The current iteration of the Memphis Grizzlies is known for two things: grit and grind. And for good reason, as, led by Tony Allen and Zach Randolph, the Grizz have been one of the toughest and hardest working teams in the NBA in recent years.
So it comes as no surprise that rising from the minor league has fueled that mentality. On opening night, the Grizzlies had five former NBA D-League players on their roster, all of whom are averaging at least 13.5 minutes per game. JaMychal Green has moved into the starting lineup, James Ennis is a major part of the rotation, and Andrew Harrison, Troy Daniels and Jarell Martin have all played crucial roles at different points of the season when the team was dealing with injuries.
The franchise ensured that the pathway would continue to be available for players when it purchased an expansion team that will begin play in Southaven, Mississippi — about 20 miles south of Memphis — next season. The Iowa Energy have served as the Grizzlies’ minor-league affiliate for the past three seasons, but will switch affiliations to the Minnesota Timberwolves beginning in 2017-18.
The newest members of the Grizzlies’ D-League brigade are rookies Wade Baldwin and Troy Williams. The 17th pick in the first round of the NBA Draft this summer, Baldwin started the season in the Association and has played major minutes for the Grizz at various points while bouncing back and forth between the big club and the D-League alongside the undrafted Williams.
This week, the two were in Mississauga to participate in the 2017 D-League Showcase, as they continue to follow in the footsteps of Green and company. “They don’t really need to say it — it’s all about action,” Baldwin told NBADLeague.com about learning from his teammates who once took this path. “I watch a guy like JaMychal Green, who is just a workaholic, seeing his path to where he’s at now. In a contract year, the guys on the team are talking about, ‘You’re going to make $50-60 million, but years ago you were playing in the D-League.’ They don’t need to say anything to me — it’s kind of just, I can see it for myself.”
Some players might have balked at being sent to the D-League, especially after being picked in the middle of the first round, but Baldwin knows the Grizzlies have his best interests at heart, and is willing to work hard regardless of the area code his team plays in.
“It’s a path the Grizzlies organization put on me, that’s what they think is best for me, and I’m going to continue to do it and try to gain minutes up there,” Baldwin said. “It’s part of the process, part of the business. You can mope and whine about it, or you can look to the future. Maybe the Grizzlies need me for the playoffs if someone goes down.”
Baldwin walked the walk in Mississauga, averaging 14.5 points, 8.5 assists, 4.5 rebounds, and 1.5 steals in his two Showcase games. Thus far, the Grizzlies continued use of the D-League to get their youngsters reps in live games seems to be working again with the young point guard out of Vanderbilt.
Whether it’s later this season or sometime in the future, it seems likely Baldwin and Williams will soon join the ranks of former D-League players playing an important role on the Grizzlies. Until then, they already have plans in place.
“It’s always looking ahead, looking at the future, and getting better every day,” Baldwin said.