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The Grizzlies and first-round picks: A love-hate relationship

The Memphis Grizzlies haven’t done well with first-round picks this decade, which has hurt this team’s success.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Portland Trail Blazers Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

This postseason, the NBA’s youth has shined on such a bright stage.

Despite injuries to Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, Boston’s young trio of Jayson Tatum, Terry Rozier, and Jaylen Brown have risen to the occasion to lead the Celtics to another Eastern Conference Finals appearance.

Though Boston ran away with the series, Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid helped the “Process” accelerate a bit more, when they overcame the “Heat Culture.”

Out West there’s Donovan Mitchell, who has led the charge in Utah’s surprising playoff run, showing such poise for a rookie guard and flashing the upside of a future superstar. In addition, Clint Capela’s emergence into an elite rim protector and a nightly double-double threat catapults the Rockets into the Cavaliers and Warriors’ stratosphere.

What do all these guys have in common?

  • They were all first-round picks.
  • They are still on their rookie deals.

Of the 16 playoff teams this season, 28 first-round picks are rotation players (criteria: averaging 10 or more minutes per game) and still on their rookie deals. Boston has the most with 4, as the Pelicans don’t have a single former first-round player on a rookie deal.

Of these 28 players, half of them were in the starting lineup in at least one playoff game this year.

The teams in the Eastern Conference semifinals have an average of 3 young first-round picks that play meaningful minutes right now.

Of all the teams in each conference semifinals, there are 3 squads with a player on rookie deals leading the team in scoring.

Needless to say, it’s important for playoff teams to acquire cheap depth, and first-round picks provide so much value in terms of production and money.

How does this pertain to the Memphis Grizzlies though? It has been a while, but...


At the time, these first round picks were on their rookie deals.

This season, the Memphis Grizzlies only had one first-round pick on a rookie deal (Jarell Martin). In addition, the last time the Grizzlies had multiple first-round rotation players on rookie deals was in the 2010-2011 season when they had four of them (Conley, OJ Mayo, Darrell Arthur, Greivis Vasquez).

Yes, the Grizzlies appear to have hit a home run on Dillon Brooks, which is awesome. However, there’s something different when you hit on a first-round pick in the slightest.

Because of the cap hold you receive with a first-round pick, it’s simply the easiest — and most of the time, cheapest — way to add depth. When you give up on two first-round picks before their contracts expire and trade one in a salary-cap dump (shoutout to Jason Levien), you’re missing out on potential contributors to your team.

Jarell Martin has been a fine player for this team, primarily this past season. However, imagine how this team could look if they held onto their 2014 and 2016 picks, or at least made a different selection.

What if the Grizzlies would’ve actually listened to their coach on the Jordan Adams pick? They would have Rodney Hood, a reliable scorer with great size and shooting abilities on the wing.

Yes, the Grizzlies made the Wade Baldwin IV pick, because he was the “best point guard available” — and they were worried about Mike Conley’s impending decision. However, they could’ve gone with a point guard with just as much — if not more — potential, Dejounte Murray.

Robert Pera certainly shouldn’t be thrilled with Jason Levien, as they were without a first-round selection in arguably one of the best draft classes in recent memory. In the process, they missed out on Kyle Kuzma, OG Anunoby, Josh Hart and Jarrett Allen — notable prospects in the latter portion of the first round.

Granted, these players wouldn’t have made a huge difference this season. However, you can’t help but riding through the Conley-Gasol duo with reliable, cheap, young contributors like Hood and Murray.


NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke vs Notre Dame Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Done with the criticism here.

The Memphis Grizzlies have a legitimate chance to turn things around with this top-five pick. Any player they use this selection on has a shot to follow the path of prospects like Ben Simmons, Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum as bonafide contributors and future stars on rock-solid playoff teams.

In addition, if the 2019 pick conveys to Boston next season, they can ride into 2020 looking to correct themselves from the mistakes made in the previous decade — no matter where they pick in the first-round.

You either need a transcendent superstar and/or cheap, talented depth to make it to, and advance in, the NBA’s big dance. With this draft pick, the Memphis Grizzlies have a way to add cheap depth around the Conley-Gasol duo, while also hoping he becomes a transcendent superstar.

Research found on basketball-reference.com.

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