The Memphis Hustle will embark upon the franchise’s 6th G League season later this week and the team will look much different from last season’s team. After going 15-19 in last year’s regular season, the Hustle narrowly missed the playoffs for the second year in a row. The list of impact players gone from last year’s team is relatively long. Shaq Buchanan, Ahmad Caver, David Stockton, Freddie Gillespie, Reggie Hearn, and Ben Moore are now either playing overseas or with another G League franchise this upcoming season. Two-way players Tyrell Terry and Yves Pons have been replaced with newcomers Kenneth Lofton Jr. and Vince Williams Jr.
Despite the roster turnover, optimism is high for head coach Jason March. At Hustle Media Days, March said he loves the roster on paper and expects the team to be fast-paced, and to run up and down the floor while scoring efficiently. March acknowledged the early concerns with the team will come on the defensive end, as well as rebounding. He said the team will have to commit to doing the work to be effective in those two areas. One of the main keys this season for the Hustle will come down to the team’s health. The Hustle played 8 games last season with just 6 available players, which March joked he’s “not even sure if that’s allowed”.
(Author’s note: It’s not, but the Hustle got around it by not making an injured player inactive).
Matt Hurt and Romeo Weems suffered season-ending injuries in the Hustle’s first few games of the Showcase Cup last season, while Sean McDermott was out the majority of the season as he made his debut in March. Both McDermott and Hurt said they’re cleared to play and are excited to be back on the court and playing basketball, hoping to help lead the team to victories.
The roster turnover concerns are alleviated quite a bit thanks to the time the players have spent with the team. The G League essentially allows for two weeks of training camp to get the players acclimated, and the Hustle have familiar faces despite not having a ton of real game action together. The previously mentioned McDermott, Hurt, and Weems played limited games with the Hustle despite their injuries, and all were with the team in camp last season. EJ Onu, Damien Jefferson, and Darnell Cowart are a solid trio of returners from last year’s team. Newcomers Justin Bean and Jacob Gilyard spent a couple of weeks with the Memphis Grizzlies on Exhibit 10 deals to learn the Memphis system. Dakota Mathias spent two different 10-day stints with the Grizzlies last season, which gives him a head start on learning the system. Both Junior and Vince Williams Jr. will have a step ahead when they’re available thanks to a large amount of time they’ve spent with the Grizzlies.
While there may not be a ton of game action together, the familiarity with the system by a bunch of guys has allowed Jason March to throw a lot at the team in camp.
The biggest question mark with the new roster is the leadership void on the roster. Shaq Buchanan and Ahmad Caver had been the heart and soul of the Hustle squad while being instrumental leaders on and off the court for the squad. The duo helped acclimate newcomers during last year’s season and were the most familiar with March’s system and built great chemistry. March noted he’ll miss both guys this upcoming season but says he’s excited to see how things shake out. He is hopeful to use camp to see who he steps up and becomes a leader on the team this season. March credits the front office for putting together a squad filled with a bunch of high-character guys and believes the leadership will take care of itself.
While the team hopes to rack up more wins than last season and make a playoff run, March reiterated the focus for the Hustle will remain player development. Using Junior as an example, March mentioned how it would be easy to just feed him in the post every possession and while that may lead to wins, he also wants to put Junior in positions that would help his development and assist him in sticking with the Grizzlies and getting NBA minutes. Even more specifically, March mentioned how Junior will be challenged defensively with the Hustle and he’s excited to see how Junior attacks what will be asked of him when he’s with the Hustle.
In short, wins are great, but Jason March and his staff will be focusing on the development to get guys to the NBA while also developing the Grizzlies two-ways and any assignment players. March also noted how things change quickly in the G League with NBA Call-Ups and even admitted he’d essentially be okay if the Hustle lose a few games because they have to adjust on the fly if a player were to earn an NBA Call Up .
Things to Look For
Elam Ending! The G League is once again being used as training grounds for new rules/game practices by the NBA. Similar to the free throw rules (1 attempt instead of 2 or 3 outside of the last 2 minutes), the G League is experimenting with the Elam Ending during the Winter Showcase bracket. A target score of 25 points will replace the 4th quarter with the clock turned off. The regular season will be played under traditional rules, but overtime will use a 7-point “target score” to replace the two-minute clock.
Less NBA Call-Ups, More Assignments: With the league, and the world, looking to continue to push past the COVID-19 pandemic, the league will likely not match last year’s record of 200+ NBA Call ups. Instead, the G League will likely feature NBA teams able to utilize their G League teams more with assignment players and two-way transfers to focus on development. Similar to how the Grizzlies assigned Kennedy Chandler, Xavier Tillman, Kenneth Lofton Jr., and Vince Williams Jr. for practice last week, there’s the opportunity for extended Hustle run for those players, as well as spot game assignments for guys on the fringe of the rotation when both teams are at home.
Ignite and Captains full participants this season: Last season, both the G League Ignite and the Mexico City Capitanes participated in just the Showcase Cup. This year, both teams will participate in the now 18-game Showcase, but will also play in the 32-game regular season. The Ignite, fresh off a move from Walnut Creek, California will play their home games in Henderson, Nevada. The Capitanes, based out of Fort Worth, Texas last season, will play their first-ever games in Mexico City with the Hustle making their first trip early next week.
Enhanced Landers Center: Earlier this week the Hustle unveiled a new, less yellow court to go along with new lighting and a gigantic jumbotron on the side. The Hustle have already had fun activities like corn hole and inflatables for entertainment during games, but these enhancements will make the in-game action much better as well.
Week 1 Preview
Memphis Hustle vs. Lakeland Magic 11/4 7 PM CT
Memphis Hustle at Mexico City Capitanes 7/11 8 PM CT
Game 1 Preview: The Hustle will tip off their season opener on Friday at the Landers Center against the Lakeland Magic. The Magic have a solid duo of Admiral Schofield and Kevon Harris on two-way contracts and their availability, mixed with the Grizzlies’ two-way players’ availability with a home game the same night, could be the deciding factor this early in the season . Outside of the two-ways, the Magic have Aleem Ford (12.5 points per game last season) returning. In addition to Ford, the Magic have a solid trio of newcomers in Joel Ayayi, Jay Scrubb, and Zavier Simpson who could cause issues for the Hustle defense. It will also be the first chance for Hustle newcomer Hassani Gravett to play against his former team.
Game 2 Preview: The Hustle follow up their home opener with a trip to Mexico City for the first time in franchise history for a two-game slate against the Mexico City Capitanes. The Capitanes have an interesting roster for the first full season, including their first season actually playing in Mexico City. The Capitanes have a handful of NBA veterans on their roster in Shabazz Napier, Alfonzo McKinnie, Gary Clark, Jahlil Okafor, and Bruno Caboclo. With those vets, the Capitanes also have a couple of interesting young prospects in Mason Jones (Jones Island, stand up!), Alfonso Plummer and Caio Pacheco. Experience will likely be on the Capitanes’ side in the matchup, and how the Hustle respond to traveling to Mexico City so early in the season will be interesting to keep an eye on.
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