Once barely recruited at TCU, NBA’s Desmond Bane is rookie class’ top value | Opinion

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The NBA is hardly awash with ex-TCU players, so when Desmond Bane sought the advice about potentially entering the league he had one reliable friend to ask.

His former college teammate, forward Kenrich Williams, is in the NBA, and last year when he was with the New Orleans Pelicans he told Bane just one thing.

“Just go out there and win, and stay focused,” Williams told me in an interview back in March of 2020, just days before the start the COVID shutdown. “That’s my advice.”

Not exactly deep, but something worked.

Like Williams, Bane was barely recruited out of high school. He was a last-second offer by coach Jamie Dixon in his first recruiting class at TCU, and now Bane will stick in the NBA because while he’s not blessed with measurables he can just play.

With Williams in Oklahoma City and Bane a rookie in Memphis, for the only the second time ever there are two former Horned Frogs in the NBA at the same time.

The first was when Kurt Thomas and Lee Nailon’s respective careers overlapped from 2000 to 2006.

TCU has two in 2021 because, much like Kenrich Williams, Desmond Bane never found his ceiling. Every time he’s heard “too heavy,” “too slow” or “too whatever” he continues to be “too good” to sit.

These are both good guys who only make it too easy to be happy for their success. Neither are the cliched, pampered AAU kids, but both were four-year college players who are making it in the NBA.

Bane and the Grizzlies host the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday night, and of the entire NBA rookie class he is its biggest surprise.

He was the 30th and last pick of the first round in the 2020 NBA Draft, by the Boston Celtics, and was traded to Memphis shortly thereafter.

With the Grizzlies, Bane has played in 63 games, and started 15 of them. He’s averaging 9.3 points, shooting 43.8 percent from 3-point range in a little more than 22 minutes a night.

He is not the case of a player who enjoys quality NBA minutes as a rookie because he plays on a dog team.

Memphis is 34-33, in a position to make the NBA’s play-in round of the playoffs, and with Ja Morant at point guard have the necessary player to be competitive for several seasons.

The evolution of the NBA game suits Bane’s skills as a perimeter shooter. The loudest knock on Bane as a senior at TCU was as a ball handler/shot creator, and the oddity that his wing span is shorter than his height.

With Memphis, and playing off Morant, Bane doesn’t have to be a James Harden dribble-happy ball penetrator. Bane needs to hit the open shot, defend and rebound.

Among all NBA rookies, Bane is the best 3-point shooter.

His 1,404 minutes played are the ninth most by an NBA rookie. If you had to rank the class, he would be in the discussion among its top 10 players.

Listening to Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins talk about Bane and it sounds like Dixon describing him when he started to become a regular contributor as a freshman in 2016.

“He’s just been very consistent,” Jenkins said last week when I asked him what Bane has done that’s allowed him to get consistent minutes as a rookie. “He’s the ultimate worker. That’s something we fell in love with when he was at TCU.”

All rookies coming into this season had the hardest transition in the history of the NBA. Because of COVID cancellations and restrictions, Bane and the of the rest of the class had no real time to prepare and acclimate themselves to the NBA.

There was no real offseason. Training camp was a training camp in name only.

The NBA Draft was on Nov. 20.

On Dec. 12, Bane played in his first NBA game, a preseason game at Minnesota. He scored 12 points in 22 minutes with four rebounds.

On Dec. 23, he played in his first regular season NBA game.

By January, he bought a house, in a nice suburb east of downtown Memphis.

“He’s always locked in and studying film. That’s allowed him to have a quicker learning curve,” Jenkins said. “He has a lot of great skills. He’s the ultimate team guy and he’s stayed in the grind knowing he can contribute.

“We challenge him to be a better player, and he embraces that challenge and that’s one of the reasons he’s been successful this year.”

Much like Kenrich Williams, and most NBA players, Bane’s future in the league will likely not just be with one team.

But much like Kenrich Williams, Desmond Bane has an NBA future because he never found a ceiling.