Life is different for the bottom of the NBA.
There is little to be excited about, and the last two months have felt like the months leading up to high school graduation: just get this over with. Instead of resting stars to save energy and bodies, the bottom feeders are resting players to increase the chances of losing. Life is different because of the hope that these teams are holding on to. The hope is not a playoff push towards the finals, but the hope of a new draft prospect that could change the trajectory of the team both now and in the future.
The Memphis Grizzlies find themselves in the thick of a close draft lottery race, also known as the ultimate tankathon, which is a rare position for this team to close the season in. It’s been a few years since this organization has been at the bottom looking up.
From 2007-09 the Grizzlies drafted in the top five each year. In order, the draft picks were Mike Conley, Kevin Love, and (he who should not be named) Hasheem Thabeet. Two out three quality picks is pretty good odds. Thabeet was given a bunch of money for no reason, but the other two have turned out to be top quality NBAers.
Don’t look at the rest of the draft history of the Grizzlies from then until now. Though Memphis was making the playoffs consistently and the team was so contagious around the country, when it came to draft day, Memphis fans watched through their fingers.
Memphis needs to get this pick right for a number of reasons. A lot of fans feel like the front office botched the Tyreke Evans (non) trade, this year’s roster was poorly assembled from the first tip, the pre-mature firing of David Fizdale created a villain in Marc Gasol, the list goes on.
So you get the point: the Memphis Grizzlies first pick in the 2018 NBA Draft has to be a home run of a selection.
Now that a top-5 pick is all but guaranteed, there will be more attention on the Grizzlies front office than ever. As “loaded” as this draft class is said to be (which is said basically every year), there are a handful of guys that scare me.
Below are the prospects that scare me the most, my suggestions to the Memphis front office of who to be the most cautious about. For clarification, my definition of scary in this context is the fear of the pick being a bust, or at least less productive than other prospects in this year’s draft. The list is from most scary to least scary.
Michael Porter Jr., Missouri
Porter is a 6-10 “small” forward with handles and a jumper. At least that’s what YouTube and a small sample size (just two college games) shows us. Porter suffered a back injury in his season opener, which later required surgery. Back injuries can be scary, and often nagging. He has the size and length to compete in the NBA, but he is so raw right now. College basketball isn’t a perfect translation into the pros, but sitting out of basketball for four months with limited mobility creates a scary amount of rust.
I don’t doubt that at full strength and in his prime, Porter is legit NBA scorer. But after sitting out so long and having only played against his own Missouri teammates for the most part, his transition into the NBA could be very slow. His injury is a concern, but what scares me the most is how long he has been away from the real competition of fast-paced basketball. The NBA feeds off slower players, and the speed could make him bust-worthy quickly.
Luka Doncic, Real Madrid
Doncic is the biggest wild card in this year’s draft without question. Again, YouTube shows us that he is versatile small forward with a handle and decent shooting. I don’t deny what the highlight videos show, but we aren’t seeing the whole picture. He shoots only 30% from three-point land, a shorter three than in the NBA. He doesn’t have off-the-chart defensive stats, though his rebounding numbers are nice. My biggest scare for him is the speed, similar to Porter, except Doncic has been playing in the EuroLeague. The speed of the NBA often blows the European leagues away.
The beauty of the NBA is that it is a global league now, and I’m am one of the biggest fans of the globalization movement. European players have made a permanent stamp on the game, and Doncic will leave his mark as well. But there are more safe bets than Doncic in this draft, and his transition could be really slow. We don’t know a ton about his personality or willingness to be coached, we don’t know anything about his leadership. He will be a young kid thrown into American culture that he has never lived in. There are just too many questions surrounding him that lead me to believe he is a huge gamble.
Collin Sexton, Alabama
I hate that I am putting Sexton on this list, but there are some red flags that have to be addressed. The Grizzlies need a guard to finally be the definitive back-up to Mike Conley. This position has been vacant on the Grizzly roster for a couple years, and this year’s draft is slim on guards fill the void. Sexton is crazy athletic and was well-coached in college. He was decently durable in college, missing only two games all season. His scariness comes from behind the arc on the offensive end, and inside the arc on the defensive end.
There is no denying that the NBA has shifted into a shooter’s league, if you can’t hit the outside shot, this league may not be for you. Sexton shot 34% from behind the arc this season, which is not terrible, but he averaged 1.3 makes on 4 attempts a game. In this league, guards will need to take and make more threes than that. Also keep in mind that if he is a driver rather than shooter, Marc Gasol and whoever plays the PF position for the Grizzlies take up a ton of space. Driving lanes are narrow and rare for this team. Defensively, Sexton is small and often overmatched. He averaged less than one steal per game and will have to bulk up to compete in the NBA.
Marvin Bagley III, Duke
Now before you lose your mind in rage, let me explain. Bagley is on the scary radar because to me there are better options in the draft. Many big boards have him as the number one pick, many see him fall the two or three. Deandre Ayton, Mohamed Bamba, and Jaren Jackson Jr. are all better options in my eyes. Bagley is a scorer, he played against some of the best competition in college basketball this season, and was led by arguably the best college coach of all time. His offensive stats are off the charts and he will be a solid NBA player.
As great as all that sounds, in the NBA you have to be able to defend, especially in the PF or center position. Bagley is notorious for being a one-end player, ball dominant on the offensive end, and then average to below-average on the defensive end. As a 6-11 PF that played 33 minutes a game, he averaged less than one block per game. For context, Mo Bamba averaged 3.6 blocks in 30.2 minutes a game. For the Grizzlies, defense has always been the calling card, and a player that isn’t sold out on both ends won’t fit in the culture. Bagley is not a super scary pick within himself, but the thought of taking him over the better option is the reason he lands on this list.
Stats provided by sports-reference.com and ESPN.