It’s extremely unlikely the Memphis Grizzlies find another cornerstone at the 40th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, but they could find another complementary player next to its star young duo of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. At this stage of the rebuild, it’s imperative to find players to surround their core at any possible avenue, especially the draft.
Luckily, this draft is full of potential good role players, and with COVID derailing the traditional draft process, there’s lots of parity across the boards. It could be a biggest mock-draft buster in history.
Regardless of whether or not big falls happen, I like the Memphis Grizzlies’ odds of finding a nice role player, even at the 40th pick. Partly because of the depth of this draft, but also because of the developmental system brewing in Memphis under Coach Taylor Jenkins and his staff.
Granted, at any pick the mindset needs to be “best player available,” but there needs to be an emphasis of how this player can fit alongside its core. That includes the bench they’d typically run with and fitting within this Grizzlies culture.
In relation to its core, the Grizzlies need to find the best prospect who could maximize Ja Morant’s dribble drive and Jaren Jackson Jr.’s spacing. They need to find a floor-spacer that gives Ja driving lanes and a target to kick out to when the defensive collapses. In addition, spacing for Jackson is vital, as he could have plenty of room to roam for perfect shot locations and to take opponents off the dribble.
Who from the 2020 draft class would be great fits next to the Grizzlies’ star-studded duo?
The Memphis Grizzlies are in need of shooters with size on the wing, as Dillon Brooks and Justise Winslow are the only ones close to fitting that archetype.
Jordan Nwora fits that mold, and he’d be a nice addition to the Grizzlies’ wing core. Over his 3 years at Louisville, he made 39.4% of his 452 3-point attempts, a mark that’s helped him emerge as one of the draft’s premier shooters.
As a Grizzly, he’d be a nice weapon for Ja Morant’s dribble attack, as he’s a prolific catch-and-shoot player. He generated 1.33 points per half-court catch-and-shoot jumpers and 1.20 points per spot-up possession — both falling in the 94th percentile. If translatable, Morant would have a big target from the wing that can drill 3’s off the catch, leaving ample amount of space for him to find shots in the paint.
The big thing with Nwora is his fit with Jaren Jackson Jr. GBB Staff Writer Jesse Cinquini chronicled the pairing of Nwora and Jackson in our draft profile series:
Memphis has a transcendent unicorn big on their roster in Jaren Jackson Jr., who has left Grizzlies fans wanting more in terms of his rebounding expertise (16th percentile among bigs in defensive rebounding percentage last year via Cleaning the Glass). As such, it is vital moving forward that the team makes up for Jackson Jr’s shortcomings in this area by commitee. Nwora could alleviate pressure off Jackson Jr. and the other bigs tasked to pull down misses with his interior presence.
Nwora averaged 7.7 rebounds last season with Louisville, and 7.6 in the season prior. The long-term goal should be to move Jackson to the 5. Though his fouling and rebounding are heavily critiqued in Grizz Twitter, the numbers show that the Grizzlies can obliterate people when their unicorn big runs the 5.
With a wing like Nwora, the Grizzlies could slide him down to the 4 without sacrificing size. At 6’8” and a 6’10” wingspan, he can guard both 3’s and 4’s — though how well will be his biggest NBA question mark. In addition, he’s another sharpshooter that gives Jackson the spacing necessary to roam for open 3’s and to take bigger opponents off the dribble from the perimeter. The most important thing is, he’s another strong rebounder who could mask Jackson’s biggest weakness.
Needless to say, if the Grizzlies end up with Jordan Nwora on draft night, you shouldn’t be disappointed.
Elijah Hughes is an island guy for me. He’s going to get knocked for his age, but he has first-round talent when you consider his shot creation, 3-point potential, and prototypical size and athleticism on the wing.
I love his fit next to Ja Morant. He’s a knock-down shooter on corner 3’s — shooting 47% and 36% from each corner. When Morant’s getting to his point of attack on the drive, he’s going to need shooters in the corners in case defenders collapse. Having players that excel in the most analytical perfect shot in basketball is vital for success in the modern NBA.
He also is a standout transition player, as he generated 1.25 points per transition possession [85th percentile]. So when Morant gets rolling in transition, he’s going to find targets, and Hughes fits as an ideal one. An athlete with Hughes’ athleticism, as well as one that can leak out to the 3-point line for a corner 3, is tantalizing.
With his size (6’6”, 215 pounds), he can slide down to the 3 in small-ball lineups where Jaren Jackson Jr. is featured in the 5. In these instances, Justise Winslow, Kyle Anderson, or Brandon Clarke can slot in at the 4, giving the Grizzlies a versatile lineup that can space the floor on offense and switch on defense. With his jumper and the threat of taking his opponent off the dribble, it should create some gravity for open looks for Jackson from the perimeter.
For a team that thrives in pace (6th last season, 103.31) and loves to operate with tons of spacing, Hughes is an ideal fit in this system.
The most popular one in the area is Isaiah Joe out of Arkansas.
And for good reason — he’s an elite shooter.
You’re probably looking at his 3-point percentage from last season (34.2%) and telling me I’m crazy. However, in his freshman year, he shot a blistering 41.4% from 3. More impressively, he made 113 3-pointers, which was tied for 4th among all freshman in college basketball history. Who was he tied with? Jamal Murray. Who are a few players that lie ahead of him? Stephen Curry and Trae Young.
That’s next level stuff.
So I tell you all that, and it’s easy to envision him drilling 3’s off dribble-drive dishes from Ja Morant. Where that duo could be even more dangerous is with Joe’s pull-up jumper. His off-dribble shooting caused his 3-point percentage to dip, as his role and shot difficulty increased in his sophomore season. Despite that, he’s been one of the country’s most elite pull-up shooters.
Isaiah Joe is more than an off-ball shooter. He's a legit pull-up shooter and space creator, having ranked in the 89th and 97th percentile off-the-dribble through 2 collegiate seasons.— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) June 4, 2020
Draft this man in the top 30. pic.twitter.com/6sGXvOs60g
If his pull-up dribble translates to the next level, the Grizzlies could use the threat of him rising and firing from 3 to create some lanes for Morant to attack off cuts. One of Taylor Jenkins’ goals should be to find ways to give Morant some scoring opportunities, as he’s one of the few Grizzly players that can score in bunches. Finding players that can take away from gravity off him could make the young point guard even more dangerous. With someone like Isaiah Joe, they’d have a player that can do just that, while also spraying 3’s off catch-and-shoot fires.
Will he be available at this spot? It’s hard to tell. A team with extra draft capital could select him with an early second, or he blows a team away in workouts and lands in the first round. If he falls to Memphis at 40 though, he’s a no-brainer pick. Isaiah Joe can make an impact on day 1, while eventually serving as a complementary player next to Morant and Jackson for the next great Grizzlies team.
The Grizzlies can find more talent that are not on the wing, but still fit around Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr.
They can target a guard like Payton Pritchard, Malachi Flynn, Cassius Winston or Grant Riller, but it’s so hard to gauge the value for those players, since a lot of them are garnering 1st-round interest. As Grizzlies though, they could use their playmaking to discombobulate defenses, generate driving looks for Morant, and spot up off dribble drives.
I’m not in favor of them drafting another big, but a passing big like Xavier Tillman, or a perimeter marksman like Killian Tillie would fit wonderfully alongside Jackson.
Though the odds of a second-round pick becoming a legit NBA player are historically low, it’s also a prime chance to hit a nice single or double on takebt. In addition, it accomplishes a goal that every team aims to achieve: cheap depth.
The Memphis Grizzlies won’t find another cornerstone here — and if they do, I need their front office to go with me to buy lottery tickets. However, if they can find another player that can even play his way into the rotation by year 2, that’s a resounding success and another hit for a new front office with very little misses.