While the insanity of NBA free agency is starting to move from "Tier A" to "Tier B" to "Tier C" regarding the level of available free agents, the Memphis Grizzlies still find themselves in a situation that has been too familiar to those following the team since the beginning of the Grit-N-Grind era and before. Coach David Fizdale apparently had a solid input in persuading Mike Conley to stay in Memphis (it's fair to say that the biggest contract in NBA history played its part as well) and signing Chandler Parsons to occupy the starting small forward position. Even though these moves are more than significant in building the roster for the upcoming season, in the last few days Grizzlies have also added numerous players like James Ennis and Troy Daniels who possess a strong outside game.
This is an area that they of course must address in terms of style of play as well. In the regular season, Memphis attempted more three point shots than just five opponents - the ancient offense of the Timberwolves, ran by already, the genetic experiment of length in Milwaukee, (where Jason Kidd only picks up players who can scratch their knees without bending down), the random mess of players attained by Brooklyn Nets after Mikhail Prokhorov found out the hard way that you can't buy a title in the NBA as easily as his compatriots in Europe (i.e. London "Chelsea"), and the elderly yet ambitious (ambitious yet elderly?) Heat and Spurs.
To cap this off - Memphis had the worst 3PT% between these teams, and finished in a tragic 29th position in the whole damned league using this criteria. Signing Parsons (and retaining Conley) is a right step towards shedding the status of a one-dimensional-team, but it would be too naïve and optimistic to think that these moves (along with the acquisition of James Ennis) would be enough to solve this constant problem in the home of the blues.
Ennis, Daniels, Vince Carter - all of these names can help, but it may not be enough. And even though Wade Baldwin IV will join the team as a potential three point marksman, having amassed a 42% clip during his two years at Vanderbilt, additional long range threats would considerably ease the burden on post players in bench rotations and specific matchups.
That's where our eyes should turn to the old continent and the sniping possibilities it provides, combined with reasonable contracts and, of course, a mid-to-high level of risk. I must add that this preposition is based on a complicated process of stealing a draft-and-stash player from another NBA franchise, but I am convinced that it's at least worth trying to do so, especially in the humungous salary situation of the market in 2016.
First of all, let me put emphasis on the fact, that the Spanish ACB is widely and correctly considered as the second strongest basketball league on the planet. Even though it looks like a two-horse race most of the years with the traditional powerhouses "Barcelona" and "Real" usually battling for the title, the level of competition is incredibly intense, and in the past decade all of the clubs have invested vast amounts of money and work towards youth academies and scouting. Nowadays ACB teams sign the most talented players from around the globe at extremely young age (Kristaps Porzingis signed a contract with "Baloncesto Sevilla" at a tender age of 14), but today let's take a look at an already established player, arguably ready to contribute to an NBA roster straight away.
Alejandro "Alex" Abrines fits the Grizzlies on paper like an axe fits its handle. The winner of the Euroleague rising star award for this season, Abrines is a 6'6 sharpshooter, able to get his minutes at both SG and SF positions in "FC Barcelona Lassa". (To avoid any misconceptions - yes, it's the same historic "Barcelona": a lot of franchises in Europe change their names as periodically as the artist formerly known as Ron Artest). His 42% three point conversion rate in the most prestigious European competition speaks for itself, and even though the soon-to-be 23-year-old only spent 20 minutes per game on the court last season, we have to take the present rotation-style of Spanish teams into consideration. Frequent substitutions and rosters composed of 12 players of similar level of play create the impression that a player does not have a significant role in the squad, but that is just an optical illusion - in the world of PER-36, Alex Abrines becomes the third highest scorer on one of the most feared clubs in Europe, converting 45% 3PT, while taking a whopping 7.4 attempts.
These numbers for a specialized player in a league that generally focuses on defense are nothing short of spectacular, and the member of the Spanish Olympic squad would definitely give any team a lot of firepower on the perimeter. And even though the questions about how his defensive abilities would transfer to the NBA persist as with nearly every other European prospect, five years of playing at the highest level of the European system, which emphasizes Basketball IQ instead of athleticism, at least partially compensates for the slight build of his body. Add his experience of playing off the bench and a microwave scoring ability to the mix, and his potential to become a dangerous sixth-man-weapon even in the early stages of his career in the USA becomes more than promising.
It's likely that some of you were shaking your heads while reading the last paragraph due to one simple fact - yes, the draft rights of Abrines belong to OKC. And moreover (for you Euro-basket-heads) - yes, Abrines himself has proclaimed that his move to the NBA this summer is unlikely, but that's where the Grizzlies should capitalize on the chaos that surrounds the Thunder after the departure of Kevin Durant.
It's hard to predict how highly Sam Presti rates the Spanish sniper. He is said to like Abrines a good bit, but an aggressive bid for his draft rights may force him to give up on Abrines with the chance of acquiring immediate help and thus getting a bigger chance of persuading Russell Westbrook to stay. Victor Oladipo is now in OKC to play SG, and a trade for help now may help the Thunder post a higher number of regular season victories and a potentially long (-er) playoff run. It's a big question about possible trade assets that would interest the Thunder (perhaps exercising the team option on Lance Stephenson could have been handy in this case), but, once again, an ultra-aggressive approach could net Memphis one of the (if not THE) top shooters in Europe.
Yet to make this possibility a reality Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace and the rest of the Front Office would have to turn on the highest level of creativity - Oklahoma City are packed with front court players, thus eliminating the slightest amount of interest in most of the youngsters that the Grizzlies have at their disposal, and have no need of dumping salaries to acquire top-class free agents since the departure of KD left their franchise with more flexibility than it ever wanted. Perhaps the veteran presence of Vince Carter would be intriguing for an otherwise young-ish roster, but it is unlikely to see Wallace sacrificing a crowd-teammate-front-office-favorite for what would be considered a modest return.
Despite the difficulties of acquiring the aforementioned Spaniard, if the Grizzlies would pull this move off, they would actually have a serious and better possibility of bringing Abrines over the pond this summer than the Thunder currently do. Marc Gasol, together with this brother Pau, are nothing short of a cult figure in Spanish basketball (especially in the "Barcelona" circles), and a chance to play alongside a national hero would at least make Abrines thoroughly reconsider his plans for the immediate future.
The arrival of a 23 year old shooter with the upside of a J.J. Redick or even Klay Thompson type of a weapon would bolster the hopes of a return to contention and provide an exciting young player for the Memphis Grizzlies. It would also at the same time address the (still!) most glaring deficiency of the current roster. And even though this looks not really likely to happen, it is well worth it to try to make Alex Abrines the fourth Spanish player (and the fourth Barcelonista!) to wear a Grizzlies jersey.
As they say in my country - at least you won‘t get kicked in the teeth for trying.
Thanks so much to Rokas Grajauskas of Lithuania for this GBB Guest Post!