This off-season is one of the biggest off-seasons the Grizzlies have had in a very long time. Why is that? Because they have to make decisions on whether or not they want continue with the Core Four era. This decision should not have to be all or nothing, they should not have to decide with one broad stroke to start a major rebuild, but that is exactly where they are at. It's not because of one specific thing or person that you can point, but a collection of decisions made by the front office for a number of years.
The Grizzlies front office just is not good. There, I said it, what a lot of people probably already think or know in the back of their minds, but don’t want to say. They haven’t been good for a decade.
The Grizzlies have an aging core four, a banged up point guard, a center who has already broken his foot, a power forward who is a defensive liability and a specialist wing who isn’t really that special anymore. They will no doubt have to move forward with Marc Gasol and Mike Conley, but what about the other two? There is a case to be made for Zach Randolph, as long as he embraces his role as bench player and he can be had for the mid level exception.
That leaves Tony Allen, seemingly the odd man out. Tony Allen is a specialist, a 35 year old defensive specialist, who is not all that great at defense anymore. Tony will ask for more money, to be taken care of, for what he has done for this city and this basketball team. While he might deserve that, what does that do for the future of this franchise? Outside of Mike, Marc, and hopefully for the Grizzlies sake, a healthy Chandler Parsons, there is not much on the roster that is the future of the team.
Decision time. The Grizzlies have to do something. Every year they prolong the inevitable, the rebuilding of the franchise. It’s inevitable because when you look down the bench, you don’t see very much that is the future of this franchise. They can either commit to the core four and rage against the dying light, or they can let cornerstones of this franchise walk and start building it again slowly. The front office is probably scared to death of what a rebuild might do to this team, to this franchise, to this city. They have no one to blame but themselves.
Most teams draft players, incorporate them slowly so they become role players, then starters, then they are traded for another piece to the puzzle or for a future draft pick. If they’re good enough they become franchise players for that team, even superstars. That’s how you sustain a franchise, and stay relevant for years (see San Antonio Spurs). It also helps if you draft a superstar right away, but even then, if you don’t have any other pieces, your team still isn’t going to win a title (Cleveland Cavaliers after drafting Lebron James).
Isn’t that the goal? To win a title? The Grizzlies didn’t do any of that, and never have. It’s odd how the Grizzlies came to have a 7 year playoff run, and honestly, it’s mostly luck. Over the next week, we’re going to go on a journey, to look at a decade worth of decisions and how the Grizzlies got to be in the spot they are now. We will look at the four parts that make a franchise. The four ways you can find players, make your team better, and ultimately win a championship.
Part 1: The Draft Picks
Our first part of how franchises stay relevant for years, is of course how they draft. Obviously, drafting is the number one way to put your franchise in the top of the conference without affecting your cap space. The way the rookie scale works in the NBA, if you draft a superstar, you have them for next nothing for at least four years, and even after that they are only a restricted free agent. So if your superstar goes out and gets a max offer, you simply say okay, we can match that, and you have that player locked up for another five years! Potentially nine years you can control a player's destination, and that is why it is so crucial to hit on the draft.
This is a sore spot for most Grizzlies fans, it’s been talked and hashed out on social media so many times, it makes my head hurt just thinking about it. We all know the Grizzlies are bad at drafting, we loathe thinking about some of the terrible draft picks that have put on a Grizzlies hat in the summer. Everyone loves to reminisce about the players that the Grizzlies could’ve had. “Think about how good we would be if we had just drafted Steph Curry, or James Harden, or even just Rodney Hood”. All franchises miss on players, it’s a part of the NBA draft, you don’t really ever know who is going to pan out to be a capable NBA player.
Every franchise has loads of tools at their disposal for scouting prospects, working them out, etc. to try and mitigate those losses. They want to try and avoid drafting the Adam Morrison’s and Greg Oden’s of the world. Sometimes even with all those tools, you still miss on a player. However, good franchises don’t miss many times. Overall, they’re pretty good at recognizing talented players and doing whatever they can to get them on their teams.
Lets see how the Grizzlies stack up against the top part of the Western Conference over the past decade when it comes to our first part of how franchise’s stay relevant.
Let me explain how this is broken down. To be considered a quality role player in the NBA, you will have needed to play at least 1500 minutes in the NBA. That's actually pretty easy to do, and rookies in 2017 that are considered role players for their respective teams are on the cusp of doing this. There are also starters, stars, and superstars each with a respective minutes that you should be playing to be in that category. As with any data, there are some exceptions- you could have played 20,000 minutes but still never been considered a superstar, and just been a starter for an NBA team. Players like Nicolas Batum, who have played 19,000 minutes but no one would consider him a star in the NBA. For those players, I have manually adjust the data sheet to reflect that.
The first thing that you see is the Grizzlies have had a large number of first round draft picks over the years compared to other top teams in the western conference. The next thing you notice is the amount of “quality NBA players” that the Grizzlies have drafted. For this exercise a quality NBA player, is a role player or above. A end of bench player would not be considered a quality NBA player. Quality NBA players are players that the Grizzlies drafted, no matter what.
Let’s break it down even further. Just because a franchise drafts a player and they have played significant number of minutes in the NBA, doesn’t necessarily mean that they have impacted that team directly. For that we look at the last category, the amount of players that have played a significant role for that franchise. This means that a player would have needed to play multiple years and a fair share of minutes to have positively impacted the franchise.
After all this data, the numbers are pretty close to what we are seeing this year in the NBA. The teams who have drafted players, kept them around, and those players that have played significant roles for them are at the top of the Western Conference standings. Meanwhile, where does the Grizzlies stack up against the other teams in the west when it comes to drafting?
Last. Absolutely last. Think about that. Over the last ten years, what player can you think that the Grizzlies have drafted has played a significant role on this team? Other than Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry, Sam Young is the next player that has played significant minutes over multiples years for this team. The same Sam Young that hasn’t been in the league since 2013.
When you look at the numbers laid out in front of you all at once, they’re pretty damming. We all knew the Grizzlies weren’t good at drafting, but even I didn’t know it was that bad. The Grizzlies should have two or three role players playing alongside Marc and Mike, developing them to take over when they’re ready to leave. Even better, they should have already developed a wing player that is starting alongside those guys.
The list goes on and on of players that they should have drafted but I am not going to go down that path. This is the number one way to make your franchise better, to keep fans in the seats, to ensure longevity. The Grizzlies failed miserably. So here we are, looking back at 9 years of bad draft picks and wondering what they should do next because they have chosen to trade or bench every young player that any potential at all.
Coming up next, we will take a look at the top Free Agents that the Grizzlies have convinced to play for them over the last decade. Stay tuned.