You may or may not have heard this already, but the Memphis Grizzlies are not very good this season. Sure, they beat a weary Minnesota Timberwolves team on Monday night. But that was their first road win of 2018. Memphis is without key players and is doing very...tanky...things with their active roster and lineups on a nightly basis. Their most recent road success aside, the larger sample size of the season tells us that Memphis will probably not win many more games.
Thanks to the genius of the NBA Draft Lottery, that is OK!
Memphis is in line to have a top-5, and quite possibly a top-3, selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. What makes the Grizzlies unique in comparison to their fellow top-pick contenders (aside from the Cleveland Cavaliers, who own the right to Brooklyn’s pick) is that they hope to be back in contention next season for a playoff spot. For Phoenix, Dallas, Atlanta, or Orlando to get back in to the postseason it would take some pretty remarkable leaps. While a lot has to go right for the Grizzlies as well, it seems more likely for them to return to the playoffs than any of those squads since Marc Gasol and Mike Conley are two All-Star (ish) level players.
At least in the eyes of this Memphis blog.
So let’s say the Grizzlies do indeed get the opportunity to select in the top-3. And let’s operate under the assumption that the following things occur...
- Tyreke Evans does indeed return (unlikely, but hey, let’s have fun).
- Mike Conley comes back fully healthy.
- Chandler Parsons is able to play 65-ish games at 25 minutes a game.
With all that in mind, here are three players they could realistically take, and three ways to uniquely use them...or the Memphis roster around them.
Deandre Ayton: Marc Gasol, the stretch four?
Marc tries to be like Dirk Nowitzki already, right?
Why not let him live that dream?
Deandre Ayton, the 7’1” 250 pound elite athlete from the University of Arizona, has NBA scouts drooling with the potential that he shows. NBADraft.net has him as a David Robinson-esque type of player, quite the compliment to Ayton as “The Admiral” had one of the very best NBA careers of any center in the history of the professional game. 61.2% shooting from the field, 34.3% from beyond the arc, 11.6 rebounds per game, almost 2 blocks a game, all part of a PAC-12 Player of the Year resume. He can handle the ball well for his size, he can run the floor, he can defend the rim...there are no real theoretical weaknesses in his game.
Except that his worst enemy may be himself.
Since so much has come easily for him to this point, he tends to at times approach the game too lackadaisically. He settles for jumpers, and doesn’t seem to exert himself consistently on the floor. The reliance on the perimeter is a real place to have some concern. When you have that type of ability, you should be working on dominating with the size and gifts you were given as often as possible, using offensive skills that emphasize that talent. That level of discipline and professionalism can be taught...and it can be done on the floor...
Know anyone who has experience with that?
As was written about yesterday in Generation Grizz, Marc has been quite the teacher throughout this season. And Gasol has more experience obviously at defending bigs who can shoot and create off the dribble. Even with the loss of a step (or three, depending on the match-up), Marc can compensate with an understanding of passing lanes, angles, and leverage that Ayton simply cannot as of yet. Deandre also has the athleticism to make Marc and others right at the rim. The angles and lanes of the game can be learned, and Marc would be a great mentor.
Folks have asked if Ayton and Gasol playing together could work. It could, but we have to see it through the lens of Ayton being the 5, the traditional “center”. Deandre would be the future at that spot anyway, whether it be in 2019 or 2020 (whenever Marc is gone). This would let Marc be the perimeter player he wants to be more consistently, and would give Ayton more on the job training alongside a former Defensive Player of the Year. Keep JaMychal Green for 20-25 minutes a game off the bench as a sixth man big? That’s a formidable front court.
Marvin Bagley III: Get out and run!
NBADraft.net has the 6”11, 234 pound Bagley to the Grizzlies in their latest mock draft, and this would be a more traditional fit for the current Memphis roster. His current comp is to Chris Bosh, and Bosh surely was an elite big at his peak with both the Toronto Raptors and Miami Heat. While he is not as dominant an athlete as Ayton, Bagley is comparable in almost every other statistic and accolade (Bagley was the 2018 ACC Player of the Year). Where Bagley is better than Ayton at this stage is as a shooter from range, as he is a superior three-point marksman (39.7%). So while Deandre could, in theory, be a big in a “get out and run” lineup for Memphis, he would not space the floor as well as Bagley.
Imagine a lineup of Mike Conley, Tyreke Evans (if he re-signs, a big if remember), Wayne Selden Jr., JaMychal Green, and Bagley. Five legitimate perimeter shooting threats, five athletes who can pick up the pace and run the floor, five players that could benefit from the increased tempo and opportunities offensively. Then, think about the switching opportunities defensively with an Andrew Harrison/Evans/Selden/Dillon Brooks/Bagley lineup. Four wings, all comparable in size, with Bagley behind they cleaning up messes (not a strength of his as of yet, but like Ayton, would be valuable active learning) capable of switching as well.
The modern NBA is about spacing, and Bagley provides that. But it is just as much about the ability to push tempo and get in and out of mismatches on the perimeter. Bagley has the footwork and speed at his side to play outside the paint when necessary defensively, while also getting out to run on long rebounds for easy putback and alley-oop opportunities. Chris Bosh was at his most effective in Miami as a center, creating opportunities for teammates because of his range and athleticism compared to those he was going against.
Bagley can be the next generation of that in Memphis, a Bosh 2.0. Wouldn’t it be nice to see the Grizzlies make picking up tempo a priority more often? Selecting the Duke big would hopefully bring about more of that style.
Luka Doncic: The Chandler Parsons Memorial Point Forward
Will it ever stop hurting?
Chandler Parsons was supposed to be a pretty darn good facilitator from the wing, and even the stretch four position. Due to health, that hasn’t manifested. It probably never consistently will.
Enter Luka Doncic, the 6’8” 225 pound European prospect from Slovenia. Playing for Real Madrid in the Euroleague, widely considered the 2nd best professional basketball league in the world behind the NBA, he has shown real potential as a creator for both himself and others off the dribble. NBADraft.net lauds his vision as a passer as well as his handle, and if you watch YouTube highlights of him (as one does late at night when the Grizzlies are losing basketball games), you can’t help but appreciate the skill set he already possesses at the age of 19.
The handle, the shot, the touch off the dribble to hit a floater or a bank shot. His game is more refined than any other high level prospect in this draft, and at its best would be James Harden-esque. While his lack of foot speed and lateral quickness is a fair concern defensively, especially against the elite perimeter players of the NBA, you can’t help but daydream about what a Conley/Evans/Doncic/Green/Gasol lineup could do...
With Doncic starting the offense.
Mike Conley played some of his best offensive basketball alongside a healthy Mario Chalmers two seasons ago, when Chalmers initiated sets and Mike could be a scorer coming off screens. Tyreke Evans can play the point, but he is at his best when he gets the ball beyond the break coming off a pick or screen and getting to the basket. JaMychal Green depends on others for offensive creation but can hit the corner three consistently, and Marc can create for others but doesn’t have the skill set of Evans, Conley, or Doncic. He’d be better off in the other corner, or setting up for the pick and pop second option with Conley or Evans.
Luka could be that point forward Chandler was supposed to be. If you’re feeling especially offensive (with little care for defensive ramifications, or believing that whoever the coach is can scheme to hide the weaknesses), replace JaM with Dillon Brooks. Or Parsons himself. More shooting, more offensive skill, more facilitation, especially with Parsons. If Chandler is healthy (again, a giant if)? Four, FOUR, ball handlers in Conley/Evans/Doncic/Parsons. Five shooters when adding Gasol to the party, whether it was Brooks or Parsons. Real elite offensive potential...and Doncic could defend the stretch fours in some lineups, negating those foot speed concerns.
The defensive worries are real. And Doncic has potential issues dealing with smaller athletes, much less larger ones who are still quicker than him like Ben Simmons, Brandon Ingram, or others like them. But if Doncic can be 80% of what he is in Europe in the NBA next season offensively, he makes a dormant Grizzlies team damn dangerous on offense and primed for a bounce back campaign. He makes everyone better on that end...
Like Chandler was supposed to. Sigh.
In a down season, you look to the future. The three prospects above, and many more, will be broken down further here at GBB as the draft approaches. Their strengths and weaknesses will be dissected and debated, and how they fit will be emphasized. If the Grizzlies truly want to make a run at the playoffs next season, they must address their weaknesses schematically and mix things up a little bit regardless of who the coach is. Try some outside the box strategies.
Let Gasol be a true perimeter player.
Let the guys run even more.
Let Luka lead the offense.
Memphis has a potentially special opportunity in front of them. Unique usage of the talent that arrives to the Grizzlies could make the difference between a return to postseason play or a streak staring of playoff absences.