Did you miss part I? Get caught up here.
Welcome back! Some reminders -
- Note that these are draft picks, not players. Zach Randolph, Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol...none of these guys will appear on this list because they were not DRAFTED by the Grizzlies.
- I am starting with 2001, also known as the first year of the MEMPHIS Grizzlies. Sorry Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Antonio Daniels, Steve Francis...you’re not on this list either.
- Notice that this isn’t top-10 1st round picks. 2nd round picks are eligible for consideration.
- Hasheem Thabeet is not allowed anywhere near this grouping of players.
- Criteria considered while making these picks - games played overall, win shares per 48 minutes and Value Over Replacement Player according to basketball-reference.com, as well as other statistical categories and overall roles on their respective teams.
Here is the top ten so far -
10. Greivis Vasquez
9. Kendrick Perkins
8. Hakim Warrick
7. Drew Gooden
6. Matt Barnes
Now, to the main event, starting with a solid #5 -
5. DeMarre Carroll
There were other picks in that now infamous 2009 NBA Draft class for the Memphis Grizzlies. Who would’ve known that Carroll would wind up being the most successful member of that crew...and that it wouldn’t even be that close. Carroll has played in more than double the NBA games than his “classmates” Hasheem Thabeet (broke the rule) and Sam Young (another honorable mention on this list) combined. He has also carved out a nice niche for himself as a wing capable of defending both stretch fours and perimeter threats while being a decent career three-point marksman himself at 36.4%.
Unfortunately for Memphis, their 27th pick in that 2009 draft only really took off years after leaving the Grizzlies. Carroll was a part of that trade with Houston back in 2011 along with Hasheem Thabeet (dang it, broke my rule again) and a future pick for Shane Battier and Ish Smith that helped kick start that magical postseason at the beginning of “Grit and Grind”. He was released by Houston and viewed as a bust...until he wasn’t. His career was reborn with the Utah Jazz and especially the Atlanta Hawks, where he became a key starter on their very good teams of a few years ago, and he earned a pretty solid pay day in terms of a contract.
Speaking of Shane...
4. Shane Battier
Ah yes, Captain Memphis.
If that wasn’t his nickname when he was a member of the Grizzlies, it should have been.
The first pick ever of the Memphis Grizzlies at #6 overall in the 2001 NBA Draft had himself a heck of a basketball career. At a school like Duke, where there are countless great-to-legendary players, Battier stands out not because of his talent but because of his tenacity. Over the span of his 13-season NBA career, Battier logged an impressive 1,089 games including the postseason, a remarkable accomplishment considering Shane was a four-year player at Duke as well. Almost two decades of playing top-notch basketball takes remarkable durability and mental toughness...
Shane had that in spades.
He logged more minutes as a Memphis Grizzly than he did as a member of the Miami Heat or Houston Rockets. In his 444 games in Beale Street blue he carried himself as a leader and boasted a Memphis career net rating of +8, a very good number considering the eras of Grizzlies basketball that he took part in where Memphis made the playoffs but never won a playoff game, and then in his swan song in 2011 as a sixth man for the plucky Memphis team that upset the Spurs and pushed the Thunder to the brink.
Yes, he wasn’t the most talented. He was sure as hell one of the toughest, and smartest, Grizzlies of all time. That means a lot in Memphis.
3. Mike Conley
You shouldn’t be.
Mike Conley sure did defeat Kyle Lowry in terms of the long-term Grizzly point guard. Mike is also absolutely beloved in Memphis, as well he should be. The Conductor is easily the best long-term drafted player in Grizzlies history.
This list isn’t about long-term Grizzlies, though. We are ranking the best players, using advanced statistics, roles on team, and career accomplishments compared to draft position. Kyle Lowry, using all these criteria, has Mike beat.
More on Kyle in a moment. This is not meant to take away from what Mike, the #4 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, has accomplished. It also doesn’t mean that Memphis should have kept Lowry instead. No one knows if the roles had been reversed and Conley was sent away in favor of Lowry how much different the Grizzlies, Toronto Raptors, and both players would be. In the reality of here and now, Mike has put together a pretty remarkable career in Memphis. While all he has accolades wise to show for it is a 2012-2013 All-Defensive selection, folks who follow the NBA know Conley’s value. If you needed further proof of that, this past season is all you needed to see with regard to Conley’s role. The immediate future of the Grizzlies depends on him coming back healthy next season.
The career 37.7% three point shooter had the best season of his NBA tenure in 2016-2017. Most are hoping that guy is back come October.
2. Kyle Lowry
So why Lowry ahead of Conley? Considering he is a four-time NBA All-Star, as well as a member of the 2015-2016 All-NBA Team, his career accolades outnumber Conleys. Combine that with his superior advanced statistics (.156 win shares per 48 minutes compared to Mike’s .130, 36.4 Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) to Conley’s 22.5) and Lowry is, at worst, neck and neck with Mike in terms of the following and performances Conley has put on as a Grizzly...even when you take conference competition in to account.
What really puts Kyle ahead of Conley on this list is draft position. Lowry was the #24 pick in the 2006 NBA Draft, with the likes of Marcus Williams and Quincy Douby being taken ahead of him. An argument can be made that among those that have played at least 12 NBA seasons from that class - LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, J.J. Redick, Thabo Sefolosha, Rajon Rondo, Lowry, and Paul Millsap (a 2nd round pick in this draft) - that Lowry is at worst the third or fourth-best player, and perhaps at best the top player of that bunch.
The value at #24, Millsap aside, is what sets Lowry apart. Mike was expected to become what he is. Lowry...not so much. That gives him the full edge over Mike on this list.
Now, the time has finally come! #1...
1. Kevin Love
The 5th pick of the 2008 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies never played a minute in Memphis, as he was traded to Minnesota in a massive trade that sent out Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, Jason Collins, and Love for O.J. Mayo, Antoine Walker, Greg Buckner, and Marko Jaric. Mayo for Love was the main focus of the move, and while O.J., the 3rd overall pick in that draft, did have some pretty solid moments as a Grizzly clearly the Timberwolves won that deal.
Since Love left Memphis, first as a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves and now as a key cog in the Cleveland LeBrons...er, the Cavaliers, he has put together an arguably Hall of Fame career. Five times an All-Star, two times 2nd Team All-NBA, the 2010-2011 Most Improved Player award winner also has now added NBA Champion to his long list of accolades. Statistically Love was far more dominant in Minnesota than he is in Cleveland, but his role in Cleveland as LeBron James’ right hand man is nowhere near the same as being “the man” on a mediocre-at-best Minnesota squad.
Should the Grizzlies have kept Love? Maybe...but hindsight is 20/20. Mayo was viewed as a can’t-miss prospect by many at the time. If Love would have been a Grizzly, it almost certainly would have meant Zach Randolph never would have come to town. Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Tony Allen...the most beloved era in Grizzlies history may have never happened through the ripple effect of this one gigantic roster decision.
Regardless, he boasts a .181 win shares per 48 minutes, all the above accolades, the same career three-point shooting percentage as Lowry, and is in line to play in the NBA Finals yet again with LeBron. Love is #1 on this list.
Some final takeaways before you all yell at me in the comments -
- Of the eight players in our top ten that actually ever suited up for the Grizzlies, only two (!!!!) - Hakim Warrick and Mike Conley - played more than half their careers with Memphis (Battier played 42.8% of his regular season games with the Grizzlies), with Conley being the only one that has played with Memphis his entire career. Let that sink in...just two Grizzlies on this list, drafted by the Grizzlies, actually were Grizzlies a majority of their time in the NBA.
- Just as many players never played a second in Memphis (Perkins and Love), and it’s by happenstance that Barnes did 13 years after the Grizzlies drafted him.
- There are more non-lottery picks (six - Vasquez, Perkins, Warrick, Barnes, Carroll, Lowry) on this list than lottery ones (four - Gooden, Battier, Conley, Love).
- Only two (Love and Lowry) ever made an All-Star Game. They are the same only two to ever be named All-NBA.
- Six of the top ten (Battier, Lowry, Conley, Barnes, Love, Gooden) have played over 20,000 regular season minutes in their NBA careers. DeMarre Carroll, the only currently active player below that threshold, sits at 11,682. He seems unlikely to reach that mark considering he is 31 years old.
What does it all mean?
The Grizzlies aren’t good at drafting. That was already known, though, and it has been further proven by this list. DeMarre Carroll is in the top-5, MATT BARNES IS #6!!!
That ineptitude especially shines in the guys they dealt (Love, Lowry, Battier) and the guys that AREN’T on this list that could have been. If Memphis had drafted E’Twaun Moore or Isaiah Thomas instead of Josh Selby? They’d be on this list and not Vasquez. Or if the Grizzlies had taken Jae Crowder, or Draymond Green, or Khris Middleton, or Will Barton, instead of Tony Wroten in 2012? They would be on the list, not Kendrick Perkins.
There is a reason that Memphis is where it is in terms of assets. Their inability to take full advantage of the draft, and retain those talents they do hit on, has set this franchise on a path depending on calculated risk and in some cases sheer luck to be competitive.
History does not shine brightly of the Grizzlies with the lottery approaching...here is to hoping that things turn around for this franchise, starting Tuesday night in Chicago.