The Memphis Grizzlies were one of the pleasant surprises early in the 2017-18 NBA season. The team jumped out to a 5-1 record that included wins against talented teams like the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets (twice) and New Orleans Pelicans among others. However, Memphis recently lost six straight games, which caused them to drop from atop the Western Conference standings to 10th.
The team has improved in some important areas in year two under head coach David Fizdale. After finishing last season 26th among all teams in True Shooting Percentage, they’re now up to 16th. Adding offensive weapons such as Tyreke Evans (17.9 points per game) and rookie Dillon Brooks (8.9 PPG) seems to have helped on that end of the floor. But a big reason for their early success was the fact that Memphis continued to be a Top 10 defensive team, allowing 103.2 points per 100 possessions.
While the offseason additions have been helpful, internal development is also an important part of the Grizzlies’ long-term plan. Jarell Martin, the 25th pick in 2015, had a strong training camp and has started 12 of 15 games for the Grizzlies. His numbers don’t jump off the page (5.3 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1 block), but the 23-year-old has been solid and does a lot of positive things that don’t show up in a box score. When Memphis was winning a lot earlier this season, three of the team’s top-four most effective lineups featured Martin.
Martin didn’t play much during his first two NBA seasons – appearing in just 27 games as a rookie and 42 games as a sophomore (and his minutes were typically very limited when he did get to enter the contest) – so he’s clearly still developing. However, he has already had an increased role this season.
HoopsHype sat down with Martin to discuss his offseason training, overall growth as a player, expectations in Memphis,
Over the offseason, what were the main aspects of your game that you focused on improving?
Jarell Martin: Mostly, I wanted to be more consistent. That was a big thing with the Grizzlies, they wanted me to be more consistent – and I want to be consistent on and off the court. I worked on my body, losing weight and getting my body fat percentage down so I’d be in better shape.
I worked on my shot as well. Most of the time, I was with the Grizzlies’ shooting coach Bob Thate. I spent a lot of time with him over the summer to get my shot right and I’m feeling really confident with it. I put in a lot of work; I just need to take the right shots when they’re there.
How much weight did you lose and where is your body fat percentage compared to before?
JM: Right now, I’m at 235 lbs. and 7 percent body fat. Before that, I want to say I was at 247 lbs. and I had a 9 percent fat, so I got both of those down.
That’s great. Did you change your workouts or was it mainly changing your diet to lose the weight?
JM: I changed my eating habits. I ended up getting a nutrition plan from the Grizzlies and I’ve been eating healthier, even when I’m away from the facility. I try to eat healthy at all times.
What has the coaching staff said they want to see from you in terms of your development? You mentioned consistency, but in terms of on-court contributions, what do they want you to focus on?
JM: The coaches know that I’m a talented, versatile player and they like that I can just fly around and do different things. They just want me moving a lot when I’m out there, flying around and finding a way to make an impact. One thing I knew entering this season is that we’d be doing a lot of switching on defense, so I knew that with my versatility I’d be able to switch and guard multiple positions – one through five. They definitely love that about me and being able to switch is a big aspect of my game.
You’re only 23 years old; how much more room to grow do you feel you still have?
JM: I definitely feel like there’s a lot of improving I can do when it comes to my game. I was a late bloomer; I didn’t start playing organized basketball until my junior year of high school, so I’m still learning the game and I know I still have room to grow. I think I can be a great player. I feel like the sky is the limit.
How did you find the game of basketball? What made you start playing as a junior?
JM: My high school coach and my assistant high school coach put me onto their AAU team and I started playing with them. I decided to give it a shot. I started off running track and playing a little bit of football as well. I played wide receiver and a little bit of quarterback. Then, as I started growing really tall, the coaches came to me and got me out on the court and I fell in love with the game. I knew I wanted to make it my life, my career.
Going to a team like Memphis, there were a lot of veterans so you didn’t get much playing time early on. Whereas, on some teams, rookies are starting from Day 1. The pros are that you’re winning more games and learning from veterans, but the cons are the lack of minutes. What was it like adjusting to that – trying to learn as much as you can and staying positive even when you aren’t playing?
JM: It was definitely challenging for me when I was first coming in [to the NBA] because I was used to always playing a lot of minutes. When I first started in high school, I was always playing. When I got to college, I was always playing. So when I first got to Memphis, it was really tough for me to transition to not playing and instead sitting back and soaking in as much as I could possibly learn. Guys like Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol took me under their wing and basically showed me the ropes and taught me how to be a professional. I just followed them and soaked in any information that they gave me.
When Zach left in free agency to join the Sacramento Kings, did you think about having an increased role this season? And did the coaching staff talk to you about that at all?
JM: Yeah, I definitely want to be out there. I think with how hard I’ve worked, I’ve proven to the organization and coaches that I’m ready for this moment and any opportunities given to me.
Everyone I’ve talked to loves head coach David Fizdale, whether they were with him in Miami or Memphis. How is your relationship with Coach Fizdale?
JM: Coach Fizdale is like family; he’s like a brother to all of us. We have a good relationship. He’s just told me to be ready for my moments.
What were your thoughts when you first saw the offseason additions like Tyreke Evans and Ben McLemore? Plus, having Chandler Parsons back from injury is almost like another addition.
JM: I was very excited when we made the moves. It’s always good to add more scorers who you know can put points on the board. This year, we wanted to change our style of play and get up and down the floor more, so it’s great to add Tyreke and Ben and get Chandler back because they run the floor and make plays. All of them can put the ball in the basket.
Who are some players that you study and try to take things from?
JM: Well, when I was going through the draft process and entering the league, the player who I modeled my game after was Carmelo Anthony. Coming out of college, I loved him as a player, especially his offensive ability. He could score from anywhere, and I liked watching him on the block.
Entering the season, some pundits had you falling out of the playoff picture in the West and you guys were really being overlooked as other teams in the conference made big changes. Is that motivating at all for you guys and is it something you guys discuss?
JM: It definitely fuels my fire. There are a lot of people who underrated us entering the season, but we’ll just use that to gain momentum. We got off to a great start, but we have to finish strong. We were doing a great job, we just have to keep doing the things that worked well for us and stay at it.