The Memphis Grizzlies are right now in a bit of a weird situation. They are a really good team and will most likely win 50-plus games for the fourth consecutive season next year. On the other hand they are pretty much capped out this summer (depending a bit on what happens with Zach Randolph, Ed Davis and Mike Miller) and don’t have a future pick to trade (the 2015 draft pick they sent to the Cavaliers in a salary dump is protected through 2018-19, most likely it will be conveyed in 2017-18. Obviously they can pick a player at No. 22 and trade him immediately).
They are in a stacked Western Conference and some of their important contributors are likely to regress in the next few years. Zach Randolph, Tony Allen, Tayshaun Prince and Mike Miller are well over 30. Marc Gasol is already 29 years old, Mike Conley will turn 27 and Courtney Lee will turn 29 by the start of next season. The Grizzlies simply don’t have much young talent on the roster. Nick Calathes, Kosta Koufos and Jon Leuer are nice players, but obviously none of them are the type of blue chippers who can raise their game to a whole new level and push the Grizz from very good to truly great.
The expected return for the No. 22 pick isn’t much and at bottom of the first round you are basically just tossing a coin. Who knows if you can get an impact player? Teams spend a lot of time scouting and preparing for the draft but the truth is that somewhere after the 20th pick the draft becomes pretty close to a random draw and you have something like a one in three(and progressively worse) chance of landing an impact player.
Here are the players chosen 22nd in the NBA draft since 2000: Mason Plumlee, Fab Melo, Kenneth Faried, Elliot Williams, Victor Claver, Jared Dudley, Marcus Williams, Jarrett Jack, Viktor Khryapa, Zoran Planicic, Casey Jacobsen, Jeryl Sasser and Donnell Harvey.
How many of them would make a significant impact for the Grizzlies? The answer is probably somewhere between one and three. Even though the upcoming draft is supposed to be deeper than average, there’s literally no guarantee that you will find a helpful player. The reality is that the odds are stacked against you.
Likely Selections and Other Options
The Grizzlies rotation is currently constructed as follows:
PG Mike Conley/Nick Calathes/Beno Udrih (UFA)
SF Tayshaun Prince/Mike Miller (UFA)/James Johnson
PF Zach Randolph/Ed Davis/Jon Leuer
C Marc Gasol/Kosta Koufos
In an odd way the Grizzlies are actually too deep. Gasol, Randolph and Conley are very good starters, Courtney Lee is something pretty close to average and Tayshaun Prince is somewhere below average. They could use an upgrade at the 3 right? Well yes and no; the Grizzlies actually have pretty solid wing depth, especially if they re-sign Mike Miller. James Johnson played really well for Memphis but fell out of the rotation as the playoffs neared because you just simply can’t play so many wing players and your rotation can’t go 11 deep. The combination of Lee/Allen/Miller and Prince takes up the lion’s share of minutes and even though Pondexter was out for the entirety of last season, having him as your fifth wing is not bad at all. Prince should be the obvious man out here, he has really struggled shooting the ball for the last couple of seasons and his production has fallen off a cliff.
The idea of drafting a young small forward sounds nice, but actually finding one in the draft to replace Prince is much more difficult. Even though Prince is quite bad nowadays he’s still a pro and a 13 year NBA veteran who can defend his position. Unless you hit someone on the level of a Jimmy Butler or Chandler Parsons you won’t be getting an obviously better player from the draft. And if you can’t get a clearly superior player it’s often the rookie who gets relegated to the bench. On this Memphis team that is more than likely to happen.
The top wings in this year’s draft who are somewhere in Memphis’ range are T.J Warren(NC State), K.J McDaniels(Clemson), Jerami Grant(Syracuse), Rodney Hood(Duke) and Cleanthony Early(Wichita State). The Grizzlies could really use a good three point shooter and the only guy to really fit that bill is Rodney Hood who shot 42 percent from deep last season. He’s the type of player who can shoot, slash and make the next play for Memphis. The problem is he’s most likely not on the board anymore and can’t guard anyone. The “not guarding anyone” thing is not actually that bad. Rookies tend to be horrible on defense and that’s something you can really improve upon if you’re smart and show great effort.
It’s true that Prince doesn’t provide any floor spacing, so why does his “replacement” need to do so? The difference is that Prince is a 13-year NBA veteran. That’s huge, even if he doesn’t space the floor he knows what to do on the floor. When to cut, what his routes are, where to stand or pass, and who to rotate onto. Those things are difficult to do and there’s a reason why so few players play more than 10 years in the league. Grant can’t shoot the ball at all and has a terrible hitch at the release of his shot. We have already seen how difficult it is even for elite prospects to succeed in the NBA if they can’t shoot at all. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist was picked second overall after Anthony Davis in a pretty loaded 2012 NBA draft and has struggled to make his imprint in Charlotte.
You’d always rather have a high basketball IQ player, someone who knows how to make the next play whether it be to to cut, drive or shoot. Hood is your best chance of getting a player like that.
If Hood is off the board the options the Grizzlies have are quite Limited. Warren, McDaniels, Grant and Early all struggle with shooting and decision making. As I wrote earlier, the Grizzlies are getting older and should (and probably are) already be planning on what the next iteration of this team will look like with Randolph and some other players gone or in reduced roles.
This year’s draft has a perfect draft and stash candidate with top 10 pick talent. The Latvian big man Kristaps Porzingis who is currently only 18 years old and playing in the Liga ACB for Cajasol Seville. He has two more year left on his deal in Europe and a great situation to develop in there. Porzingis is seven feet tall and has the potential to be a real stretch big. He shot only 32 percent from deep last season but has a picture perfect release and will get better.
He has great defensive insticts and a long reach and can get loads of blocks and steals. Porzingis a really unique player that has ways to go but could be really special if he develops. This is the high upside pick who can become a special player.
The Grizzlies really shouldn’t be looking to move this pick unless they can get a young player with upside back(unlikely) since the roster is already so depleted of young talent. Late first rounders don’t really fetch quality players. Last year Luis Scola and Marcin Gortat were moved for first rounders and both of those picks at least carried (or still carry) the illusion of hope that they will turn out to be more than just late first rounders. That’s the type of return you can hope for at the very best.
Go with the 7’0″ big man from Europe who can shoot and has the potential to defend at a high level. At the end of the first round you have to take a chance and swing; even if you miss. Personally I think Porzingis will become a really good player in the NBA someday.