WHAT: The 2020 NBA Draft
WHEN: Wednesday, November 18th at 6 PM CT
WHERE: Virtual (Picks will be announced at ESPN’s headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut)
HOW TO WATCH: ESPN
CURRENT MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES SELECTIONS: One (#40 overall)
There are no large-scale draft parties this year for the NBA Draft...something that we here at GBB have enjoyed putting on in the past. COVID-19 has ravaged much of what we once deemed “normal”. The world that we all inhabited on the morning of March 11th, 2020 - the day the NBA shut down and the world seemed to stop spinning - is no more. But as we have learned more of the virus, and how to mitigate risk where possible, some semblance of what once was has returned. The leading example? Sports - and the NBA continues their high wire act through troubled times tonight with the 2020 NBA Draft.
After an extremely successful Orlando Bubble, Commissioner Adam Silver and the league enters a much more uncertain space. The 72-game season scheduled to begin December 22nd features a lot more travel than simply walking or bussing around the Disney complex in Florida, and cases of the virus are skyrocketing across the nation. With vaccines coming to the final stages of development and moving toward distribution, there is a growing light at the end of the tunnel. But it’s likely that won’t come fully in to view until the 2021-2022 NBA season starts a year from now.
So what to do? For the sake of the business of the league, as safely as possible, you press on.
When last we saw the Memphis Grizzlies, they were falling after a valiant effort to the Portland Trail Blazers in the first ever play-in game in NBA history. Ja Morant shined, the squad competed, but they were outmatched. Today, both Portland (Robert Covington) and Bubble darling Phoenix (Chris Paul) seem solidly in the playoff picture after major trades, and considering the likelihood that Oklahoma City and Houston fall out of the postseason picture soon that leaves roughly five teams fighting for play-in positioning as the league expands that process to the 7-10 seeds. The Grizzlies figure to be in that mix, returning a roster that is growing together literally and figuratively and hoping to add healthy Jaren Jackson Jr. and Justise Winslow back in to the fold in the weeks ahead.
That is true regardless of what Memphis does in the draft tonight. But even at a minimal level, the Grizzlies will be active because they currently hold the #40 pick in their possession. #40 isn’t the most consequential selection in the festivities tonight, and no matter who Memphis selects (if they stay at #40) it’s unlikely they crack what appears to be an already set rotation. But there have been some very good players that got their names called at this pick in recent years - just in the last decade talents like Josh Richardson, Will Barton, Glenn Robinson III, Jon Leuer and Lance Stephenson took their meager beginnings and carved out nice careers for themselves.
It’s not probable that the Grizzlies hit at #40. But it is possible.
Here’s what to watch for as we embark on what is sure to be a historically unique NBA Draft.
Standing pat, or making moves?
The Memphis Grizzlies brain trust, led by Zach Kleiman, has not been shy to make trades that they feel put the organization in a place to get closer to that “sustained success” they talk about. But as the franchise enters the next stage of their rebuild, the overachieving season the young Grizzlies just enjoyed clouds the vision of where this group will go next. Conventional wisdom suggests that you stay the course - consider Justise Winslow your addition to the team and draft at #40 the best player available according to your scouting department. Perhaps in a lean year in terms of gate/tickets sold, Memphis would even consider selling the pick for cash - something that’s been floated as an overall league-wide possibility - if there is no prospect worth their consideration.
And yet, the specter of possible ways to make the roster better right now looms large. The team has numerous assets outside of the young core they have established that could, in theory, bring in additional help for this team to compete more consistently now. Rumors have swirled about the availability of the likes of Buddy Hield and Miles Bridges - two wings that would both make the Grizzlies much better and dip in to future cap flexibility and draft asset security.
The most likely outcome is nothing changes - the Grizzlies select at #40 and move along toward their probable largest free agency decision, re-signing De’Anthony Melton. But when a team plays as well as Ja Morant’s young Memphis squad did at times, and you consider the fact that this franchise has enough picks, young talent, and a large expiring contract in Gorgui Dieng to help facilitate all sorts of trades? It certainly is enough to make you daydream of possibilities.
What is the greatest area of need?
The injury to Tyus Jones likely has left a scar on the collective psyche of Memphis Grizzlies fans. The Bubble was a failure in terms of record and making the playoffs, but context tells us that Memphis was down three rotation players...and shockingly missing Tyus Jones was perhaps almost as important as losing Jaren Jackson Jr. Tyus was that impactful as the leader of the second unit - a true facilitator and creator for others, without Jones there to pull the strings the offense seemed lost whenever Ja Morant was off the floor. Other factors played in to the stumble to the finish, but one thing was very clear - Melton and Kyle Anderson were not the answer to the “who replaces Tyus?” question.
Could that answer come in this draft at #40? It’s possible. Names like Payton Pritchard, Grant Riller, Tre Jones, Nico Mannion, and Cassius Winston have all been floated as potentially being available when the Grizzlies come on the clock. And all these options, for different reasons, would make sense. But remember, when you are clamoring for a third point guard or developmental wing player that can score, your roster is relatively set. Barring any major move, this pick will likely spend more time in Southaven with the G-League Hustle than they will with the Grizzlies. Because of that, if a player falls they really like they can trade up or simply stay at #40 and pick not for need, but for talent. That’s what the team needs at this stage - talent. And that should trump positional need, especially in an NBA world becoming less focused on the traditional 1-5 breakdown of roster spots.
One last note here - Tyrell Terry of Stanford told media recently that he had worked out for the Grizzlies. Terry is an elite offensive weapon from range, and makes a lot of sense for Memphis...but he likely won’t make it out of the first round. Something to watch for if Terry takes a Brandon Clarke-like fall through the first parts of the night.
The afterparty may be more consequential than the party
Last year, understandably lost in the glow of Memphis’ extremely successful night was the signing of a two-way player for the Grizzlies named John Konchar. And Konchar’s rookie campaign floating between the Hustle and the Grizzlies was largely without circumstance - it is quite possible that Konchar is in the G-League again this year and not with Memphis, or signed to get a camp tryout with an NBA team if he doesn’t return to the Grizzlies. But between his contract and Yuta Watanabe’s two-way deal also expiring, that means Kleiman and company could be in position to target two new prospects to develop with the NBA’s two-way contract.
This isn’t sexy to muse on- Ja and Brandon alley-oops are much more fun to fantasize about. But again, with the 14th pick of Memphis being sent to the Boston Celtics to honor the debt from the Jeff Green trade almost six years ago now, the team doesn’t have a ton of immediate options. Any trade up scenario, or trade back in to the draft process, involves losing some shred of future asset fluidity, no matter how small. That may wind up being worth it...but if opportunities don’t present themselves, Memphis will likely not reach and sacrifice all they’ve worked to achieve in terms of franchise long-term prospects.
Targeting the likes of Lamine Diane, Markus Howard, Yoeli Childs, Josh Hall, and others and getting them to sign on the two-way dotted line gets them in your system and allows for you to make determinations on long term value to the Grizzlies. In the absence of multiple selections, being active in the undrafted market makes sense - especially for the small market Memphis Grizzlies, who should always be using the tools at their disposal to find diamonds in the rough.
Three quick predictions
1. The Grizzlies will make a trade. They might trade up, as they did to get Brandon Clarke last year. They might trade out, selling the pick for cash. They may trade back in, to make sure a player they want in the organization doesn’t hit the open market. But if the Grizzlies pick at #40 and do nothing else that will be a shock.
2. Memphis will sign at least one two-way player after the draft. Any of the above names would do. If for some reason Mason Jones of Arkansas falls out of the draft, he should be the first call the Grizzlies make - he’s that good offensively, and they can let him grow his defense at his own pace.
3. The Grizzlies will not acquire a sure-fire rotational current NBA player during the draft. The team did its business bringing in Justise Winslow, and before any major additions or subtractions are done they surely want to see Winslow in action with the current roster. Gorgui Dieng, Kyle Anderson, and a couple of second round picks is likely not bringing back the most attractive of returns. Staying the course and living to try the trade waters another day, perhaps closer to the trade deadline, seems like the safest bet.
Enjoy the draft everyone! Catch up on all the great draft coverage GBBers provided over the last several months here, follow along with us on Twitter tonight, and stick with GBB in the weeks ahead as the 2020-2021 season approaches.