“We have a type.”
In the aftermath of an unexpectedly active draft night for the Memphis Grizzlies, one of the final statements of executive Zachary Kleiman on NBA draft night gave the clearest sense of what the organizational philosophy is regarding prospects. Whether it’s Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane or Xavier Tillman, they clearly desire talented, experienced athletes that have proven themselves as productive, two-way talents in winning environments.
And the rest of the NBA is foolish if they don’t abide by that same philosophy.
While there were many talented players taken before him, it was the height of absurdity when Brandon Clarke fell to the Grizzlies at 21 in the 2019 NBA draft. The fact that he was 23 and “he has short arms!” were the only justifications that NBA executives had for why they shouldn’t draft one of the most productive college basketball players ever with a two-way skill-set perfect for the modern NBA in the lottery. And it was a surprise to literally no one (except maybe the teams that passed on him) when Clarke ended up being arguably the most efficient rookie in NBA history for an overachieving Grizzlies team.
Maybe NBA executives haven’t been paying close enough attention. Because their collective ‘ageism’ in the sense that most appear to prioritize younger, rawer prospects with greater perceived “upside” over accomplished, proven ones has clearly appeared to be faulty in recent years.
For example, let’s consider one of my favorite prospects from the 2019 NBA draft in Sekou Doumbouya, who was the 15th pick by the Detroit Pistons. I still have extremely high hopes for him and believe that he can be the street-beggar’s Giannis Antetokounmpo because of his alluring combination of size, length, and athleticism. There was hardly anyone higher on him than me coming into the draft, and he was relatively solid as a rookie.
With all of that being said, would I have ever remotely considered picking Sekou ahead of Brandon Clarke at 15? Absolutely not, even if I do understand why executives would. They have so much confidence in their player-development that they will be the ones to unlock that underachieving 6’10, 19-year-old athletic wonder. All someone like Jaden McDaniels, who often struggled in his lone year at Washington, had to do was enter his name into the draft, and his physical profile would ensure he would be a first round pick.
And that’s not to say that McDaniels will be bad. After all, I’m a sucker for players with archetypes that remind me of Kevin Durant. But should he have been picked ahead of Desmond Bane, a proven wing with a two-way skill-set perfect for the modern NBA? Of course not. But executives continue to fall in love with the idea of a younger, inferior player rather than appreciate the reality of an older, superior player.
Bane in particular provides every attribute and trait that you want in a modern NBA wing. He’s an undeniable sniper, as he shot 43% from three during his four years in college. He flashed a superb ability to score from all three levels while demonstrating impressive skills as a secondary playmaker. He’s a high-IQ defender whose solid 6’6”, 220 pound frame enables him to be an effective on-ball pest as well.
In my opinion, Bane could very well end up being more than just the plug-and-play role player for the Grizzlies that many envision him to be; there aren’t many mere role players that have relatively no weaknesses. Regardless, the point is that it’s ridiculous he fell to 30 in a draft that was short on star power, especially when just his age and wingspan were the primary reasons why (maybe executives should stop putting so much stock into the length of a player’s arms?)
Talented, proven players like Desmond Bane and Xavier Tillman, who is one of the most complete big men in his class, should be more than just mere hidden gems. They shouldn’t be hidden in the first place.
Now to be fair, there have been plenty of four-year college stars whose games just never really translated to the NBA for whatever reason (see: Jimmer Fredette, one of the best college shooters ever, inexplicably being a below-average shooter in the NBA). No philosophy is ever perfect, and there will always be misses. There will also be young prospects who were rather ineffective in college that go on to become star-caliber talents in the NBA (i.e. Zach LaVine).
However, it’s time for NBA executives to realize that great basketball players will usually remain great basketball players, no matter how old they are or how shorts their arms are. And if they fail to recognize this reality, the Memphis Grizzlies will be more than satisfied to continue their ageless approach in finding the NBA draft’s not-so-hidden gems.