Tyreke Evans was still available. Ricky Rubio was still available. Stephen Curry was still available. James Harden, Ty Lawson, and Jeff Teague were still available. All sorts of legitimate NBA starters and quality bench players were still available, and yet the Grizzlies walked away from the 2009 NBA Draft with Hasheem Thabeet.
To be clear, I don’t think Thabeet himself is the biggest disappointment in Grizzlies history. We knew what he was when he got here: a really tall guy from Africa with poor fundamentals who had the potential to turn into a Serge Ibaka or Dikembe Mutombo-style of
defensive nightmare shot blocker. What we didn’t know was (1) how much work it was going to take to get him to become NBA-ready and (2) just how terrible he was going to be on the court until he got, well, coached.
Let's also be brutally honest: the pick had "Michael Heisley" written all over it. Heisley is notorious for picking players in the draft based on a good performance in the NCAA tournament – especially against the University of Memphis Tigers. Thabeet, Darrell Arthur, DeMarre Carroll, Sam Young: all of them made great NCAA runs. The problem is this: only Arthur turned out to be worth a damn. How do I put this nicely? The rest of them, well... I hope things turn out better for Carroll in Utah.
The Grizzlies do not have a particularly good track record with player development. Outside of the Mike Conley/Marc Gasol/Rudy Gay core, Grizz draft picks tend to develop slowly, tend to be given incredibly short leashes when they are allowed on the court, and they tend to be dumped for other players before anyone knows whether they’re going to end up being any good or not.
Given the fact that the Grizzlies aren’t good at player development, why, then, did they use the second pick in the freaking draft to pick a guy who needed more development than anyone else available in the first round? Why did they ignore what they needed – at that point, before Conley’s
miraculous development into a top-level point guard, a point guard to either back him up or eventually take over the starting spot – and pick a guy who, no matter how nice he is and how hard he works, hasn’t played basketball that long? Stubbornness. The owner got what he wanted, and the Grizzlies got Hasheem Thabeet.
Things didn’t go so well for Hasheem here. He averaged 13 minutes a game with a PER of 12.9 his rookie year, and 8.2 minutes at a PER of 4.7 (cue the "sad trombone" sound) in his second year, and then we gave a draft pick to Houston so they’d take him off our hands and let us rent Shane Battier for three months so we could make our amazing 2011 playoff run.
I want to be careful to make a distinction between Thabeet as a disappointment and the fact that we picked him as the disappointment. What was he supposed to do, say, "No, Grizzlies, you should not pick me at the #2 spot"? Nah. It’s not his fault. It’s the Grizzlies’ fault for using the second pick in the draft on a guy who would’ve been a great pickup in the second round, when there were better players available at positions where the Grizz needed help.
In doing that, they wasted a coveted high pick, and shot themselves in the foot, and ended up with a guy who could barely play, while they really had no means to effectively teach him.
Instead of James Harden or Ricky Rubio, we got... Thabeet. (God, how I hate knowing that.)