What is most likely two days from now when the Memphis Grizzlies are on the clock in the 2018 NBA Draft? They take whoever is on top of their “best players available” board, and move on to preparations for #32.
But how would the “perfect” night look for Memphis? What would have to happen for the Grizzlies to look at their roster and say “yep, we did this the right way”? It would be a three step process, dependent on the direction of other squads, some timely trades...and a little bit of luck.
Step One: Draft Luka Doncic
Here’s how the “perfect” draft board would look for the Grizzlies-
If Bagley was on the board - say Sacramento took Jackson or Michael Porter Jr. and Atlanta took Jackson or Trae Young - that would not be ideal, because there would be a possible prospect to distract Chris Wallace and the Grizzlies front office. In this spot, there are no distractions. Michael Porter Jr. could be very good, but the healthy and gifted Doncic fits Memphis like a glove. He can create, he can score, he can take ball handling pressure off of Mike Conley and hurt teams in the pick and roll with Marc Gasol.
He can let Dillon Brooks take the tougher defensive assignment. He would work well with Chandler Parsons in pick and pops with the two reversing roles. Doncic would bring a versatility and skill set that no other prospect can offer immediately, as soon as they step on the floor in the NBA.
Between Doncic and Porter Jr., if both were healthy, there may be cause for debate. In the real world, however? The Grizzlies run to the podium and say “thank you” for making them that much better both now and in the future - Doncic is only 19, after all.
Step Two: Trade for Serge Ibaka
With all the moving and shaking going on in Toronto, naturally the bright lights of trade speculation go to players like Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The “superstars”. Memphis cannot get that level of player without parting with #4, even when dealing with a team in Toronto that may be ripe for a nuclear explosion of a roster tear down. Especially if Doncic is there (even if the Grizzlies do trade back, in no way should it occur until they are on the clock) that simply cannot be an option for a team insisting on competing now in the western conference.
Speaking of that competition...the Raptors do not have a pick in this draft, and the Grizzlies may be interested in helping them get back in to the picking.
So, the Memphis Grizzlies on their perfect “draft night” would offer the following deal to Toronto...and they would accept it.
Toronto receives: JaMychal Green, Ben McLemore, Jarell Martin, #32 overall
Memphis receives: Serge Ibaka
Toronto does this because they get off of almost $30 million in salary over the next two seasons. The Grizzlies take on a decent chunk of money (almost $6 million) thanks to trade exceptions they possess from the Troy Daniels (roughly $3.4 million) and James Ennis (roughly $1.7 million. This trade puts them at the point of not being able to use the full mid-level exception in free agency without entering the luxury tax.
But Memphis is already top heavy, and they get an upgrade in Ibaka as a very good big that fits nicely alongside Marc Gasol. Ibaka remains a very good defender and can convert the three point shot at a decent clip (36%). He had one of his better seasons in a while last year, and he makes a Mike Conley/Dillon Brooks/Luka Doncic/Ibaka/Gasol starting five pretty formidable...and one that essentially fully comes off the books at exactly the same time.
You can’t get a player as good as Ibaka with the MLE. It’s about getting as close to the luxury tax as possible without going over, and Memphis struggles in free agency anyway. This work well for the Grizzlies, especially if you accept/assume that Tyreke Evans is indeed gone for greener pastures.
Step Three: Get back in to the 2nd Round twice and get immediate help
The Grizzlies have worked out a ton of 2nd round prospects in recent weeks. They clearly see value in this part of the draft, and that would be especially true if this scenario plays out and Memphis goes “all in” with their starting lineup. A team like Philadelphia, who has the 38th and 39th pick in the 2nd round, could be willing to deal for future assets, and a phone call to the 76ers could result in the following-
Philly receives- MEM 2019 2nd round pick (31-40 protected, unprotected 2020), 2021 unprotected 2nd round pick
Memphis receives- #38 and #39 overall
After this kind of move back in to the draft? All sorts of options would be on the table in terms of immediate help. Jevon Carter of West Virginia, Jalen Brunson of Villanova, or Shake Milton of SMU could hold down the point guard position and allow for Andrew Harrison to play off the ball as a wing more. Kenrich Williams of TCU, Bruce Brown Jr. of Miami, or Kevin Hervey of UT Arlington would be solid fits as wings that could play multiple positions. Omari Spellman of Villanova, Moritz Wagner of Michigan, or Chimezie Metu of USC could be a JaMychal replacement on a roster suddenly lacking perhaps one more big man.
The thing about all nice of these players? They will be at least 21 years of age when the season begins. They have real potential to be contributors from the start, and in this particular case that would be very valuable. For the sake of this exercise, let’s go with Jevon Carter and Kenrich Williams.
The roster would look like this-
Point Guard- Mike Conley, Andrew Harrison, Jevon Carter (Kobi Simmons two-way)
Shooting Guard- Dillon Brooks, Wayne Selden Jr., MarShon Brooks (Myke Henry two-way)
Small Forward- Luka Doncic, Chandler Parsons, Kenrich Williams
Power Forward- Serge Ibaka, Ivan Rabb
Center- Marc Gasol, Deyonta Davis
That is 13 contracted players, plus two two-way players. Assuming you sign both 2nd round picks to what Dillon Brooks signed for (roughly $815,000), that would give the Grizzlies roughly $2.5 million below the luxury tax to sign undrafted free agents or a veteran minimum big man if you’re not sold on Deyonta Davis as the 2nd string center behind Marc Gasol.
You’ve spent the treasure of time scouting the later parts of this draft. Put that to work and bring in some older draft-eligible players that can potentially provide depth in the here and now while not busting your crunched budget.
The team assembled above likely doesn’t win 50+ games like controlling owner Robert Pera would like. Do they win 47-48 and make the playoffs? I believe so. With that being that stated goal of this team, maximizing the space the salary cap provides for the Grizzlies in combination with the rapidly closing Gasol/Conley window must be prioritized. Within these moves and selections, the “perfect” draft night could be achieved.
Now if only Memphis could be so lucky as to have the pieces fall in place for them.