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Learning from the Finals in Memphis

With a rebuild starting up, the Grizzlies could learn from the two Finals teams.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The NBA is a copycat league.

Ever since the Golden State Warriors became a dominant force, every team has tried to become Warriors-esque. Teams have gone smaller, looking for the next Draymond Green. The number of three-point attempts have historically risen over the past few years, even though the 29 other teams don’t possess a Steph Curry or Klay Thompson.

With the Toronto Raptors going all in this season, it’s forced many to believe that some smaller title pretenders should go all in to trade for Anthony Davis — like Toronto did with Kawhi Leonard.

Though it’s extremely difficult task to become the Golden State Warriors — an all-time great team — or even the Toronto Raptors, there are some valuable lessons to learn from both teams.

With the Memphis Grizzlies going away from “Grit ‘n’ Grind” and towards a new direction, they could use different elements from both teams to return to NBA prominence. They are already off to a great start with Jaren Jackson Jr. and the number 2 pick in the draft — presumably Ja Morant. How they attack the rebuild over the next few years will determine whether they become an annual lottery team (the Phoenix Suns or Sacramento Kings), a playoff team (Portland Trail Blazers), or a title contender.

What could the Grizzlies take away from both of these teams?

NBA: NBA Draft Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Nail the Draft Picks

Yes, the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors both possess core players that were acquired through trades or free agency. However, both teams made the most of its draft picks to either build a core or find players to support it.

Kevin Durant’s arrival hides the fact that the Warriors’ core came organically through the draft. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were picked in the mid-to-late lottery — so they didn’t absolutely suck, or tank, for these players. In addition, they found Draymond Green in the early second round.

Though he hasn’t blossomed into a superstar like the ones aforementioned, late first-round pick Kevon Looney has been a valuable role player this playoffs, serving as a great 5-man next to the Warriors’ star-studded quartet.

The majority of Toronto’s starting lineup have been acquired through trades, but its glue guy, Pascal Siakam, was found in the late first round. This season, he really blossomed as a great two-way sidekick next to Kawhi Leonard and as a unique playmaking 4.

Off the bench, the Raptors found OG Anunoby and Norman Powell in the late-first and second round, respectively. He’s been hurt this postseason, but Anunoby was a stellar two-way starter as a rookie on a 59-win team last year. Though he’s been inconsistent for the majority of his career, Powell has come up big in the NBA playoffs over these past few years.

Though they’re not on the team, the Raptors hit pretty well on Jonas Valanciunas, Jakob Poetl, and Delon Wright and used them as trade bait to go all-in this season.

The Memphis Grizzlies will have a great start with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant. It sounds cliché to say, but they need to hit well in rounding out a supporting cast around these 2 players in the next few drafts. They could have great opportunities to do so, if they trade Mike Conley for picks, or use cap space to acquire an asset attached to a bad contract.

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Maximize the Value of the G-League

The Toronto Raptors’ G-League affiliate, Raptors 905, has been one of the strongest development systems around. Delon Wright, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Norman Powell, Jakob Poeltl, and Bruno Caboclo have all played extensive minutes in the G-League, and it’s paid off. All of these players play pivotal roles either on the Raptors or elsewhere in the NBA.

With the Grizzlies’ G-League affiliate right down the I-55, they must use it as an asset in player development. They should be grooming its two-way players to potentially crack the rotation the following season. In addition, once they reach the stage of being a playoff team again, they should be feeding its seldom-used youngsters extra reps with the Hustle — like Toronto 905.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Utilize a Playmaking 4

The transcendent stars leading both teams have taken them to new heights, but the “power forward” position has unlocked this unique offensive versatility found on both teams.

Draymond Green has changed the game for tweeners across the league. Coming into the league as a 6’7” forward, it was hard to say whether he was going to be a career-long 3 or 4. After a David Lee injury, Steve Kerr slotted Green at the 4 and transformed him into the league’s biggest wrecking ball. His ability to switch on defense and to guard all 5 positions has set a new standard for bigs across the league. In addition, his playmaking out of the pick-and-roll and as an initiator of the offense has taken the Warriors’ offense to new heights, as it opens up more off-ball opportunities for the Splash Brothers.

Pascal Siakam was an unknown commodity coming in to the league, and he was the prototypical energy bench big for the first two years of his career. This season, he has become the frontrunner for the Most Improved Player award, as he’s taken his offense to a whole new level. Yes, his scoring numbers are up, but his secondary playmaking has been superb. Nurse has used him as an initiator on the offense, and his improvements off the dribble have opened up more scoring and assist opportunities for Siakam.

The Grizzlies have two players that could fill this role quiet well. Jaren Jackson Jr. played at the 4 a lot last year, and though most people consider him to be the embodiment of a modern-day 5, I like the idea of sticking him at the 4. His playmaking isn’t at the same level as Green or Siakam yet, but he flashed his skill when taking opponents — even Giannis Antetokounmpo — off the dribble. Whoever the next head coach is could start the offense with Jackson as the initiator, as it opens up his game off the dribble, and it could give Ja Morant more scoring looks too.

The Grizzlies should really look to do this with Kyle Anderson. He’s been an esteemed playmaker since his days at UCLA, and he’s flashed the potential to be a good secondary facilitator at the next level. Unless his shooting drastically improves, Anderson’s playmaking is his calling card offensively. It’d be wise for the Grizzlies to use him in a Siakam-like role, as it’d maximize his offensive skills. Though he doesn’t possess Siakam’s speed, Anderson’s size and vision make him a perfect secondary playmaker in the Grizzlies’ offense.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Washington Wizards Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

When the Time Comes, Get Experience in the Locker Room

When rebuilding, it’s easy to desire a boatload of young talent. If you acquire 15 guys under 25, SOME of them have to hit, right? It doesn’t work, and teams like the Phoenix Suns highlight that.

Prior to taking off, the Golden State Warriors were struggle to rekindle the playoff magic from the “We Believe” season. Young score-first guard Monta Ellis was stealing shots away from Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and the Warriors knew they needed something new to return to the playoffs. Boom, they flip Ellis for Andrew Bogut. He supplied them with veteran experience, rim protection, and hard screen-setting, and the Warriors returned to the playoffs. To take the next step, the Warriors acquired Andre Iguodala, who became a glue guy for the Warriors’ championship era.

When the time comes for the Grizzlies to take the next step — whether it’s rebuild-to-playoffs, or playoffs-to-contention — they’ll need someone who’s been there before. Time and time again, it’s proven to be a successful tactic. It worked with the Warriors, and we’ve seen it with the Grizzlies (Tony Allen and Zach Randolph), the 76ers (JJ Redick), and the Nuggets (Paul Millsap).

The Grizzlies will enter the season with two legitimate franchise cornerstones. There will probably be a rebuilding period to get these guys reps — and to find potential diamonds in the rough to surround them. When the time comes to take the next step, they’ll need a starter that’s a young veteran and knows what it takes to win big games.

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Houston Rockets Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Accumulate Assets

The Raptors’ approach this season has been simple: go all in.

As a result, they’ve acquired Kawhi Leonard and Marc Gasol, and it’s worked. They’re one step closer to a NBA championship.

How were they able to acquire these two stars though? They accumulated and developed their assets.

The primary outputs of the 2 trades were Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, C.J. Miles, DeMar DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and this year’s first-round pick. Though Miles was a free agency acquisition, and DeRozan was already an established star, the others were young players either on rookie or close-to-expiring deals. In addition, they were all developed to offer some value to their new teams.

Once the pick to Boston is conveyed, the Grizzlies will have a clean slate of debt and could start the process of accumulating assets. In addition, with the picks they make around Jackson and Morant, they must develop them to offer value either for Grizzlies or for other NBA franchises.

Down the road, the Grizzlies could maybe pull an “all-in” move to acquire a star alongside Jackson and Morant to bring a championship to Beale Street for the first time ever.

It’s a tall order to emulate the processes of the teams in the NBA Finals. However, the Memphis Grizzlies will have the starting points to follow either model. They will enter 2020 with two potential stars, oodles of cap space (if they don’t give any foolish deals this summer), and — hopefully — a clean slate of debt. The possibilities for this rebuild are endless, and the Warriors or Raptors models would be nice templates to follow.

Kevin Durant aside, The Golden State Warriors model resembles a proper way of building a rebuild. They built their core through the draft and surrounded them with young, starter-level veterans. It’s a process rebuilding teams should trust.

The Toronto Raptors developed their picks, and either used them to surround its core or to use as assets in a trade to land a game-changing talent.

With players like Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant, they could have two transcendent talents for the next decade. Therefore, this new front office will search for the right structure to build a championship contender around these two potential stars.

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