Grizzlies Haven't Given Up on Struggling Hasheem Thabeet
Hasheem Thabeet hasn't exactly shown signs of being the next Dikembe Mutombo, the NBA's last top big man from Africa. In fact, he's looking a lot more like the next Yinka Dare.
But Memphis general manager Chris Wallace insists he's far from given up on the center the Grizzlies took with the No. 2 pick in the 2009 NBA Draft. Thabeet, a native of Tanzania, was selected ahead of the likes of Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry and Brandon Jennings and well ahead of No. 26 pick Taj Gibson, who so far has been the best big-man pick of that draft after No. 1 pick Blake Griffin.
"I'm not a regrets guy,'' Wallace said. "I don't think he should be put in a dead-letter file. That's extremely premature for that.''
Still, it's stunning how little the 7-foot-3 Thabeet has shown in his two NBA seasons. If you thought it was bad last year for Thabeet, who averaged 3.1 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.31 blocks for the Grizzlies during a campaign that included a stint in the D-League, look at this season.
Thabeet's numbers are down to microscopic figures: 1.4 points, 1.3 rebounds and 0.57 blocks. Yes, his minutes have decreased from an average of 13.0 to 8.7, but all his key statistics per minute are down significantly.
"It's really difficult,'' Thabeet said about living up to expectations of being the No. 2 pick. "I'm here working out. The team knows where they are with me. I'm just doing my job. I don't really have an explanation about the question I get every day. I put myself in this situation so I got to deal with it. But to be part (of the NBA) is special, and I'm happy to be here.''
Say this for Thabeet: he has a great attitude.
When word came last February that he was being sent to the Dakota Wizards of the NBA D-League, an unprecedented move for such a high pick, Thabeet didn't complain in the slightest. He averaged 13.8 points, 11.2 rebounds and 3.17 blocks in six Dakota games.
Now, Thabeet said he would accept it willingly if the Grizzlies decided again to send him to the D-League. He's eligible since teams can dispatch players in such a manner during their first two seasons.
"I wouldn't have a problem,'' Thabeet said about going back to the D-League. "I just want to play ... I don't want to be the guy that's hanging around. I want to play. So if they call me out there, I'll go out there. Now, I'm here so I've just got to do my work.''
Wallace said there are no immediate plans for Thabeet to again pack for Dakota, which provided an experience last season he said "helped me out a lot confidence-wise.'' But Wallace wouldn't entirely rule it out as an eventual possibility.
"I do think that he has improved,'' Wallace said of Thabeet this season, despite his scoring, rebounding and blocks averages all being down more than 30 percent on a per-minute basis. "He's practiced hard and his strength and conditioning are better. Unfortunately, he hasn't gotten a great deal of playing time this year. We see so much small ball in the NBA, which has resulted in (6-9) Darrell Arthur getting a lot of time (off the bench instead of Thabeet).''
It was encouraging for the Grizzlies against Charlotte last Wednesday, when Thabeet had eight points and three rebounds in 14 minutes. But in the next game at Houston last Friday, Thabeet didn't have a single point or rebound in 15 minutes.
The 2009 draft marked the year of the point guard, and one can see why the Grizzlies decided not to select one of the many top players available at that position. Memphis has fourth-year man Mike Conley Jr., who has continued taking steps toward being an upper-echelon point guard.
But teams usually blow it when drafting big guys for need rather than taking the best player available. And that's what's happening with the Grizzlies.
"They're nowhere near what I want them to be, but I don't get as much playing time,'' Thabeet said of his statistics. "But I believe in working out every day to get better.''
At least Thabeet:'s 2.7 career scoring average is higher than the 2.1 Dare put up in four NBA seasons with New Jersey after the native of Nigeria was taken with the No. 14 pick in 1994.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @christomasson