The NBA season, of course, remains suspended. But if the campaign were indeed still chugging along, the second round of the postseason would be well underway. The elite 8 of the National Basketball Association would be competing for a spot in their respective conference finals...and chances are, one way or another, the Memphis Grizzlies’ season would be over.
If you’re a New Orleans, Sacramento, Portland, or San Antonio fan? You’re likely still believing that your squad could’ve knocked Ja Morant and Memphis from their 8 seed perch and that the Grizzlies would not have made the postseason in the first place. On the other hand, if you hold steadfast to the idea that Memphis was destined for a first round date with LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the Los Angeles Lakers? It doesn’t make you any less of a fan to admit that while the experience was well worth it, L.A. at this stage is a superior team and probably would’ve eliminated the Grizzlies.
Either way, in any other year preparations for the 2020 NBA Draft would have been ramping up. With that in mind, even with the NBA (correctly) playing wait and see with the rest of this season, we at GBB will begin looking to the next - at least with regard to the NBA Draft. While Memphis will almost certainly not have a 1st round pick (barring missing the playoffs and a miracle lottery “win” in what many now consider the weakest NBA Draft at the top in some time or a trade - more on that later), the Grizzlies will have the 2nd round pick of the Phoenix Suns after the trade involving Josh Jackson and DeAnthony Melton.
As of this writing, the pick would be 40th overall, and it would also be the first test of this new front office in terms of digging for diamonds in the rough. With Ja Morant, they lucked in to the #2 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. With Brandon Clarke, Zach Kleiman and company saw an opportunity to trade up to select a free falling stud. They utilized the treasure trove of assets they had acquired from previous dealings to snag a player than some had as a top-5 player in that draft. With John Konchar, they targeted a specific undrafted free agent they valued and the moment the draft ended offered him a two-way contract.
What will they do with a 2nd round pick? Is there more to the story than just that selection?
Here are some things to watch for when it comes to the eventual 2020 NBA Draft and the Memphis Grizzlies.
Take the best player available
It is what the smart squads do on a year in, year out basis. Of course, the Memphis Grizzlies being one of those “smart” organizations is a relatively new development. Going in to a draft where Memphis truly doesn’t have any massive holes in the roster as-is, it will be that much easier to take the man on the top of the Grizzlies draft board if they stay at #40.
Are there weaknesses with the Grizzlies? Of course - they could really use a starting-caliber wing scorer that is at least comparable to Dillon Brooks to add some punch on the perimeter offensively. Even if you feel that Gorgui Dieng is a more than serviceable 4th big on a good roster (he spaces the floor and defends the rim well, so he is), his massive contract is expiring and may be better as a trade asset down the road than holding on to him until its conclusion. Currently there is no true third point guard on the roster - Kyle Anderson, DeAnthony Melton (a restricted free agent but he is almost certainly sticking around), and Justise Winslow all have the ability to facilitate offense, but that’s not the same as the true floor general type of guard that Morant and Tyus Jones are.
Rebuilds aren’t complete (usually) in a year. The Grizzlies have gotten close, but there is work to be done. Because of that, there is no “missing piece” that can put Memphis over the top - at least not without paying a tremendous price that the Grizzlies probably aren’t willing to pay this early in the process. With that comes the ability to be patient - building a champion in a small market like Memphis is a marathon through the draft and trades, not a free agency sprint like it may be for the Lakers or Nets.
If they stay at #40 and the top available player on their board is Jaden McDaniels, a young wing with elite size (almost 6’11”) that struggled mightily in his one year at Washington? Make the call. If it’s a smaller perimeter threat with Duke ties in Cassius Stanley, even with Brooks/Winslow/Anderson/Grayson Allen/probably DeAnthony Melton (and probably not Josh Jackson due to contract limitations, or Marko Guduric due to not being good at NBA basketball) already in place? Go get him.
Even if it is a big - or a hybird big like Brandon Clarke - in the form of Precious Achiuwa, a guy who some see as a lottery pick but due to perceived limitations offensively may fall (sound familiar?) - you take him, and sort the rest of it out later.
The Suns pick this year is an icing on the cake asset. Don’t overthink it. Do due diligence, build a board, trust the board. Selecting the best talent available should be the choice, regardless of pick.
What do the Grizzlies value?
We have a large enough sample size now with the Kleiman-led Grizzlies to develop an working idea of what they are looking for in terms of a Memphis roster member. It especially shines through in their draftees. Players acquired via trade provide a glimpse, but oftentimes salaries having to fit to make a trade work are the priority. For example, it’s easy to see Josh Jackson as a big win at the moment, but never forget it was a calculated risk that allowed for money to work for the real stars of that trade - DeAnthony Melton and 2nd round picks. That it appears to have worked out to this point is a bonus.
In the draft - or in John Konchar’s case in undrafted free agency and the G-League - the team gets to freely choose who they bring to the organization. Through their first three acquisitions in this manner - Konchar, Ja Morant, and Brandon Clarke - there is evidence that the following things matter.
- Analytical data. Konchar was a star in a variety of analytical statistical categories coming out of college. Brandon Clarke had the 2nd highest PER in college basketball behind Zion Williamson. Ja Morant also shined in these numbers, especially when it came to passing and finishing around the rim. When thinking like the Grizzlies, you want players that stand out beyond the box score.
- Self made, self driven. All three of these players came to Memphis with chips on their shoulders. Morant was playing in side gyms of AAU tournaments four years ago. Clarke transferred to Gonzaga and was questioned for not playing against “traditional” competition his entire college career. Konchar went to Purdue Fort Wayne - he was a Mastodon. Safe to say, he wasn’t highly regarded. All of these men have had success that was undeniably earned, and not given. That pays dividends when building a team with a certain kind of toughness and character. To get to where they are, considering where they’ve been, takes real grit.
- Versatile and malleable. Morant is the bit of a stretch with this idea, given the fact he’s pretty clearly a point guard. But he can create for others in such a way that it improves everyone he plays with, so he is more malleable than he is versatile. Make no mistake, though, Clarke and Konchar fit the bill here. Clarke has near-elite defensive switchability already and can fit with almost any lineup because of his capacity to run and play in the pick and roll. Konchar is very good at the little things - rebounding as a wing, facilitating offense - and both he and Clarke do not have to have the ball in their hands to be impactful.
It may not result in selecting the sexiest name, especially when you don’t win the NBA Lottery. But it is one way to establish what exactly it means to be in the Memphis Grizzlies organization, and that’s extremely valuable.
Some names to keep an eye on
Considering the above criteria - and saving in-depth breakdowns for the weeks ahead - here are three players that make a lot of sense potentially.
- Payton Pritchard, Point Guard, Oregon. He will turn 23 years old as a rookie, is 6’2” with a 6’4” wingspan, and he may be as good right now as he ever will be physically. So why make him a name to watch? He’s an excellent three point shooter and offensively contributed to winning while at Oregon at a very high rate. You can do worse than a former Pac-12 Player of the Year as your third point guard. Besides, the last time Memphis took an Oregon Duck with such accolades it turned out OK (hi Dillon).
- Malachi Flynn, Point Guard, San Diego State. He is smaller than Pritchard (6’1”) but he is more of a complete player. He was better as a creator without committing as many turnovers and was still very good from beyond the arc. A consensus second-team All-American at a non-traditional school - sounds like an ideal fit.
- Xavier Tillman, Center, Michigan State. Another Spartan in Memphis? Given how well he creates for teammates as a passer around the key, his skill set offensively would allow for him to fit in with whatever lineup Taylor Jenkins deployed. With Dieng on the roster, Tillman wouldn’t need to be game ready right away. The sooner Tillman - or a Daniel Oturu, or another center - was prepared for NBA minutes, the more likely a Dieng trade could become down the road.
One final thing...the move up
Part of the flurry of trades that Memphis made in the summer of 2019 was all the different picks that the Grizzlies added, and the rights to flip picks and do other things in the draft. It’s unlikely Memphis ever makes 3 or 4 selections in a future draft - several of these assets will be used at some point to acquire a higher pick, or maybe even another player. Grayson Allen’s injury and the realization that John Konchar may be NBA ready might make Allen available. Grayson and #40 overall may get the Grizzlies in to the end of the first round - now you’re talking guaranteed contracts, guaranteed money, and guaranteed four year cost controlled production.
That is just one example. The fact remains, Memphis has remarkable flexibility. It would probably be more surprising for the Grizzlies to pick at #40 at this point than it would be for them to make a deal either up, or back, depending on how draft night plays out.
We have no idea when the draft will occur. It’s possible the NBA season is finished, and the draft gets moved to late summer or the fall. Uncertainty is the new normal.
But when the draft does happen, the Memphis Grizzlies will be ready. And their next move, while it may not result in acquiring a franchise cornerstone, could very easily continue their rise toward contention faster than anyone anticipated.