This is the sentence that all Grizzlies fans should want to hear on June 21st from commissioner Adam Silver on stage at the Barclays Center.
Memphis is currently on a 17-game losing streak with no end in sight. This is a positive thing because the Suns are right there next to them waiting for them to slip up. If the Grizzlies do not slip up and keep losing, they will finish the season with the best odds at the first overall pick in the upcoming draft. This can be an absolute franchise changer. It will hopefully bring on a young new talent to help rebuild the franchise.
So, for this article, we are going to assume the Grizzlies won the NBA Draft Lottery and have the first pick in the 2018 Draft. With this power, comes great responsibility to choose someone who will be an elite player with your organization. Now the track record for the Grizzlies front office does not bode well for this endeavor, but in this draft I feel like there may only be one clear cut answer who should go one overall.
Over this past week, Deandre Ayton has put himself on another level. He has proved himself to be the best player in college basketball on the biggest conference stage. Ayton absolutely dominated the Pac-12 Tournament over three games: First, a “meh” 10 points, 6 rebounds against Colorado, then 32 points, 14 rebounds against UCLA in the semifinals, and then finishing off the tournament with 32 points, 18 rebounds against USC to help Arizona win the Pac-12 Title. He showed the skill to absolutely put the team on his back and take over games while both of the UCLA and USC games came down to the end.
This opinion of Ayton is not just the product of recency bias. He has always been slotted around the top of the draft prospects (as I detailed here) with Marvin Bagley III and Luka Doncic. But, this past month of complete dominance has put him on another level compared to Bagley in the college game. Over the last 10 games, Ayton has averaged 21.8 points and 13.3 rebounds, shooting 59.2% from the field and 42.9% from three. These are dominating stats in a Power 5 conference, no less.
With all this high praise, Grizzlies fans should still be thinking about how Ayton, a 7-foot center, would fit with Marc Gasol still on the roster. Here’s the argument for that: draft talent now, worry about the fit later. Time and time again teams have chosen to draft a player who fits their team leaving the best talent on the board for someone else. Like clockwork, the player who wasn’t drafted turns out to be the better player in the future.
Memphis cannot get cute with this pick. Gasol is a 33-year-old on the backside of his career who will eventually want to play with a contender. The Grizzlies are in rebuild mode so instead, what about drafting Ayton and have Marc groom him until Memphis deals Gasol to a contender. His advice and leadership to guide Ayton into the NBA could be his last gift to the Grizzlies franchise.
As Ayton has put himself on top of the collegiate world, there is still Luka Doncic who will also be a favorite to go number 1 overall this June. While the Grizzlies lineup of Mike Conley, Luka Doncic, Chandler Parsons, JaMychal Green, and Marc Gasol sounds enticing, the team needs to think into the future a bit. Realistically, that lineup will still not make a deep run into the playoffs, no matter how Doncic turns out. Doncic is the most NBA ready, but he has a lower ceiling than Ayton does. He plays against competition more challenging than the NCAA, but the question marks from overseas guards are still there. If the Grizzlies are looking for a long-term homerun with a player who fits the new NBA, that player is Ayton, not Doncic.
In my opinion, the Grizzlies need to select Deandre Ayton. Just watch the tape, the dude has it all together. He is the most skilled big man we have seen down low in recent years while also having a shot to pair with his post moves. His next big and final test will be the NCAA Tournament. Ayton will be expected to perform under the lights on a national stage that Arizona has not seen yet.
So, it is June 21st, and the Grizzlies are on the clock. They need avoid getting cute, and they need to take the best talent on the draft board. Memphis needs to select Deandre Ayton out of the University of Arizona.
In the coming months leading up to the draft, we, at GBB, will be providing a deeper look into each of the top draft prospects. From this, you can decide for yourself who you want the Grizzlies to draft.