Welcome back to the 2019 GBB Community Mock NBA Draft!
Every year before the NBA Draft we here at Grizzly Bear Blues put on a mock draft of epic proportions. This isn’t your granddaddy’s mock draft - there are trades (lots of them - but more on that later) that have to be approved unanimously by our trade panel (former GBBer/current Patreon page owner Matt Hrdlicka, NBA Twitter hero Sagar Trika, and Peter Edmiston of Sports56 WHBQ in Memphis and The Athletic) - and also all thirty teams are represented by a collection of GBB contributors, GBB community members/readers/Twitter followers, and members of the Memphis media.
Here’s where we stand one pick in-
- New Orleans Pelicans: Zion Williamson, Forward, Duke University
As the mighty mock GM of the Memphis Grizzlies, I pondered what to do at #2 for a little while. It came down to a choice between two players I would argue are a tier below Zion, but are above just about everyone else in this draft class - Ja Morant of Murray State and RJ Barrett of Duke. Memphis has fallen hard for Morant, and Ja has a mix of flashy passing and explosive athleticism that would make him must-see TV for both Grizzlies fans and NBA fans alike. Yet he played a pretty light schedule at Murray State and is about as big of an “out of nowhere” prospect as you’ll find in this era of recruiting rankings and services. Could he really be THAT good?
Meanwhile, RJ Barrett has been seemingly destined for this moment for some time now. He’s one of the young faces of basketball for an entire country (Canada) and was the consensus #1 prospect in this class coming in to the 2018-2019 college basketball season. It isn’t like he was bad at Duke - he was as advertised as a scorer, especially. He was just outshined by the star that is Zion Williamson. Yet he was lost defensively at times, and in terms of fit alongside Grizzlies cornerstone Jaren Jackson Jr. it isn’t as clean/clear as it may be with Morant.
I also head in to this mock with the goal of trading Mike Conley (more on that later) and getting another young player and lottery pick to pair with whoever I took #2 overall and Jaren. If I went with Barrett at #2, and wanted to get #7 from the Bulls (more on that later), for example, Darius Garland and/or Coby White would almost surely be there.
So I had to decide - was the gap in potential between Morant and Garland/White that large?
In a word? Yes.
With the 2nd pick in the 2019 GBB Community Mock NBA Draft, the Memphis Grizzlies select Ja Morant, guard, Murray State University
Morant is too special to pass on...for a variety of reasons. Athletically he is superior to both Garland and White - he is just such a finisher at the rim and with his mentality being the way it is, that doesn’t figure to change as he enters the NBA. He also has a very Memphis story - which I talked about here - and should fit in extremely well in this market. His ability to create not just for himself but for others should make the Grizzlies better on the offensive end of the floor like Jaren has the potential to do the same defensively.
When push came to shove, it became more about the space between Morant and the other top point guard prospects than the space between Ja and RJ. Barrett will likely be an elite NBA scorer within the next three to five years, and while there are reports he wants to go to a big market like the Knicks I believe with a functional front office that prioritizes establishing a winning/successful culture he would have been fine with the Grizzlies. But Morant seems like the perfect fit in almost every way, and a worthy heir to what Mike Conley has meant to the point guard position in Memphis for a decade.
Speaking of Mike...while the two can certainly co-exist, the arrival of Morant probably both in reality and in this mock means Conley is not longed for this Grizzlies world. Where could our conductor wind up?
Stay tuned. The GBB Community Mock NBA Draft rolls on.