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What Might Have Been: The 2009 NBA Draft

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Well this was a blunder...

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

Over the next week and a half, I’m going to look back at each draft for the Memphis Grizzlies since the infamous 2009 proceedings. I’ll discuss what their pick would’ve been — in a semi-satirical way — if he was selected by another team. In addition, I’ll do the same about players they passed on if they were picked by the Memphis Grizzlies instead. Then, I’ll wrap it up by making sense on the pick and if it was the right call at the time. With that, let’s start this “What Might Have Been” series with the 2009 draft.

The 2009 NBA draft will forever live in infamy for the Memphis Grizzlies. At the time, the core was set, as they had Mike Conley, OJ Mayo, Marc Gasol, and Rudy Gay all under 24 years of age. They also made 2 draft-night trades, flipping Darko Milicic for Quentin Richardson, then Richardson for Zach Randolph. Not to mention, they had a no-nonsense coach in Lionel Hollins ready to turn these cubs into monstrous, grown-up grizzly bears.

The right pick here and the actual one will forever be the difference in second-round exits and a championship parade on Beale Street. It sounds crazy to say, but given the talent at the top of this draft, dreams of a Larry O’Brien trophy in Memphis aren’t far-fetched.

Think about it.

(And it’ll be hard to, given the memories from the GNG era).

Replace Mike Conley with Steph Curry.

Or Tony Allen — and OJ Mayo — with James Harden… or even DeMar DeRozan.

Or add someone like Tyreke Evans to the bench as the 6th man.

A championship could’ve been in the fold. Instead, they went with the big 7’3” center whose motor and skill ultimately drove him out of the league quick.


The Pick: Hasheem Thabeet

What happened:

Well, we obviously know this: Hasheem Thabeet wasn’t good at basketball.

He was a shot-blocking machine in college, but it never translated to the NBA — probably because he couldn’t just sit in the lane and protect the basket like a hockey goalie. He had no definitive offensive skill either, so that made him a non-factor on both ends of the court. Ultimately, he had zero motor and lacked the drive to improve, and it cost him his whole career.

What Would’ve Happened if He Went to Another Team:

If Hasheem Thabeet would’ve been picked by another team, he would’ve been a revolutionary shot-blocking phenom. Take for instance, the Oklahoma City Thunder. He would’ve been the Mutombo-like rim-protector alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, and this trio would’ve won a plethora of titles and solidified the Thunder as the Western Conference’s premier team of the 2010’s.


The “What Would’ve Been”

  • Stephen Curry

What Happened:

Two-time — and the first unanimous — MVP Stephen Curry has revolutionized the game of basketball as we know it. After their first title, teams started preaching about spacing and taking more 3-pointer’s, just to keep up with the Warriors. Though his first few years were plagued with injuries, the Warriors stuck with Curry and watched him blossom into an all-time great. His shooting is otherworldly, but his playmaking and ball-handling are jaw-dropping — Iverson-esque, perhaps. When it’s all said and done, he may go down as a top-10 player of all time.

What Would’ve Happened if he Became a Grizzly:

Everything Steph Curry has done as a Warrior probably wouldn’t have been a thing with the Memphis Grizzlies. He would’ve started as a 6th man behind Conley and Mayo. If he became the clear cut better player than Conley in Memphis, what kind of package would they receive for Conley? Also, the Grizzlies offense was lethargic all decade, dragging opponents into the mud and forcing them into a half-court game. Would Curry have been fully unleashed in Memphis?

Lastly, if those same ankle problems were persistent with him in Memphis, the Grizzlies would’ve given up on him and watched him become the Steph Curry we know and (kinda) love elsewhere.

  • James Harden

What Happened:

After starting his career as a 6th man in Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, Harden became a bonafide superstar with the Houston Rockets. Despite a Finals ring to show for, the historical foul-generator and the perfectionist of the Texas 2-Step is probably a top-3 shooting guard this decade — behind Kobe and D-Wade.

What Would’ve Happened if He Became a Grizzly:

The Grizzlies would’ve had to choose between Harden and Mayo at some point. Harden would’ve become Mayo, and Mayo would’ve become Harden.

  • Tyreke Evans

What Happened:

Tyreke Evans was a phenom coming into the league, winning Rookie of the Year and joining an esteemed group of rookies that averaged a 20-5-5. However, injuries have taken a toll on him throughout his career. Though he had one brilliant season in Memphis, it’s all gone to waste, as his last season with Indiana was a disappointment, and he’s now banned from the league for 2 years.

What Would’ve Happened if He Became a Grizzly:

[See Tyreke Evans New Orleans Pelicans career]

  • Ricky Rubio

What Happened:

Rubio is a weird name to mention with his group. However, he was in strong consideration for this pick, but his camp didn’t want him in Memphis. The hype behind Rubio was absurd, as it was similar to Luka Doncic without the power of social media — imagine if social media was big at the time. He was highly-regarded for his high basketball IQ, wizardry with the basketball, his superb passing, and his defensive instincts.

All of those things have held true throughout his time in the NBA, but his lack of a jumper has hurt his trajectory, as he’s simply been a middle-of-the-road starting point guard his entire career.

What Would’ve Happened if He Became a Grizzly:

This is one of those picks that actually could’ve hurt the Grizzlies down the line. The hype behind Rubio probably would’ve driven Conley to either a backup role or to a different team. If that happened, the Grizzlies may not have made that push as a playoff team.


To be honest, when looking back at it, the whole Thabeet thing was super tricky. Yes, they could’ve had Curry or Harden, but no one pegged them to be these transcendent talents. In fact, everyone thought Memphis had one in Mayo, who was at the same position as Harden. I’m a big fan of “talent over fit,” but the positional overlap could’ve hurt the development of both the potential players at this pick and the guys that were on that Grizzlies team. In addition, it could’ve forced the Grizzlies to either pick the wrong players to keep, or to retrieve a bad trade package that’d be harshly ridiculed for a decade.

With Thabeet, the defensive upside was tantalizing alongside dynamic scorers like Rudy Gay and OJ Mayo. In terms of potential, Thabeet was a better prospect than Gasol. Nobody saw Gasol becoming — arguably — the best, most consistent center of the 2010’s.

The only valid case, in terms of correct hindsight and the Grizzlies’ situation at the time, would’ve been selecting Tyreke Evans. The ticket sales were down, and a former University of Memphis Tiger could’ve surely helped there. In addition, he had the size and versatility to start as a 6th man that could come in at the 1, 2, or 3.

This draft will forever live in infamy, and it’ll leave us wondering “what could’ve been” with our Memphis Grizzlies.

Follow @sbngrizzlies.