Sometimes, it’s nice to just take a big picture approach and look at the league as a whole. Welcome to “League-Wide Vibes!” This is a monthly column where I’ll write about some of the notable trends and storylines within the NBA, while ultimately tying it all back with how it relates to the Memphis Grizzlies. Enjoy.
Getting excited for this year’s draft is quite difficult. Highlight sensation LaMelo Ball, as well as 5-star prospect RJ Hampton, traveled all the way across the world to hoop in the NBL — and are now sitting out with injuries. Cole Anthony of UNC is out with a meniscus injury. Anthony Edwards isn’t on a very good team, so any exposure to him is hard to find. Memphis’ very own James Wiseman got hit with a NCAA suspension and decided to focus on the draft after that.
In addition to the top prospects facing little-to-no exposure, there hasn’t been any strong emergences like we’ve seen in years past — Trae Young, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, or Ja Morant, to name a few.
The little depth and the absence of intriguing storylines have made it difficult to be excited about this draft, and to accept the fact that conveying the pick will be fine.
Despite that, I do think there is some value in this draft for many of other teams in the league.
There are a few past playoff teams that are in the lottery due to unfortunate circumstances, mainly injury. Adding a young talent with a bit of upside could be a boost for any former perennial playoff teams. Injuries to the Splash Brothers, in addition to minor ones for D’Angelo Russell, derailed Golden State’s season. The Portland Trail Blazers lost Jusuf Nurkic and Zach Collins, their best 5 and 4. Blake Griffin, Luke Kennard, and Reggie Jackson have missed most of the season, which has hurt Detroit’s playoff chances immensely. Washington has almost always had a playoff-quality team with John Wall and Bradley Beal, but the former’s season-long injury has put too much pressure on his backcourt mate.
All of these teams were close to playoff locks at the beginning of the season, but injuries happen. However, they have a chance to add some lottery luck and add some cheap depth to — when healthy — playoff-caliber rosters. It’s not the deepest, or the most talented, draft, but there are some players out there that could, at a minimum, contribute at a role player level next season.
The ideal one everyone is dreaming of is James Wiseman to the Warriors. He fits perfectly as a rim-running, rolling big man that could make a killing off the playmaking of Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and D’Angelo Russell. Or, they could go for Edwards or Ball to be a spark-plug 6th man off the bench — though it’s more likely to see them trade the pick.
Portland will be in the latter half of the lottery, but they could still add a contributor off their bench — they have to be better than Mario Hezonja, right? Right now, they’re slotted at 13th, which has them in the range for Dayton’s Obi Toppin (Tankathon), Memphis’ Precious Achiuwa (ESPN), and RJ Hampton (CBS Sports). Any of those players would be huge for Portland. Who knows? Adding a big, skilled forward like Achiuwa or Toppin next to Damian, CJ McCollum, Nurkic, and Collins is nice on paper. A leap from Anfernee Simons, Gary Trent Jr., or Nassir Little makes things even better too.
Detroit needs some lottery luck, and the impact from this lottery won’t be as resounding, given the impending free agent status of Andre Drummond. However, if Drummond returns and Blake is 75% of his former self, they could bounce back to be a bubble playoff team. If not, Kennard, Sekou Doumbouya, and a top-10 pick is a decent start to a rebuild.
Though the world is pressuring them to trade Bradley Beal, the Wizards should run it back one more season with a lottery pick — unless a godfather offer hits. Beal, a 60% Wall, Rui Hachimura, and Thomas Bryant is OK, and Davis Bertrans should be a high priority for them as well. If they could snag a 3rd guard, someone like Cole Anthony or Tyrese Haliburton, they’d have John Wall insurance, and a lead guard when they decide to blow it up.
Granted, I could be wrong, and this draft could be as weak as everyone — including myself — thinks it is, but a former playoff team could benefit from picking in this lottery. They could find a complementary piece for a core these teams want to run it back with.
We’ve seen this before.
On a larger scale, we saw what it did for the San Antonio Spurs. After losing David Robinson for all except 6 games, they were rewarded with Tim Duncan, which ignited a dynasty.
In Memphis, they lost Mike Conley for a season, and a mini-tank led to Jaren Jackson Jr. Even though they didn’t make the playoffs right after, it allowed them to assess their situation and accept reality.
It was time to let go.
And these teams, except for the Warriors, could face similar fate.
If Portland fails to return to full 2018-19 form, could they look to move CJ and/or Dame? Detroit is screwed; no one is trading for Blake. If Washington still blows, will Beal finally want out?
Those are hard decisions to make, but the Memphis Grizzlies have shown that it’ll be okay. This strong rebuild is ahead of schedule, and they have one of the brightest futures in the league.
Any of these teams could follow suit.
Yes, this draft isn’t strong, but the implications behind it are huge. The next wave of lottery teams could start to take shape, and it could dictate the next iteration of star movement.
And, that is where the fun begins.