Desmond Bane cementing himself as essential part of next-gen Grizzlies

Desmond Bane cementing himself as essential part of next-gen Grizzlies

Physical length and height seem to be what NBA draft darlings are made of these days. Coming into the league as a part of the 2020 class, Desmond Bane didn’t have either. At 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds, the former TCU standout was more chiseled and built than lanky and wide.

Heck, that still rings true today... but here’s the catch: It hasn’t mattered one damn bit, and those old concerns are being put to bed with each lights-out performance and accompanying Memphis Grizzlies win.

“It was obviously a question mark coming in. But you can't measure somebody's heart,” Bane told over the phone. “You can measure wingspan, you can measure hand-width, vertical, all that stuff. But you can't measure how bad somebody wants to accomplish something. So for all the people out there that said I wouldn't make it because of whatever reason, that's just [adding] more fuel to the fire.

Taken with the No. 30 overall pick and traded away by the Boston Celtics in the 2020 NBA Draft, Bane recently told the Athletic that he will not forget those that passed on him. Following up on that, Basketball News asked him when he began counting.

“Realistically, I didn't think that I'd be a top-10 pick,” Bane said. “We had a little bit of interest with Phoenix at 10; they had 10 or were going to trade back from 10 or whatever. But we had a little bit of interest there. So really once we started getting to 10 and a little bit beyond is when I started really taking notice."

Well, fast forward to now, and Bane isn’t just on the verge of a breakout; he’s already broken out. In one year’s time, the bulky swingman has gone from a rookie figuring things out to an everyday starter, nearly doubling both his shot attempts (14.3) and scoring (17.7) averages. Somehow, someway, he’s maintained an almost-identical 46.8% field-goal percentage despite a significantly increased usage rate (23.0).

"I learned a lot [from my first season]. I learned just how to be a pro first and foremost,” Bane said. “The schedule last year was grueling due to all the games being canceled and so forth, so I had to learn how to just continue my habits more than anything. Stack good habits on top of each other and let the good days stack up, and learn how to be a pro essentially.

“I mean, last year I knew that I'd have a chance to play in the league for a while. I knew that I had a role that I could play in the NBA. But you know, after this year and how we've won and how I've played, I have different goals and a new mindset on how I can really impact not only our team, but the league."

Competing in his first game in nine days following a stint on the COVID health and safety protocol list on Wednesday, Bane scored 11 first-quarter points on 7 attempts and finished with 20 points total in a Grizzlies victory in San Antonio. However, despite that production, he noticed that his opponents were defending him a little differently than usual — a sign that he’s gaining respect as a real nightly threat.

“The Spurs were running a box-and-one on me. That's a testament to my hard work and how far I've come as a player,” Bane said. “Last year, I was a guy who was probably on the bottom of the scouting report, and [Wednesday night] teams are game-planning to take me out of the mix. So it's a good feeling, but also, new challenges ahead."

The city of Memphis is fully embracing GRZ NXT GEN, and for good reason. The Grizzlies have built on their coming-out party a season ago with a 34-17 record, standing tall and in pursuit of the Golden State Warriors and Phoenix Suns for top playoff positioning. Recognizing that he’s contributing to that success on both ends, along with developing as an individual in the process, is “hard to put into words” for Bane.

“I'm a kid from a small town in Richmond, Indiana with 30,000 people, and now I'm playing on one of the best teams in the Western Conference, and playing a big part in that. So it's definitely something to be proud of,” Bane said.

"I think [why it clicks] has to do with our culture, with our locker room. We don't have any egos. I mean, I think it starts at the top with Ja Morant, Jaren [Jackson Jr.], Dillon Brooks, myself — we're all on one agenda, and that's winning basketball games. Nothing really gets in the way of that mentality and that mindset. It's always about winning."

That includes when Grizzlies superstar Ja Morant went down with a significant knee sprain in late November. While many on the outside were expecting Memphis to drop down without the face of its franchise, the team responded by going 10-2 in his absence.

“It was on all of us. Obviously my role changed a bit with Ja going down, but it was on all of us,” Bane said. “That's what stays true with us. That's the reason why we're in the position that we're in is because it's been a next-man-up mentality all year long. 

“We've had guys who were on two-way contracts previous to the year beginning step up and even play big minutes and earn themselves a full contract. So it's been great to see. But honestly, it hasn't been too big of a surprise given the culture and the guys that we have here in this program."

At first glance, the first thing you notice about Bane is his willingness to let the three-ball fly. Dating back to his high school days and his run in college with the Horned Frogs, he’s always tickled the twine from downtown as a high-volume sniper (career 43.3% perimeter clip over four years at TCU).

Nothing has changed on the big stage, as Bane is drilling 41.9% of his 6.8 triple tries per contest. He can spot up on either elbow (“definitely one of my favorite spots”) or pull up with a quick side-step when he’s in rhythm — in transition or in halfcourt. As to why he’s been able to nail down his jumper so consistently, it just comes down to reps in his eyes.

“I just put the time in. There’s no other way to explain it,” Bane said bluntly.

Don’t dare put Bane into a specialist category though. He’s been able to put more tricks of his trade on display this year, as he’s found a balance between firing away from distance and putting it on the deck. He points to the experience he had at NBA Summer League, where he was featured more on the ball, and that carried into training camp and on.

And off the ball, he’s as cunning as he is dangerous, often using his Mountain Man teammate Steven Adams as a catalyst for easy looks. Bane tends to sit back ever-so-patiently... until he burns his assignment on a curl for a quick mid-ranger or finds a hole in the defense to zoom-in from the perimeter to create a point-blank look, to which Adams will feed him.

According to, Adams has the most assists to Bane on the team with 58 helpers, and the second-year wing has made 58.1% of his shots off his passes.

“We've got a great relationship,” Bane said of Adams. “He seems like he's always finding me — whether it's backdoor cuts or handoffs or whatever the case may be. Steve-O's a great teammate to play with... You obviously gotta use your mind and use your smarts to your ability. I watch a lot of film and study a lot of different players and just try to pick up on some of their tendencies that work [against] them."

There’s also that Morant guy, who is right behind the Grizzlies big man with 52 assists to Bane. Those connections tend to be more of the draw-defenders-in-and-kick variety, which has worked like a gem almost instantly. 

“We've got a lot of chemistry,” said Bane, who’s also racked up a team-high 24 dimes to Morant in return. “Last year, we just didn't really have those minutes on the floor together as much. We had Grayson [Allen], who was playing the majority of those minutes with Ja. But I feel like Ja and I's chemistry and relationship has evolved."

Morant’s campaign to his first All-Star starter selection is well-deserved. He is the unequivocal head of the snake in Memphis, dancing, and spinning his way into crunch-time buckets like it’s nothing. There is no taking away the magician-like capabilities of “12” when the chips are down, or when closing time arrives. 

Believe it or not, however, it is Bane who leads the Grizzlies in clutch shooting by the league’s standard metric (ahead or behind by 5 points with 5 minutes or less left in the game).

Albeit on less volume, the big-time shots from Bane fall 53.6% of the time. Going by those who have played at least 50 minutes and attempted at least 20 field goals total (min. 20 games), Bane ranks fourth in clutch-time percentage behind Patty Mills, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and, unsurprisingly, Chris Paul.

Self-described as “hungry,” delivering when the team needs it most has become second nature.

“It's just basketball,” Bane said. “I've played in so many games throughout my career, been in so many different situations. I think I would credit my four years in college and just all the basketball experience that I had coming into the NBA is what kinda made me ready for these moments."

Bane should be adding another moment to his list in a few weeks at All-Star Weekend. He’s already expressed his desire to be in the Three-Point Contest (and to win Most Improved Player), but participating in the Rising Stars game would “mean the world to me and my city.” His ambitions don’t just end there.

"I'm not a guy that really has like concrete goals. But I mean obviously, I'm a team-first guy and I want to be a champion before anything… Maybe becoming an All-Star at some point in my career — those are all things that I think are possible,” Bane said.

If (or when) Bane ends up in Cleveland on the weekend of Feb. 18, he’ll have the chance to link up with his former TCU teammate R.J. Nembhard, who is currently on a two-way contract with the Cavaliers trying to carve his own path. 

Both Bane and Nembhard were teammates of Kenrich Williams, and the former recently tweeted about him: Without this dude, ain’t no way I’m in the league. 

"Just seeing somebody accomplish what I wanted to accomplish,” Bane said of what Williams means to him. “When you think about the NBA, you think about as being something that is almost unattainable just because so few people get to do it and get to attain that goal. Him doing it at a high level now, seeing that [he's] kinda making a name for himself, making a career for himself is huge for me and my confidence."

Perhaps it’s the fact that all three of these guys played four years of college ball in Fort Worth. Williams was the first of the trio to get to the NBA despite being undrafted, and now, teams are coveting him at the trade deadline. Nembhard is the most recent to make it to the next level, but he too was not selected in the draft and has had to earn his keep on a two-way contract.

Bane is the lone member of that group to have made it as a draft pick. For whatever reason, upperclassmen tend to take a backseat to blue-chip prospects with potential and one-and-dones when it comes to the current landscape. 

He thinks that his immediate impact on a winning team should help those more experienced at the collegiate level with NBA aspirations earn some more love with organizations when it comes to the draft process.

“Everybody's situation is a little bit different, but I don't see why not. It all depends on where the organization's going. Everybody has a different timeline. Some people want younger guys to develop them, and some people want guys who are more ready that they can kind of plug-and-play. I wouldn't necessarily say there's a bias, but it's all about preference. 

“Usually guys are looking to hit home runs in the draft rather than singles or doubles."

Looking at what Bane has done on a consistent basis as quickly as he has, it’s time front offices start going for those base hits in addition to knocking one out of the park.

Zach Kleiman and the Grizzlies have found that happy medium, and judging by this trajectory, Bane is about to cross home plate anyways.

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