At #21 overall.
Sure, Zion Williamson and Ja Morant may well be generational talents. Tyler Herro looks to be a perfect fit with the Miami Heat. But Brandon Clarke, literally the second-best player in college basketball not just that season, but in college basketball history according to PER (behind Zion), tumbled all the way down to #21, two picks before the Grizzlies were slotted to select after the Mike Conley trade had netted them #23 overall from the Jazz. Memphis decided they had to make a move, sending a future 2nd along with 23 to get #21 from the Oklahoma City Thunder, who seemed to believe the additional asset and Darius Bazley were greater than Brandon Clarke.
Boy, that was dumb.
Clarke’s season with Memphis was worthy of first team All-NBA Rookie consideration, making him a contender for being a finalist for the Rookie of the Year and and a dark horse Sixth Man of the Year award candidate. He was one of the top reserves in the entire league, impacting games on both ends as a versatile defender and an elite rim runner in transition. While he has areas of his game that need refining, and limiting factors that may mean he’s never able to be a starter in the league, he went from a free-falling “older” prospect to arguably the third “untouchable” member of the Grizzlies young core alongside Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
That was fun. Let’s do it again.
One of the very best things about what Memphis has done since Zach Kleiman and company have taken the reins of the franchise is the fact that their draft capital is so vast (several additional picks to their own clean slate of selections) they can take swings up the big board of drafts without having to part with any players they value on the roster. It’s unlikely the Grizzlies make three picks or more in any given draft - those assets exist so that they can be utilized in future dealings.
Given the uncertainty surrounding the proceedings on November 18th with the 2020 NBA Draft, it’s possible Kleiman and company could move up with relative ease if there is a player they fall in love with. After all, this team won’t be scared off by the non-traditional pre-draft process. They care most about games that were already played, not access to one on one workouts. The likelihood of a Clarke-esque tumble, or a simple desire to get more from the benefits of a first round pick (longer contracts, larger selection pool) seems high.
How, and why, can and should it get done?
A little balance to the roster
Trade framework: Memphis receives #17, Minnesota gets #40 and either a heavily protected 2023 1st from Memphis (lottery protected, becomes 2024 and 2025 2nds if not conveyed) or their choice of Kyle Anderson or Grayson Allen.
With Karl-Anthony Towns and D’Angelo Russell on their roster, chances are Minnesota isn’t keen on taking on two young pieces if an opportunity arises for them to add a more meaningful contributor in the here and now. Enter Grayson Allen or Kyle Anderson, two players who can help the Timberwolves immediately as they try to compete for a playoff spot in the loaded Western Conference. The T’Wolves adding #40 to their ledger gives them additional flexibility roster wise, and if they chose the future 1st route that’d be another asset in possible dealings down the road. Either option makes sense for Memphis given the draft picks they’ve earned via trades with Golden State and Utah, in one particular situation.
While Memphis could use a third true point guard, Ja and Tyus Jones are more than capable of eating most of those minutes (and Justise Winslow can also run the point in a pinch). Assuming De’Anthony Melton returns, even if Minnesota wants Grayson there are still plenty of options on the wing for the Grizzlies to develop. In the front court, the fact that Jaren, Brandon, and Jonas Valanciunas are manning the middle and everywhere around it should make Memphis quite happy...nevermind the fact Gorgui Dieng (and Kyle Anderson if he’s not moved, and maybe Jontay Porter) will also be possibilities if necessary.
Where could the Grizzlies benefit from an unlikely tumble down draft boards at #17? A bigger wing, like Anderson, but with more scoring ability. It’s a void that would be wonderful to fill long-term if the opportunity presents itself - more wonderful defensive switchability, more space for Morant to operate, and more young talent on rookie contracts to supplement the squad as it develops - and eventually pays - its stars.
Who fits the bill?
Patrick Williams, Florida State. At 6’8” with a 6’11” wingspan and only 19 years old, Williams projects as a developmental talent with a twinge of superstar potential. He can create off the dribble for himself and for others, and runs at the rim quite nicely. While he did not overly impress from three (32% for Florida State) is near 84% free throw percentage is evidence that while his jumper and ability to shoot from range could use improvement, it’s certainly possible he develops on that front. He’s a forward that can screen, cut, and hustle with the best of them in this class...especially considering his age.
Why is he a possible falling target? Because it’s debated what he is at the next level. He did not do well when switched on to guards and wings in college, and because of that some see him more as an undersized 4 than a true combo forward. If that’s his ceiling? He will be a bust at #17. But where some see athletic shortcomings, others see inexperience. He excelled in taking away possessions (1.6 steals per 36 minutes according to Tankathon), making his defensive potential perhaps worthy of investment.
His ability to score at his size would be a welcome addition...and outside of defensive acumen a potential combination of most of what Anderson and Allen do well in one big frame.
Saddiq Bey of Villanova could also make sense if Memphis were to make this move up the draft. He is much better than Williams from three (a staggering 45% from beyond the arc), and he is an upgrade defensively at this stage. But you’re taking Williams for his potential, whereas Bey is more prepared to contribute to winning basketball now. Bey is a full two years older than Williams, and not the ballhandler/creator off the dribble. Shot mechanics can be worked on, but the handle of Williams means he could make others better while Bey is more dependent on his shooting to come from others. He also is not able to cut and screen as effectively as the longer/thicker Williams.
Either option would make sense for the Grizzlies. Williams is the potential-based play. Bey can make Memphis better now. Both fill a need for a bigger true forward who could potentially play the stretch four position while bringing playmaking and shooting to the offensive end. If you can find a new Grizzlies “standard” version of Kyle Anderson - less defensive impact, but much more offensive versatility - you should take advantage of it.
The less costly road
Trade framework: Memphis receives #27, New York receives #40, 2022 2nd (via MEM), 2024 2nd (via TOR)
No current roster members move out in this trade. New York adds additional draft capital to any possible major moves they want to make for a star, while Memphis gets to the end of the first round and again looks to snag a larger wing who can make things happen offensively. Without parting with any players, the Grizzlies could be more able to swing for the fence on potential without sacrificing an Anderson or Allen who could make Memphis a playoff contender sooner.
Growing in to an NBA role, with perhaps even some time in Southaven developing in full game minutes with the Memphis Hustle G-League affiliate, is a wonderful advantage to have. And the Grizzlies have the ability to do it. But who makes the most sense around this range for that option?
Jaden McDaniels, Washington. Arguably a better ball handler than Williams with greater height and length, McDaniels entered his freshman year at Washington highly touted. He disappointed mightily - outside of showing flashes of rim protection and switchable moments on the perimeter and that handle, he really missed out on the opportunity to be a possible Lottery pick in this draft class. He is too weak to take advantage of smaller wings defending him or to finish at the rim with consistency. He is too foul prone to stay on the floor (3.3 fouls in 31 minutes per game). He can create for himself off the dribble, but when it comes to passing the ball he makes horrendous decisions (he averaged 3.2 turnovers per game to 2.1 assists).
So why depart with three second rounders for him? Because he’s young (20 years old) and has a frame that could fit nicely with the schemes of Memphis. His blend of ball-handling and spot-up shooting could make for moments of true offensive bliss, and his defensive potential oozes through his lateral quickness and ability to help off his man to protect the rim. Again, his struggles don’t need to be the focus if Memphis can keep the roster together - McDaniels could use this season as essentially a “redshirt” year as he grows his game. The physical attributes he brings to the game are what the investment is in...and if he hits? The possibilities are endless. It seems like a worthy, calculated risk betting on what he can be in the right system.
If the plan is to move off of Kyle Anderson? Robert Woodard II of Mississippi State would make a ton of sense at #27. In some ways he is the opposite of McDaniels - he doesn’t have his handle or defensive potential, but what he lacks in physical potential he makes up for with his ability to fit seamlessly within most team schemes as a shooter and defender. He has grown as a shooter, is an awesome team defender and rebounder as a combo forward, and while he isn’t great at dribble penetration he is a solid passer. He actually is a lot like Kyle Anderson in terms of impact to winning basketball plays. Having his range (43% from three) along with his length (7’1” wingspan) on a rookie contract would be a wonderful way to replace Kyle.
Memphis has a roster that is essentially set. But a bigger wing/forward that can float between the three and four while also shooting from beyond the arc and being an offensive threat would be a welcome addition. All four of these options - and others like Issac Okoro (although that’d be quite a tumble) - could very well be available later in the draft than expected. The Grizzlies have the ability to take advantage. If they want a project with a high ceiling, Patrick Williams and Jaden McDaniels make sense depending on what they’re willing to pay. If a more proven commodity is the preference for whatever reason, be it trading Kyle Anderson or something else, Saddiq Bey or Robert Woodard II could be wonderful fits with this young roster.
All four have very little in common combined...but they all share the fact that it’s a near certainty that they will not be available for Memphis at #40. If the Grizzlies want to fill this roster need in this draft (which they may not - they have the luxury of being patient) they’ll have to do what they did for Brandon Clarke and pay to slide up the NBA Draft. That worked out before, and if they target one of these four players for a reasonable price? The odds are high it will pay off once again.