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Why Xavier Rathan-Mayes Could Be A Diamond In The Rough For The Memphis Grizzlies

Editor Dakota Schmidt examines why he thinks Xavier Rathan-Mayes stands as a potential diamond in the rough.

Memphis Grizzlies v Chicago Bulls Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

On early Monday afternoon, the Memphis Grizzlies officially announced that they signed Westchester Knicks guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes (lets just call him XRM from now on) to a 10-day contract.

During 39 games with the Knicks, he shined by putting up 16.6 points, 7 assists, 6.4 rebounds and 2.1 steals on 43% from the field and 34% from beyond the arc in 4.6 perimeter attempts per game. Coinciding with that, the 6’4 guard also had 14 double-doubles and two triple-doubles. The only player to have more triple-doubles than him is OKC Thunder two-way prospect Daniel Hamilton who has 8.

Obviously those G League accomplishments were probably enough to push the Grizzlies to give him a 10-day deal. Alongside that, the Grizzlies depleted backcourt was also a significant factor behind the move. At the time that Rathan-Mayes signed a contract with Memphis, Mike Conley, Andrew Harrison, Mario Chalmers and Tyreke Evans were all sidelined with injuries.

So with their rehab room more filled with guards than their bench, the Grizzlies had to go to the G League for some temporary help. However, I think XRM has a lot of NBA potential beyond his current role as a temporary stopgap for the unluckiest team in the entire Association.

My faith in XRM’s potential rests with his tremendous versatility. Just evident from those numbers, he shines as a solid facilitator, on-ball defender, rebounder and overall offensive threat. Although that 34% perimeter shooting percentage stands right at league average, he’s shown an ability to shine in other different venues.

The biggest part of XRM’s offensive arsenal has to be his work as an on-ball driver. Before he signed with the Grizzlies, XRM probably stood alongside Walt Lemon and Quinn Cook as the best players in the G League when it came to both getting to the paint and being able to score from around the rim.

His success in this area is due to him having two separate traits: a quick first step and being able to drive to the rim with the ball in his left or right hand. While a lot of G League guards possess one of those traits, XRM is one of the rare players that can breeze past an opponent and decide whether he wants to drive to the right or left side of the paint.

While those defenders can work with a fast guard that can only drive in one direction, because they know where he’s going, that isn’t the case for someone like XRM. He can leave those players in the dust more times than not because his amidextrious nature leaves opponents confused on where he’s going to go while his quick first step prevents them from even having time to react.

An example of his success as an on-ball driver is seen in the play below. After receiving a pass from Billy Garrett, XRM starts his one-on-one battle with Mad Ants wing CJ Fair. After a pump fake that wasn’t able to make Fair bite, he goes to his right hand as he uses a fast first step to leave the Mad Ant in the dust. Due to being too close to the rim when he starts his gather, XRM is able to finish with a pretty up-and-under move.

His great on-ball driving skills combined with an ability to finish at the rim has allowed him to be efficient from around the rim. With the Knicks, XRM shot 60% from inside the restricted area in 4.9 attempts per game.

Coinciding with that, another skill that gives XRM potential on the NBA end is his ability to control an offense. Despite being positioned as a shooting guard for most of the season, due to the presence of Trey Burke. he’s still spent most of the season as the leader of the Knicks offense. Within that role, the 6’4 guard absolutely flourished as his comfortably within a half-court offense is outstanding for a 22-year-old rookie. That confidence is displayed by his patience within the pick-and-roll or knack of being able to quickly survey the court and find open players to pass it to.

XRM never had problems when it came to finding players to dish the ball off to as the Knicks spent most of the year with a crop of NBA quality talent. That variety of players gave him several different opportunities whenever he had the ball: working pick-and-rolls with Isaiah Hicks and Luke Kornet, finding Nigel Hayes or Trey Burke out on the perimeter.

Although I pulled a lot of clips of XRM making great feeds in while driving to the paint or just simply making a great feed to a cutter, I think this play below is a great example of what I’m talking about.

Starting out, he takes the ball up the court and makes his way to the right baseline where he meets 905 guard Davion Berry. That meetup was brief as he utilizes a nice crossover and separate screens from Hayes and Kornet to make his way to the center of the perimeter. While Berry thinks that XRM is going up for a jumper, the 6’4 guard makes a nice jump pass to a now wide open Nigel Hayes, who ends up hitting the 3.

Obviously, that sequence was probably a play that’s utilized in the Knicks system and that the players had practiced several times since Training Camp. However, I still think its still a solid example of how XRM is comfortable within the half-court and how his solid BBall IQ can just make the players around him that much better.

His great work as a facilitator is evident by him averaging 7 assists per game with a very solid 2,4 Ast/TO ratio. That great Ast/TO ratio places him 9th in the G League among starting G League guards behind two-way players Lorenzo Brown and London Perrantes.

The last piece of the puzzle regarding XRM’s NBA potential deals with his work as an on-ball defender. This aspect of his game has probably been one of the biggest surprises regarding his time in the G League as he really wasn’t looked as a defensive stalwart when he was with Florida State. However, he used the opportunity with Westchester to really work on his defensive craft, and XRM has turned into a solid defender in the G League.

The first piece of evidence regarding his work on the defensive end would be his work as a ball-hawk. With the Knicks, he averaged 1.9 steals per game, which put hi m 13th among G League guards. That solid average was due to XRM’s aggression in both the passing lanes and as an on-ball defender. Although that effort can sometimes backfire on him, whether its him leaving a man open when he’s going after a pass or forcing a foul as an on-ball defender. However, that second part wasn’t much of an issue as he only averaged 2.6 fouls per game with the team.

In terms of his work as an on-ball defender, I think the play below is a good summary of why I’m impressed. Despite starting out at a disadvantage due to some ball-watching, XRM quickly recovers as he trails LJ Peak. Although he recognizes that he won’t be able to catch up to the Red Claws guard, the former Westchester guard doesn’t lose hope as jars the ball when Peak is trying to a hop step before he decides to put up a shot or pass. After stealing the ball, he quickly recovers it, runs in transition and gives the Knicks an easy two points after going in transition.

When he’s not trying to force a steal, XRM does a nice job of being a solid perimeter defender. He does a great job of moving his feet to try to stay in front of the ball-handler to prevent that player from getting an easy path to the basket. That effort ultimately forces the opposing guard to take a perimeter or mid-range shot.

Although he’s no where near a perfect defender, as there have multiple occasions where he’s either out of position or caught ball watching, he’s made some positive strides on this end. Hopefully those progressions can continue as he plays with the Grizzlies.

Speaking of his time with the Grizzlies, XRM has been fine as he’s averaging 8.5 points, 6 assists and 1.5 steals on 36% from the field 2 games. Yes, that field goal percentage is atrocious but I still think its impressive that he’s been able to already transfer his facilitating and work as a ball-hawk to the NBA. As of the time of this piece, XRM has six more days left on his first 10-day deal, and has probably already earned the right to get another one late next week.

Yes, XRM is a flawed prospect, as he has average perimeter efficiency and has somehow struggled at the free throw line, his other traits still make him into an appealing player. That intrigue is due to him standing as a strong 6’4 guard that’s a solid distributor, decent on-ball defender and seems to be able to get to the paint whenever he desires.

Although some teams may decide to look past those strengths because of XRM’s clear flaws, I think the Grizzlies may be more patient due to the state of how depleted the backcourt currently is. In addition to that, the rebuilding Grizzlies are in a position where they can be patient with young players because they’re hunting for a good draft pick rather than a playoff seed. So with XRM already shining as a solid facilitator and defender, there’s a chance that Memphis could continue to hold onto the 22-year-old guard because they’re curious to see if he can be within their point guard rotation for the long run.

That optimism is still there even though Andrew Harrison and Mario Chalmers are likely to return. Harrison has been a solid piece within the Grizzlies rotation, but the 6’6 guard is flexible due to his ability to play multiple positions. Meanwhile, Chalmers is a 31-year-old veteran that has struggled mightily this season, which are signs that he might not stick around long for a rebuilding Grizzlies team. That leaves the door open for XRM as he’s a solid facilitator and on-ball driver which are traits that could allow him to be a solid 2nd unit guard that could back up Mike Conley next season.

So while he’s still a huge work in progress, I still think that his solid traits combined with the questionable future of the Memphis Grizzlies makes me think that Xavier Rathan-Mayes could be within the organization for longer than this current 10-day run. If that were to happen, the chances are good that he’ll turn into that type of diamond in the rough player that all NBA teams desire when they look to the NBA G League.