Year in review: Cal men’s basketball alumnus Ivan Rabb

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Lianne Frick/File

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Even on draft day, Cal men’s basketball alumnus Ivan Rabb couldn’t escape the narrative.

As the story goes, Rabb elected to return for his sophomore year, his stock tanked, and instead of being a lottery selection in 2016, he fell to the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round in 2017.

The move cost Rabb status, money and long-term security.

But after one season in the league, the focus around Rabb has shifted from his questionable decision to the potential he oozes on the offensive end of the floor.

In the first half, Rabb had a couple cameos with the Grizzlies, but he spent most of his time with the Memphis Hustle, the Grizzlies’ G League affiliate.

The forward set the tone for his time with the Hustle in his very first professional game, stuffing the stat sheet with a 20-point, 15-rebound performance.

In 18 total games with the Hustle, Rabb averaged 15.2 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, only failing to touch double-digit points in one game.

On the offensive end, Rabb displayed proficiency from different spots on the floor, shooting 68.0 percent in the restricted area and 43.6 percent on mid-range shots.

Rabb’s ability to knock down a jumper is a welcome development, as it was a tool he didn’t have in his arsenal at Cal.

With Rabb’s frame and high release point, his jump shot is as unblockable as they come and could very well be a deadly weapon as he continues to develop. The 6’10” forward has a release point of about 10 feet, a height that only a handful of players have a chance of touching.

Not only did Rabb continue to refine his in-between game with the Hustle, but he also began to expand his range even further.

Rabb didn’t immediately begin launching threes — it actually took quite a while for him to grow comfortable taking the shot in game.

Rabb’s first attempt came in the eighth game of the season at the top of the key — an attempt he would knock down.

Rabb wouldn’t pull the trigger from deep in the next contest — he couldn’t get too ahead of himself, now — but beginning against the Greensboro Swarm, he’d take at least one three in each of seven consecutive games.

During his time with the Hustle, Rabb would knock down five of the 10 3-pointers he attempted.

It’s far from the biggest sample size in the world and is by no means indicative of him becoming a stretch four in the modern NBA. Over the past three years, including his time in the G League and at Cal, Rabb has only attempted 32 3-pointers, hitting 14 for a clip of 43.8 percent.

But while the data are limited, they are, at the very minimum, encouraging, especially as the NBA grows to value the 3-point shot.

Rabb wouldn’t attempt a single three during his short time with the Grizzlies last season, but even without the long-range shot in his arsenal, the rookie generated a fair amount of buzz.

Because of injuries, Rabb began receiving an influx of extended playing time starting in mid-January, beginning with a 14-minute appearance against the New York Knicks.

Consistent playing time wasn’t a guarantee, as a couple of short appearances and DNPs were sprinkled in here and there. When granted the opportunity, Rabb had no trouble flashing his abilities.

Rabb ended his first campaign with averages of 5.6 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in 14.3 minutes per game over 36 contests.

Those are fine numbers, but they are a bit deceiving.

Rabb appeared in a handful of games in which he’d play five minutes or fewer, effectively bringing down his season averages.

In one game, a matchup with the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 20, Rabb played a mere four seconds, but that appearance counted for his season averages all the same.

So what about games in which Rabb actually received a healthy helping of playing time? The numbers look more encouraging.

Rabb had 18 games with the Grizzlies in which he played 15 minutes or more, counting for exactly half of his games in the 2017-18 season.

With that parameter in place, Rabb averaged 9.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game on 56.3 percent shooting in about 22 minutes per game.

Rabb had the opportunity to make five starts, and the numbers are equally impressive, averaging 10.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game while shooting 59 percent from the field.

Not only did Rabb show polish as a scorer, but he also continued to build upon his impressive shooting from midrange, knocking down 47.3 percent of his attempts.

Even more encouraging is that some of those shots he hit were only a foot or two away from the 3-point line.

If he can take that extra step back and continue to knock down open looks, all signs point toward Rabb becoming a viable 3-point shooter over time, even if it’s on low volume.

While Rabb has shown promise on the offensive end of the floor, the defensive end is a little more ambiguous.

Solely looking at block totals isn’t the best way to evaluate any defender, but Rabb’s are rather low considering his height, swatting 13 shots in a little more than 500 NBA minutes.

Rabb’s pick-and-roll defense still leaves a lot to be desired, and if he wants a shot at defending forwards and centers, he still needs to bulk up.

Rabb will most likely begin next season with the Grizzlies and play meaningful minutes, but the starts may be few and far between, at least initially.

Marc Gasol, Jaren Jackson Jr. and JaMychal Green will all receive more playing time than Rabb right out of the gate, but that could change as the season chugs along.

Gasol and Green have one more guaranteed season with the Grizzlies, the former having a player option for the 2019-20 season, but it wouldn’t be outlandish to believe Memphis will try to deal both for future assets.

Even if Gasol and Green remain, the Grizzlies are a team building for the future. They’ll be looking to develop as many prospects as possible, with Rabb, Jackson Jr. and Dillon Brooks being chief among them.

Justice delos Santos covers men’s basketball. Contact Justice delos Santos at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @justdelossantos