Evaluating the second string point guard position will be one of the first priorities for Grizzlies head coach David Fizdale in preseason games.
The Grizzlies’ six-game exhibition game slate begins Monday night against the Orlando Magic in FedExForum with former University of Kentucky star Andrew Harrison and ex-Vanderbilt standout Wade Baldwin locked in a major training camp battle. Fizdale will spend much of training camp deciding which player will play the most minutes behind starter Mike Conley.
“I’m rolling the ball out and the cream rises to the top,” Fizdale said. “I’m letting those guys battle it out.”
The Griz have relied heavily on experience behind starting point guard Mike Conley for the past few seasons. Fizdale, however, will look to develop young, unproven backup point guards in his first season at the helm. Don’t be surprised if Fizdale’s rotation oscillates between Baldwin and Harrison on any given night.
Baldwin, a 17th pick in the first round of the 2016 NBA draft, showcased Russell Westbrook-like drive and tenacity during the summer league. But Baldwin didn’t shoot well. Harrison spent his 2015 rookie season with the Grizzlies’ NBA Development League affiliate, Iowa Energy, Harrison’s summer-league playmaking was more notable but he also struggled to make shots.
The backup point guard minutes could largely come down to who is most consistent on both ends of the court.
“It’s been a war. It’s been fun to watch,” Fizdale said. “Those two kids are really competing.”
Both players have good size (6-5) and versatility (they’re able to play both guard positions). Baldwin and Harrison have different styles of play, which means Fizdale could chose a different flavor each day. Winning over the coach’s trust in practice will go a long way toward determining whether Harrison or Baldwin gets the bulk of minutes behind Conley.
“They’re working very hard. They’re listening. They’re trying to understand the game better and that’s all you can ask at this point,” Conley said. “They just have to stay competitive and try to get better each day, Hopefully, one of them will stand out.”
Conley earned a five-year, $153 million contract during the offseason and is counting on a reliable understudy after spending the past few seasons with seasoned backups. Beno Udrih and Mario Chalmers provided reliable assistance for Conley.
Baldwin and Harrison have six preseason games to prove they can make a difference. After all, Fizdale has already experimented with Tony Allen and Troy Daniels running the point.
“The bar is high,” Fizdale said. “Wade already thinks I’m a lunatic because I stop practice for him more than anyone else. I told him to not take it personal because I’m preparing him for something bigger. If he just wants to be an NBA player then he’s on the wrong team. But if he wants to be a champion, I’m preparing him for that.
“I just want to see us keep growing in our system. I want to see our communication get better. I want to see our turnovers to keep going down. I'll be watching our communication between plays. Are we solving problems and coming up with solutions when things break down?”