Sam Young has certainly made the most of his increased playing time in the recent absence of O.J. Mayo while he is serving his 10-game suspension for taking a banned substance.
During the first nine games of Mayo's suspension, Young has posted the following point totals while starting each game: 12-10-10-18-19-7-22-14-19. Those aren't bad numbers at all, and his overall improved level play has been a large factor behind the improved play of the Grizzlies lately.
I was in attendance when he tied a career-high of 22 points against the Lakers in Memphis last week, and while the Grizzlies didn't quite have enough to grab the win, Young outplayed or at least went toe-to-toe with Kobe Bryant for most of the night. That's not a bad night for a second-year player.
Mayo will be eligible to return to the Grizzlies lineup Tuesday night in Memphis against the Philadelphia 76ers, but it will be interesting to see how much playing time he receives upon his return from the suspension.
Young has not only shown flashes of brilliance over the past few weeks, but he has also shown that he may be a key piece to the Grizzlies moving forward. If he can replace Mayo's production on the court, and the team feels comfortable moving Mayo before the deadline, Memphis could save a lot of money at the shooting guard position.
Mayo only has one year remaining on his current contract after this season and it is likely he will command somewhere in the range of $8-10 million per season his next deal. That's a price the Grizzlies might be unwilling and unable to pay to keep him around.
After handing out large deals to keep Rudy Gay and Mike Conley in Memphis for the long-term, and the expectation that they will make a similar attempt to keep Marc Gasol with the team this summer, there isn't much money for another star player.
If Young continues to improve and mature in his starting role with the Grizzlies, he might be a much cheaper and more attractive option for Memphis looking towards the future. He also doesn't carry nearly as much baggage around as Mayo and is in good standing with the franchise, which is always a positive in professional sports.
Now is the time for the Grizzlies to make a move involving Mayo, and they should do everything possible to bring back a fairly seasoned veteran with a little bit of playoff experience. Hasheem Thabeet could be tossed into the deal if needed, but Memphis would be much better off moving forward without Mayo if they can add a decent veteran role player in the process.
Moving Mayo would give the Grizzlies the remainder of the season to give Young an extended test run as the starter and let them decide whether he or not he is the direction they want to move in for the future. If his recent level of play is any sign of things to come, I definitely think he will be a key contributor for Memphis as they make their push for the postseason in March and April.