Year helping lead Le Mans to a title. Over that season, he shot 4.5 times a night from three and hit 1.8 of them at a 38.7% clip, according to RealGM.com. Most fans remember DJ from his Tiger days, where he dunked all the time and couldn’t shoot. Well, playing in the G League and overseas gives a guy a lot of time to work on something like shooting.
Some say his signing was a publicity decision to sell tickets in Southaven, while others defended that it was a basketball decision. And as usual when it comes to a Grizzlies take, arguments were everywhere. It may have been the third most divisive Grizz conversation in the offseason (the consistent “We should/shouldn’t trade Gasol/Mike” at number one and who starts at the 2/3/4).
Why can’t it be both? DJ Stephens has a near unmatched level of athleticism, is an improved shooter, and can play consistent defense. The guy literally had a no-look block in the Summer League. Yes, there’s a heightened interest in the Hustle because of DJ. So? In its inaugural season, the Hustle had a players’ and fans’ coach in Glynn Cyprien, another former Memphis prodigy in Austin Nichols, and a high-powered offense behind Ivan Rabb and Kobi Simmons. Did fans pack the house out then? No. Will they now? Doubtful, and that’s ok.
Grizz Training Camp Players
Brandon Goodwin - 6’2” - Florida Gulf Coast - Guard
Brandon Goodwin has quickly become a big name for Grizzlies fans, after his Summer League stint with the team. After showing immense scoring and facilitating ability, he gained fans in the front office too, earning an Exhibit-10 deal. An Exhibit-10 contract is essentially signing a player to training camp and grants the team the right to convert the contract into a Two-Way. This was done in the weeks between the waiving of Kobi Simmons and the signing of DJ Stephens. In the 10 total Summer League games, Goodwin shot 41.4% from three and scored 10.5 points a game.
The final 7 games in Las Vegas was where Goodwin truly guaranteed his money averaging 12 points, which was second on the team. The eyebrow-raising came most likely from his final two games. He had 21 points one night in an 82-73 win over the 76ers, then had 27 the next in the eliminating loss to Portland.
He told Naples Daily News on July 25 of his plans to try and get a Two-Way deal following Summer League:
"I think there's a great chance. He's a good agent and he's working it. I'm just letting my agent do his thing. He's been talking to a couple of teams -- Charlotte, Toronto, Miami and Minnesota. I don't know if Memphis is in the picture any longer. Just talking to other teams right now to get me a chance at a two-way contract."
While he didn’t get the Two-Way he was looking for, he will have an opportunity to be the primary point guard for the Hustle outside of Jevon Carter. An extended period of time to showcase himself will certainly work in his favor as his career progresses.
Markel Crawford - 6’4” - Ole Miss - Guard
Markel Crawford, much like DJ Stephens, is not a new name by any means to Memphis basketball fans. He grew up in Memphis, and even played at the University of Memphis, that is, before he transferred to Ole Miss. Crawford earned his opportunity with Brandon Goodwin through Summer League. Over the 10 games played in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas, he averaged 8.4 points with 1.3 steals off 55.9% shooting from the field and 48.1 shooting from three in 16.8 minutes a game.
Markel spent four years at the University of Memphis and one as a redshirt-senior at Ole Miss. His best collegiate production year was his 3rd playing year with 12.8 points, 1.4 steals, with 33.3% three-point field goal shooting and 47.8% from the field all together in 32.3 minutes a game… all collegiate career highs.
Throughout his few and in between media availabilities, he has put forth the same message of being an example for his city and the kids from his neighborhood. Sure, a lot of people say that, but when it came to Markel’s turn… he meant it. Here’s what he told Grind City Media’s Chris Vernon and Michael Wallace on the Grizzlies’ Media Day:
“It’s a dream for me, growing up here and being able to put this Memphis across my chest means a lot. It means more than just basketball, it’s being able to put on for the kids that are watching me from the same neighborhood I grew up watching Marc, TA, Pau, and all those guys. For me, it’s a huge blessing.”
I would certainly be surprised if Crawford doesn’t garner the most applause early in the season (outside of DJ Stephens… hard to compete with him sometimes).
Doral Moore - 7’1” - Wake Forest - Center
My “Most Likely To Get Called Up” goes to Doral Moore. I know it may seem early, but his playing style, mindset, and production puts him in a good position that NBA team’s will need. He had a broke out as a junior last year at Wake Forest with 11 points, 9.4 rebounds, and 2 blocks in his first season playing more than 8 minutes a game. Also that season, he set a school record for single-season field goal percentage at 68.9% (at the same school that Tim Duncan spent 4 years at). Not to mention, his 18 points (9-9 FGA) and 12 rebounds over Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, Jr., against Duke.
While he may not have spent the Summer League with the Grizzlies, he did, however, play for the Washington Wizards. But only played 20.8 minutes over 5 games. With no chance to prove himself with the Wizards, Moore was ready to move on and sign to an overseas team; that is, until the Grizzlies called.
As a training camp invite, Moore went through all of the Media Day Coverage, including an interview with Grind City Media’s Chris Vernon and Michael Wallace. In this, Moore showed a lot of who he was on and off the court, including some things that were running through his mind.
On his junior year at Wake Forest:
“I just had fun playing the game, I didn’t think too much. You know being an athletic 7-footer who is active and moving around... a lot of people can’t respond to that. I started to realize that, so I played my game, which is rebounding, catching lobs, and playing hard inside.”
On where he could fit on the rotation:
“I felt like for the center position, they would move Jaren up to the 4 and have an athletic center, so he can be able to be more mobile, move around more, move out and be able to shoot threes, and all that stuff he can do. I can try to control the paint a bit and help Marc.”
On the long process it took to get to where he was and how he can get the opportunity he missed in Summer League:
“After the draft, I obviously went undrafted. One team that had a lot of interest in me were the Wizards, so I decided to play Summer League with them. But, you know, of course they had their own rotational things going on, some of the G League players, and Two-Way Players. They had to focus on them and their development as well. They picked up some dudes from Summer League, so you have all that stuff going on, and, so, sometimes certain players don’t get as much playing time because they aren’t the focal point or the main focus. So that could be a reason, and I feel like that’s possibly what happened, but I can’t say for sure.”
On how he feels confident that he could put in the work and where he sees an opportunity:
“But after that, you always think ‘Should I go overseas, would that be a better opportunity, then come back? I felt like being an athletic center, and me being 7’1”, able to run up and down the floor, good hands, catch lobs, I feel like I could thrive in a training camp environment, and possibly get a Two-Way or roster spot. Or even if I had to play my way up through the G League one year, I feel like that would benefit me more. As far as, getting put into a system on a team, rather than go overseas.”
Doral Moore knows himself as a basketball player and person more than most players with his experience do. It couldn’t be commended enough. As an assumable starter for Hustle (or the next big man up behind Nino Johnson), Moore will certainly be an exciting developmental project to watch grow.
Ismaila Kane - 6’9” - Atlanta Metropolitan (Juco) - Forward
Despite being on the training camp roster for the Grizzlies, there hasn’t been a lot of opportunities to watch the Senegalese forward. Last season, he was a freshman for Atlanta Metropolitan at the JUCO level. He averaged 14.3 points, 11.5 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks in 13 outings. During the Grizzlies Preseason, he only appeared once for 2 minutes. He was eventually cut to make room for DJ Stephens, but the Grizzlies retained him for the Hustle. It will be interesting to see how he fights for a spot in Brad Jones’ rotation.
The Returning Player
Dusty Hannahs - 6’3” - Arkansas - Guard
Dusty Hannahs is set to become the lone returning player from the Hustle last season. Whether it was an overseas contract, a trade, being waived, or simply pursuing another opportunity, Hannahs is the only player left.
Hannahs, like Chance Comanche, saw seldom minutes in the first stretch of the season, but then when given the opportunity showed impressive scoring ability. RealGM shows us that in the months where he played less than 20 minutes a game, he never averaged more than 5.4 points a game. But in the three months he played 20 minutes or more, he had at least 10 points a game. In March, he averaged a season high 32.9 minutes and a season high 14.9 points off of 43.5% from the field and a scorching 49% from three (3-6.1). His percentage from the outside ended as 8th in the G League at 44.1%.
Last season, there were flashes. Flashes of a playmaker who’s more than just a shooter. This season will be a real chance for him to grow into an overall more polished. It would be reasonable to assume he could be a starter. In the 13 games he started, he came away with 15.5 points nightly. It will be very interesting to see how new head coach Brad Jones will play him.
Acquired Via Trade
Kyle Casey - 6’7” - Harvard - Forward
Kyle Casey became a member of the Memphis Hustle on September 24, 2018, after the Hustle traded for his rights and a 4th round pick from the Wisconsin Herd with the returning rights of Jeremy Morgan and a 4th Round pick of their own. Last year, according to Basketball Reference, Casey averaged nearly 8 points and 5 rebounds accompanied by 36.1% from three in 24 minutes of action per game. Having his name called 38 times as a starter for the Herd last season, Casey appeared in a near team-high 47 games. Second to Jarvis Summers (49).
In Wisconsin, Casey was as average as one can be in rebounding, but, when it came to scoring, he showed an immense list of skills. In his 6.4 shot attempts per game, he finished with 44.3% from the field pulling up off the dribble in face-up situations and nailing threes off the catch. Occasionally, he’d put the ball on the floor from the point and drive it down for the basket in half-court situations. With the Hustle, expect head coach Brad Jones to raise his usage rate on offense to get a good measure of his abilities. The problem for Casey, however, will be staying in the game. In those 24 minutes per game last year, he averaged 3 fouls.
Tyler Harvey - 6’4” - Eastern Washington University - Guard
After drafting the former Michigan State big-man, Jaren Jackson, Jr., on June 21, the Grizzlies found themselves in a bit of a log jam around the 4 and 5 slots in the rotation. At the time they had -in order of minutes per game last season- Gasol, JaMychal, Jarell Martin, Chandler Parsons (considering he played at the 4 quite often), Deyonta Davis, and Ivan Rabb. Now add a 4th overall pick who has shown extreme growth in just a few months’ time to that mix.
The first of the inevitable roster shake-ups came on July 17 when the Grizzlies traded the soon to be 3rd-year big man Deyonta Davis and Ben McLemore to the Sacramento Kings for veteran wing Garrett Temple. Temple has already gained the favor of Memphis fans after his 30-point performance in an 131 - 117 win over Atlanta in the home season opener. The second roster move came just six days later when Jarrell Martin was traded to the Orlando Magic after a spotty breakout third season since he was drafted 25th in the first round by the Grizzlies out of LSU in the 2015 NBA Draft. In return, Memphis gained Dakota Johnson- who was waived prior to training camp- and the returning rights of Tyler Harvey.
Harvey was drafted out of Eastern Washington University twenty-six slots behind Jarrell Martin by the Orlando Magic at 51. Harvey declared for the NBA draft after a stellar junior year in which he led the nation (D1) in points per game (23.1). Since his rookie season that he spent with the Erie Bayhawks, he has played overseas. When the Grizzlies gained his rights, I never thought we’d see him or even talk about him. Low and behold, here he is. While with the Bayhawks, he averaged 11.9 points which may have been unsettling to him and the Magic. He struggled to score from the field shooting 36.5% (4.1-11.3) in 37 games.
Since then he has averaged 11.3 points on 39% shooting in a total of 61 games over two seasons. In 2016-17, he was a member of the Italian club Fiat Torino; then the next season, he was in France playing with Antibes, a club in the same league as Le Mans, DJ Stephens’ former team.
Other Training Camp Additions
Terrence Drisdom - 6’5” - Cal Poly Pomona - Guard
On August 23, 2017, the Hustle participated in the G League Expansion draft, being a new team and all. They came away with the rights of former BYU star, Jimmer Fredette, Jordan Crawford, Marquis Teague, and Omari Johnson. The latter three were rotational players with Teague and Johnson both receiving call-ups to the Grizzlies. During the same expansion draft, the Hustle drafted Terrence Drisdom from the Santa Cruz Warriors, Golden State’s affiliate. There he averaged 5.8 points and 3.4 rebounds in 17.8 minutes throughout 69 games.
Before he played the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons with the Warriors, he played for Cal Poly Pomona in Pomona, California. Of the 82 games he played, he started 57 of them and had overall averages of 13.3 points, 5 rebounds, and 2.1 steals all in nearly 30 minutes of action. Last season, he played in Japan with the Hiroshima Dragonflies.
Tanner McGrew - 6’8” - West Virginia Wesleyan - Forward
When Tanner McGrew graduated from the DII school West Virginia Wesleyan in 2016, I highly doubt he expected his journey to pan out the way it did, playing in both Denmark and France. In his collegiate years, McGrew averaged 25 minutes a game and proceeded to put up 13.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in 103 games. His senior year, however, was outstanding, averaging 22.5 points and 12.3 rebounds in just over 36 minutes a game.
While overseas, McGrew picked up where he left off from college in Denmark in Dutch basketball league, Basketligaen, getting 16.6 points and 10.5 rebounds for SISU Copenhagen in 33.6 minutes of action. Afterwards, last season, in the LNB Pro B league in France, there was a slight drop across the board due to 11 less minutes. With Saint Chamond Basket, his French team, he had 9.2 points and 5 rebounds. Only time will tell how he produces in the G League environment, where getting that one rebound gets harder and harder as each competitor gets hungrier and hungrier.
Tarik Phillip - 6’3” - West Virginia - Guard
After the Grizzlies drafted Jevon Carter out of West Virginia with the 32nd pick, he released a column via The Players’ Tribune speaking of a “Treadmill Mentality” that had been instilled through his life and his time with the Mountaineers’ head coach, Bob Huggins. Well, Jevon Carter isn’t the only one who had a chance to gain a “Treadmill Mentality.” After going undrafted in 2017, Tarik Phillips of West Virginia has landed in Southaven.
The 2017 Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year averaged 9.39 points and 1.6 steals in 23.3 minutes over his junior and senior year (72 game and 15 starts). From three, he shot 39.4% off nearly 2.5 attempts a game. Graduating a year early than Carter, Phillip and Carter were teammates through 2 seasons, so it will be interesting to see how well they play together.
Last season, Phillip played for Szolnoki Olaj from the Hungarian NBIA league and then in the LEB Gold league out of Spain for Bodegas Rioja Vega Logrono. In the 42 games he played, he had 7.4 points and 1.5 steals in 20 minutes with 32.6% from three.