Zach Edey’s NBA summer league debut showed why he’s a perfect fit for Grizzlies

No one expected Zach Edey to become a top-10 NBA Draft pick at any point during his historically dominant college career at Purdue, but the Memphis Grizzlies had a different vision. The Grizzlies needed a center to set screens for Ja Morant, gobble up rebounds for Jaren Jackson Jr., and finish efficiently inside. Edey checked all of those boxes, so the Grizzlies made a leap of faith by taking him at No. 9 overall.

Edey made his Grizzlies debut at NBA summer league in Utah on Tuesday in a loaded matchup filled with NBA players. Memphis and Utah were both playing multiple rotation players from their real teams — a rarity in this setting — and against strong competition, Edey thrived. The big man finished with 14 points, 15 rebounds, and four blocks on 7-of-12 shooting from the floor in 34 minutes. It was only summer league, but Edey showed us a glimpse of what’s to come in his rookie season.

Watch Edey’s summer league highlights here:

Edey’s performance was even more impressive when you factor in his individual matchup. The Jazz were playing Walker Kessler, a 7’1 center has has been one of the best per-minute shot blockers in the NBA over his first two seasons. It’s rare for a player as good as Kessler to still be playing summer league entering his third season, but it provided an ideal test for Edey’s debut, and both players acquitted themselves well.

Edey made the play of the game at the end of regulation. With the Grizzlies trailing by two and shooting one last free throw, Memphis had to miss the foul shot on purpose and get a tip-in to force overtime. Somehow, Edey made it happen by overpowering Kessler on the block for the putback:

Edey also posterized Kessler during a thrilling battle of giants. As Memphis ran a pick-and-roll, Kessler rejected Edey’s first shot attempt at the rim, and Edey recovered the ball and then dunked on his head:

Edey went viral before the game even began for this picture of him dunking on his tippy toes. “Small ball” might still be popular in the NBA, but there will always be a place for someone this big who is as skilled as Edey and plays as hard as he does.

We covered Edey extensively ahead of the draft, both with his in-depth scouting report on his pro translation and by getting a first-person view at the Final Four of his larger-than-life impact at Purdue. We gave the pick a B+ in our instant draft grades. As time passed after the draft, I liked the selection more and more because of just how well Edey fits when Memphis needs.

Morant is going to get so much separation on his downhill drives from Edey’s screens. Jaren Jackson Jr. and Edey are a perfect complement in the front court: Jackson is quick enough to provided ground coverage next to the slow-footed Edey, and Edey can cover up Jackson’s weaknesses on the glass. Steven Adams was such a critical contributor to the Grizzlies a couple years back that the team couldn’t really function without him. Edey can provide similar traits in the middle while showing even better touch as an interior scorer.

There’s no doubt that opposing teams are going to test Edey’s slow feet once the regular season begins. The Jazz had some success in doing that in this summer league matchup, with Keyonte George popping off for 30 points on some diet of pick-and-rolls. Edey isn’t a perfect NBA prospect, but his strengths are so sharp that he should be able to overcome his deficiencies.

Summer league is just a small taste, but it already feels like Edey will be one of the league’s most fun rookies this year.

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