Between points and opportunities, it seems like the latter was harder to come by for the Memphis Grizzlies’ Desmond Bane early in his career.
Playing with the likes of Ja Morant, Dillon Brooks, Grayson Allen, De’Anthony Melton, Tim Frazier, and Tyus Jones meant minutes and touches were hard to come by. Although he did average 9.2 points in 22 minutes across 68 games, waiting in the wings and biding time in practice seemed to be on the agenda for Bane: Year One.
Come the 2021 NBA Summer League, the sophomore out of Texas Christian University needed only two games to show the gains of his rookie year before the Grizzlies pulled him out of summer league. His refined offensive repertoire was on full display and Memphis wisely sat him out to prevent any mishaps from occurring to someone they clearly valued heading into the 2021-2022 season.
Opportunities began to open up as with Allen and Frazier gone, the Grizzlies also began the season without Brooks, who was still recovering from a broken left hand. While Bane shared minutes with Melton, the opportunity was more beneficial for the former, who retained his spot with the starters even when Brooks returned.
As a member of the starting lineup, Bane showed that his work in the offseason and flashes of talent in the summer league were no fluke. His current numbers of 17.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, and a steal through 35 games only added to the narrative of him being one of the highly touted players coming out of the 2020 NBA Draft.
When Morant was out due to a left knee sprain and COVID-19 health and safety protocols, Bane easily stepped into Morant’s scoring role on offense, showcasing his improved ability in attacking the basket, which complements his outside shooting. During that span, Memphis went 10-2 as he averaged 17.5 points (on .465/.456/.941 shooting splits) 5.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.1 steals.
Even with Morant back in the lineup in the last three games, Bane came out firing on all cylinders against the Phoenix Suns, racking up 12 points in the first quarter. He would go on to score 19 points by halftime, having as many 3-pointers (three) as misses from inside the 3-point line.
That Bane scored only two points in the third quarter nearly proved costly as Devin Booker and the Suns chipped at the deficit that was once 18 points despite Morant scoring 15 points in the quarter.
In the end, Bane found his shot and his big baskets down the stretch would have been for naught if not for Morant’s even more crucial go-ahead layup with half a second left in the game that gave the Grizzlies the 114-113 win.
Morant would lead all scorers with 33 points, while Bane finished with a career-high 32 points on six 3-pointers. Almost 70 percent of the total offense came from both players, with Steven Adams (13 points) and Jaren Jackson Jr. (11 points) being the only other double-figure scorers for Memphis.
Bane’s usage and, perhaps, even his production will likely hover around this level, especially given that Brooks and Melton recently entered COVID-19 health and safety protocols. Grizzlies head coach Taylor Jenkins has the utmost trust in the 23-year old knowing he can take over the scoring when needed.
Despite having a shorter wingspan than his height, Bane has the physical tools to be an excellent defender night in and night out. How he uses these, however, is another matter altogether as he at times becomes a victim of his own aggression. Bane committed five fouls against Phoenix and there were multiple instances where a sixth could have been called.
The maturity in his play will come with age and more seasoning and considering how his offense has turned out so far over two years, that’s a welcome sight for Memphis, who likely let go of Allen to give more opportunities for Bane.
It’s fair to say that Desmond Bane has made strides in just his sophomore season and while part of that was due to factors beyond his control, what matters more is how he maximized the opportunities that were laid before him. He’s shown that he can coexist with Ja Morant and now it’s on them to lead the Memphis Grizzlies to greater heights.