This article is a continuation of my “Potential Future Cornerstones” piece, where I explored possible free agent targets to build around.
Though the reward from last season’s tank-fest was the tantalizing Jaren Jackson Jr., watching endless demoralizing losses wasn’t fun by any means. For some franchises (Phoenix, Orlando, Sacramento), it’s an annual tradition, going through short-term pain in hopes for long-term sunshine.
Are the Memphis Grizzlies about to follow the same path?
To be honest, *knocks on wood*, the Grizzlies probably will eclipse their 22-win total from last year and increase that by, at least, 10. They’re just the team that’s barely good enough to make the playoffs, but not bad enough to be a bottom-five team.
In most seasons, that would be alright, because it’d put you in the territory to potentially add a Donovan Mitchell, Paul George or Devin Booker type prospect to a borderline playoff team. However, this upcoming year, they would need a little lottery luck to keep their draft pick, as it goes to Boston if it goes outside the top 8.
Other than that though, the Grizzlies are probably bound for one or two more lottery season over the course of Jackson’s rookie deal. Marc Gasol is only under contract for two more seasons — with a possible opt-out next summer — and it’s easy to believe he’ll bolt for a contender eventually. Mike Conley is only getting older, and there’s no apprentice lined up to replace him anytime soon.
It may not be a decade, or even half-decade, long playoff drought, but it could take maybe another trip or two to the lottery and a killer free agency these next few summers to be back among the Western Conference elite. How they go about their roster management the next 3-4 summers could propel them to take over once the Warriors’ reign of terror. (Note: It’s not as crazy as you think. Who’s actually up next in the West? Exactly.)
If the Grizzlies have to go through the draft, who could help usher in the next era of Memphis basketball? Are there any familiar faces?
Next Year’s Draft Class
It’s difficult to imagine the Grizzlies being a bottom-8 team next season, which is what they would likely need to keep their pick. With that being said, another missed playoff appearance could put the Grizzlies in a peculiar win-win situation. Falling outside of the bottom 8 in the standings puts two options on the table for Memphis:
- Lose the pick to Boston and be free from Danny Ainge’s wrath.
- Get a top-four pick in a top-heavy draft.
If the Grizzlies do land a top-four pick, the fans should be thrilled, as all the prospects in that range possess legitimate star power. Getting the opportunity to land any of Duke’s Big 3 or North Carolina’s Nassir Little would be a big win for this franchise’s future.
Everyone should know about Zion Williamson, the human-wrecking ball built like a NFL linebacker that also possesses Vince Carter’s athleticism. The big storyline for him this season would the legitimacy of his earth-shattering athleticism against D-1 competition and his jumper. With his elite physical tools, he can be a special player in Memphis, serving as a 4 next to JJJ and a potential small-ball 5. Not to mention, he’d give Memphis the national attention fans have been craving.
RJ Barrett would be another fascinating prospect for Memphis, as he’ll be the perimeter scorer they’ve needed for years. He’s a great playmaker from the guard position, reminding many people of James Harden. He too will have to prove to be a deadly outside shooter, but he’d give the Grizzlies a guy that can get buckets both for himself and others.
Cam Reddish and Nassir Little will probably be compared to each other quite often. Reddish is more known for his scoring chops from the 3-spot, which has proven to be a winning formula for most teams in the league. Little, on the other hand, fits the bill for modern-day wings: a versatile defender with a high motor with room to score. For Reddish, he has to prove to become more Tracy McGrady than Andrew Wiggins. Whereas, Little has to be more Jaylen Brown instead of Stanley Johnson. Either wing would be a welcoming addition to the Grizzlies’ frontcourt.
Falling out of the range for any of these 4 wouldn’t be the best-case scenario, unless they convey their pick to Boston — which would allow them to move towards the talent pool coming in 2020.
It’s honestly early to say who will be the top prospects by draft time in the 2020’s. If the Grizzlies are in the lottery range around this time, there are definitely some enticing prospects to keep an eye on.
Memphis high school product and University of Memphis target James Wiseman, the number one player in the class of 2019, will be a popular name in the area and would put butts in seats. The big man draws comparisons to guys like Kevin Garnett, and he would give the Grizzlies a scary two-headed monster with him and Jackson.
They would also need to look about finding Conley’s eventual replacement, which opens the window for Cole Anthony or Nico Mannion. If you really want to demoralize Grizz Nation, but also get great national coverage, they could target LaMelo Ball.
Ok, guys, semi-kidding.
Other than that, they could just capitalize on potential University of Memphis targets RJ Hamption or Jalen Green in 2021.
Again, it’s too early to tell, as names tend to rise and fall in draft time — reminder that University of Memphis had two top-20 prospects in Austin Nichols and Nick King, and neither player is in the league.
A lot of this is mere speculation, as the Grizzlies will more than likely not find themselves in the discussion for Duke’s elite prospects. In addition, it’s way too early to tell who’s going to be great in 2020 and beyond — and if the Grizzlies will even be in the bottom-five or lottery by then.
However, it doesn’t erase the fact that it’s vital for the Grizzlies’ long-term success to hit their draft picks from this point on. If you land in the top-ten, make the most of it and get a star. If you’re in the latter portion of the lottery, find yourself your Donovan Mitchell or Devin Booker. They make the playoffs and are outside the lottery? Awesome, go get a Kawhi Leonard, Giannis Antetokounmpo, or even a Kyle Kuzma.
That easy, right?
The Grizzlies have done a great job at getting Dillon Brooks and Jaren Jackson Jr., but these next few years are money time. The Western Conference is open for the taking, after the Warriors’ reign of terror.
Correct the mistakes of the past; use the draft and free agency to build a formidable contender in Memphis. We don’t want playoff appearances and early exits in the next era of Grizzlies basketball.
We want banners in the Grindhouse and parades on Beale Street.