MikeCheck: Grizzlies rely early on prolific Bane as ‘one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen’
Angels – The stock of ice surrounding Desmond Payne’s locker was approaching the igloo area when he regrouped after another night of weightlifting.
With each knee wrapped in bandaged ice and both feet submerged in buckets of frozen cubes, the Grizzlies’ guard was outfitted in postgame accessories for the budding star.
The wardrobe was proportional to the workload.
“I’m doing everything I can to stay healthy and fresh, both mentally and physically,” Bane shared as he recently tended to his post-match recovery process. “I love the game of basketball. And when you love the game and you have a great group like we have in this locker room, it’s easy to go out there day and night and give it everything you’ve got.”
Bane is completely wrong about at least one thing: there’s nothing easy about what he’s doing this season. Many nights, he simply makes it seem that way.
And nothing is particularly easy for the Grizzlies as they come back from a tough start to the season. But as one of the most productive players in the NBA, Bane embodies the consistency that gives the Grizzlies a fighting chance to eventually regain their footing this season.
After opening the schedule with six straight losses, the Grizzlies (2-8) have split their past four games entering Tuesday’s matchup with the Lakers to wrap up a two-game set in Los Angeles. Through those 10 games, Bane is off to the second-most productive start in franchise history.
After scoring 27 points in a 105-101 win over the Clippers on Sunday, Payne now has 265 points in the first 10 games of the season. Those point totals over this stretch fall behind only the 285 points scored by franchise catalyst Ja Morant through the first 10 games of last season.
Bane’s scoring average of 26.5 points per game ranked 13thy In the NBA entering the week. But his responsibilities extend beyond his registration. In fact, Bane’s usage rate, which takes into account overall production based on the number of minutes played per game, places him among the league’s elite stars through the first month of the regular season.
While the Grizzlies have been plagued by injuries that have sidelined up to five rotation players on a given night, in addition to the 25-game suspension Morant is serving to start the season, Payne has shouldered a greater burden.
He responded to the initial challenge at the NBA level.
Entering the week, Bane ranked among the top 15 players in the NBA in several categories on both sides of the ball. He’s third in total minutes played (354), third in field goal attempts (21.6), fourth in 3-pointers made (3.5), fourth in steals (1.6), and 13y At points (26.5) and 14y In usage rate (30.8).
Bane embraces the greater opportunity and target from opposing teams that comes with stepping into the role as the Grizzlies’ primary option. The mission is to keep his team afloat and provide everything needed every time he takes the field.
“He sees different coverages every night, and each time he accepts the challenge to do whatever it takes to put our team in the best possible position to compete and win,” Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins said of Payne. “Obviously we rely on him a lot offensively, scoring and playmaking. But he and I talked about his desire to take on defensive challenges and get the right balance with usage. This guy is one of the best workers I’ve ever seen.”
The hard, meticulous work that went into behind closed doors over the summer is now on display on the NBA’s global stage. But Bane’s goal is simply to maintain his impressive start. This time last season, Bane was producing at a similar breakout level and was trending toward early All-Star consideration before a toe injury halted his progress.
It was exactly a year ago this week when Payne first suffered the injury during a Nov. 11 game against Minnesota and would miss the next 17 games. He returned to produce a career season averaging 21.5 points, five rebounds and 4.4 assists in 58 games.
Offseason surgery followed in May, but Bane showed enough over his first three years in the league to earn a $204 million contract extension last summer. The move solidifies Bane, the 30th overall pick in the 2020 draft, alongside All-Stars in Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. As a cornerstone of the series’ quest for the championship.
The ultimate sign of respect and how much Bane has improved came last week, when Heat coach Erik Spoelstra devised a plan to contain the Grizzlies’ biggest threat. All-NBA Swingman Jimmy Butler sacrificed shots and shifted his focus to defending exclusively Bane.
“All those things are easier said than done,” Spoelstra said after Payne matched his season-low of 15 points and four steals in Miami’s 108-104 win. “We knew coming into the game that Bane is a guy who can really break free. If he hits four or five 3-pointers in the first half, it’s going to be very downhill for him. If he gets into a rhythm early, you’re dealing with a lot.”
Both Bane and Jackson are off to the best start of their careers this season, although wins have been difficult to come by so far. Four of the Grizzlies’ eight losses have been by six points or fewer, but there are encouraging signs that a turnaround could be imminent.
There has been a boost in depth at point guard and center. G League development player Jacob Gilyard has started the past two games and is averaging 10 points and 5.5 assists while shooting 40 percent on 3-pointers. In this post, recent free agent pickup Bismack Biyombo has added 11.2 points and 11.8 rebounds over four starts since joining the team.
The bench is also gaining rhythm, as Luke Kennard has scored in double figures in four straight games while shooting 15-for-26 (57.5 percent) on three-pointers. Backup forwards Santi Aldama and Zaire Williams are back from recent injuries to add depth, and backup center Xavier Tillman also appears poised to return after missing with knee soreness the past four games.
“We kept our confidence up throughout, because we knew we had players who were capable of doing a bunch of different things,” Payne said of the team’s collective confidence. “We’re still down some bodies. But we keep fighting and we keep focusing on getting better. And we’ll keep doing that regardless of the results.”
Jenkins is aware of the amount of work Bane has to shoulder at this stage of the season. That’s why rest and recovery are priorities between matches, as are points and playmaking during them.
After facing the Lakers on Tuesday, the Grizzlies will have three breaks before traveling to home on Saturday in San Antonio against the Spurs and Sunday at home against Boston.
Jenkins has seen Bane work himself into excellent shape to take on the tasks at hand.
“He’s made sure he’s as strong as he can be, as prepared as he can be to get off the ground, and he hasn’t skipped a beat since camp,” Jenkins said of Bane. “It’s also his ownership of the responsibility he has to make an impact in our group. It’s offense, defense, leadership, everything. This guy is the epitome of what it means to work hard and see it pay off.”
Now, it’s about seeing it lead to wins.
“I feel like my body is in a really good place,” Payne said of his mental and physical approach. “My role is different, but everyone is being asked to do more. I definitely feel like I’m doing more out there, and it’s helping me become a better player. At times, it hasn’t been pretty. I’m learning through it all and continuing to grow. Hopefully we can now Get some wins together.
Bane works relentlessly to achieve this result.
Just keep post-game ice packs handy for one of the best players of the NBA season.