The Memphis Grizzlies front office busted their humps to be as bad as they were at the end of the season to get to this point.
Less than two weeks away from the NBA Draft Lottery, Memphis has the 2nd best odds at the #1 overall pick at 19.9% and a 55.8% shot at a top-3 pick. In this massively important draft for the Grizzlies, this matters a good bit. The almost-consensus top-3 in this draft - Deandre Ayton, Luka Doncic, and Marvin Bagley III - are all capable of being franchise-shaping talents. While personal preference may lead to debates as to who Memphis SHOULD take if they are in these positions (our own Parker Fleming has done this here, as well as here, for example), any of those three players could be seen as a victory for Memphis and validation for the “tank”.
But what if the unthinkable occurs?
There is a 44.2% chance that the Grizzlies pick falls outside of the top-3, and this could create real issues for Memphis. Depending on how they view prospects with “question marks” (more on that in a moment), the clarity that would come with that 1st, 2nd, or 3rd pick overall would be replaced by uncertainty. Do they side with the “unicorn”? Do they dream of righting wrongs of the past and take the undersized guard who can shoot the cover off the ball? Do you go highest ceiling, injury concerns be damned?
This pick is massively important. This player will likely be on this roster at a time where conceivably Marc Gasol and Mike Conley will not be. This is the next leader of the franchise. 4th would be a nightmare...but it could still work out. It just makes things a little more messy.
Thanks to tankathon.com, as always, for the great resource they provide. Off to the mock!
1. PHOENIX SUNS - DEANDRE AYTON, Center, University of Arizona
Very active defensive sequence for Deandre Ayton. Nice recovery defending the pick n pop, and then stands his ground in the ISO. This game solidified Aytons position on my draft board. pic.twitter.com/CjpX0rV3fI— The NBA Draft Wire (@NBADraftWire) April 29, 2018
No surprise here. Ayton has the highest ceiling of any player in the draft. He could be David Robinson with a cosistent three-point shot, and played in college in the same state that the Suns call home. Phoenix pushed hard for the tank. They earned this opportunity if it comes their way. Athletic, talented, built for the modern NBA. Easy, home run selection.
2. DALLAS - LUKA DONCIC, Shooting Guard, Real Madrid
Dallas would LOVE to have Ayton fall to them, considering they have been trying to get in to the mix at center for years now. But since Phoenix does the right thing and took Ayton, The Mavericks must take the top player on their board, and that is probably Doncic (although Jaren Jackson Jr. may be in play here also). While the “hype machine” is real to an extent, Doncic’s offensive skill set is also very real. James Harden he almost certainly isn’t. Gordon Hayward with a touch of Ricky Rubio? That’s very possible. That’s a darn good NBA player. Dallas needs all of those they can get.
3. ATLANTA- MARVIN BAGLEY III, Power Forward, Duke University
Yeah yeah, he’s not the best defender. But he may be a more athletic Chris Bosh. Would you like a more athletic Chris Bosh on your team? Yes, yes you would. Bagley was the best player in arguably the best conference in college basketball as a freshman. He averaged a double-double and showed a game that can be played above the rim and also beyond the arc. That skill is rare, and while he may not be a perfect fit in Atlanta he is a more proven commodity against top competition than Jaren Jackson Jr. Bagley is the pick.
Here is where it gets tricky. There are lots of directions Memphis could go, but here goes nothing...
4. MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES - JAREN JACKSON JR., Power Forward, Michigan State University
This is why Jaren Jackson Jr is a top pick in the next NBA Draft... my goodness! pic.twitter.com/6sVKkpsPn8— Abdul Memon (@abdulamemon) January 13, 2018
I went back and forth on this, as would the Grizzlies, probably. Trae Young is tantalizing, as is Michael Porter Jr., who arguably has the highest ceiling in this draft outside of Ayton (when Kevin Durant is your ceiling, that’s a nice ceiling). But with the questions that come with Porter (health) and Young (poor end of the season, defensive woes), Jackson feels like the “safest” of these options. The safe feeling comes from the fact that in a somewhat limited role at Michigan State, he showed all the tools of a star modern NBA big. Rim protection, floor spacing, basic handles and ability to drive and finish at the rim...that “unicorn” thought process that comes with Joel Embiid, Kristaps Porzingis, Karl-Anthony Towns...Jackson could very well be that kind of player. Considering he won’t be 19 until September? Even more potential that after a few years, he will be ready to thrive.
He isn’t a perfect current fit, with multiple bigs currently on the Grizzlies roster. But he could very well, two or three years down the road, be that key rebuilding block. JJJ’s athleticism and all-around potential makes him the right choice...at least in this specific situation. Remember, this is not an ideal spot for Memphis to be in, but that doesn’t change the importance of this pick. This guy will be on the roster more than likely on opening night in 2021. Who else can you say that about with close to absolute certainty right now?
Porter and Young are big risks, with potentially big rewards. Jackson, while raw, seems to have talents that will more easily translate to the NBA while having the very important ability of availability in terms of health. Still some risk there, but less than the other two and similar amount of potential reward.
A QUICK NOTE OF RECKLESS TRADE SPECULATION -
If this nightmare scenario does indeed play out, I could see Memphis moving this pick and possibly acquiring a 2019 1st and a solid player in return, or maybe even take a larger swing for the fences. The #4 overall pick and Ben McLemore, for example, could get Memphis a skilled starting-caliber wing and more future first rounders. Something like Ben and #4 overall to Orlando for Jonathan Simmons, the unprotected 2019 1st round pick of Orlando, and a protected 2021 1st round pick from the Magic would add assets to Memphis down the road. This type of deal only works if Memphis doesn’t like any of the options above in the draft, of course. If Jackson, or even Young or Porter (hopefully not Bamba) are key potential pieces in their eyes moving forward, you don’t do this type of deal. You also don’t do a one-for-one pick trade - multiple picks need to come back to move off of #4...unless our 2019 pick from Boston is in play (spoiler alert - it isn’t).
As far as the home run swing, depending on packaging a possible Chandler Parsons and #4/maybe even #32 overall for Bradley Beal could potentially work. Beal will be 25 when the season starts, is coming off of an All-Star season, and is under contract through 2021. Some variation of that would fit with the Grizzlies desire to win now and still make use of the pick in terms of building for the future.
Not saying Washington says yes, or even that Memphis does. Not even saying Memphis should trade the pick - Jackson has real potential, and Young and Porter could have arguments made for them as well at this pick in this scenario. There is such value in having potential elite talent for nearly a decade without full-on concern they may leave in free agency. Misusing this opportunity would be a massive mistake that could set Memphis back for a long time...you’d better be sure that whoever is available at #4 is NOT the guy to build around in order to to make a move like this.
The point is, if/when the Grizzlies fall beyond #3, the likelihood of Memphis moving the pick grows exponentially. There are rumors that Bradley Beal or even John Wall could be out in D.C. after another disappointing playoff performance from the Wizards. Why not kick the tires and try to get a player to help maximize the end of the Gasol/Conley era the next two to three seasons? Beal would give you that - a proven commodity to get the most out of the here and now, and maybe even beyond Mike and Marc.
Number 4 overall is terrifyingly unpredictable. Let’s hope it does not happen.
5. ORLANDO MAGIC - TRAE YOUNG, Point Guard, Oklahoma University
6. CHICAGO BULLS - MICHAEL PORTER JR. Small Forward, University of Missouri
7. SACRAMENTO KINGS - WENDELL CARTER, Power Forward, Duke University
8. CLEVELAND CAVALIERS (via BROOKLYN) - COLLIN SEXTON, Point Guard, University of Alabama
9. NEW YORK KNICKS - MOHAMED BAMBA, Center, University of Texas
10. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS (via L.A. LAKERS) - MIKAL BRIDGES, Small Forward, Villanova University
11. CHARLOTTE HORNETS - MILES BRIDGES, Small Forward, Michigan State University
12. L.A. CLIPPERS (via DETROIT) - KEVIN KNOX, Small Forward, University of Kentucky
13. L.A. CLIPPERS - SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER, Point Guard, University of Kentucky
14. DENVER NUGGETS - ROBERT WILLIAMS, Power Forward, Texas A&M