The Memphis Grizzlies are off to a fantastic start in their rebuild.
Initially, it looked like they would be in the lottery for quite some time, which would’ve instigated a civil war over James Wiseman on Memphis Twitter. However, they’ve been sitting 3.5 games ahead of the Portland Trailblazers and New Orleans Pelicans for the 8th and final playoff spot.
With the rate the rebuild’s gone, it’s generated a lot of questions for this franchise going forward. How quickly could Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant lead this team to becoming a contender? When should they replace Jonas Valanciunas with Brandon Clarke in the starting lineup? Do they push the chips on the assets they’ve accumulated to go chase Bradley Beal, Zach LaVine, or Devin Booker?
No one saw all this coming this quickly. However, I don’t see them going away from their initial plan of going through a long-term rebuild that provides sustainable success. Any wrong move could set this team back and prevent them from reaching their full potential.
A lot of teams have been like the Grizzlies, proving doubters wrong and going through an accelerated rebuild process. Which teams could the Grizzlies learn from going forward?What are some positive takeaways from other teams?
Long before they landed Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, the Brooklyn Nets had to dig out of the mistake from trading a boatload of assets — that turned into Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum — for an aging Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry. When doing so, Sean Marks flipped the players that didn’t fit their timelines, used cap space to take on unwanted contracts with a draft compensation attached to them, and took fliers on players fighting for their careers.
And it paid huge dividends.
They traded away Thaddeus Young in exchange for Caris LeVert, one of the most underrated young players in the league. Because they took on Timofey Mozgov, they acquired D’Angelo Russell, who played a pivotal role in rejuvenating the Nets franchise. They also turned Bojan Bogdanovic into Jarrett Allen. Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris were bouncing from team-to-team on non-guaranteed deals, and they made Brooklyn a home.
The Memphis Grizzlies are in a similar situation.
They absorbed the Andre Iguodala contract to get a 1st round pick, and later turned Iggy in to Justise Winslow. The Suns didn’t want Josh Jackson, so the Grizzlies got what they wanted as a result: De’Anthony Melton and draft compensation.
It’s unclear how long they’re going to go this route, given the rate at which the team is improving. However, they could keep using cap space to take on unwanted contracts — an exercise that may occur given the uncertain salary cap implications. Regardless, as Jackson and Morant approach their eventual extensions, they must continue to take fliers on fringe NBA players, similar to the Nets with Dinwiddie and Harris.
Teams may look to Brooklyn and Memphis when it comes to rebuilding, as they extracted value in multiple avenues, while simultaneously building an outstanding culture.
The Denver Nuggets have done an excellent job at extracting value, regardless of draft position. The highest pick they’ve had since 2014 was Jamal Murray, who went 7th in the 2016 draft. A few others:
- Jusuf Nurkic (16th, 2014)
- Gary Harris (19th, 2014)
- Nikola Jokic (41st, 2014)
- Juan Hernangomez (15th, 2016)
- Malik Beasley (19th, 2016)
- Monte Morris (51st, 2017)
- Michael Porter Jr. (14th, 2018)
- Bol Bol (44th, 2019)
All of these players weren’t top-5 selections, but they all played, or have played, a vital role in the Nuggets’ recent success. In addition, they all could be valuable trade assets to land a co-star next to Jokic.
Through these value picks, they’ve accumulated cheap depth, and they’ve utilized the G-League as a redshirt season before handing them valuable minutes in year 2 — particular Monte Morris, Torrey Craig, and now Bol Bol. For the Grizzlies, this is a great model to follow, since Coach Jenkins goes 11-deep with his rotations. Will we see two-way players John Konchar and Yuta Watanabe play big roles for the Grizzlies going forward, after heavy G-League minutes?
For the Memphis Grizzlies, they’ve gotten lucky snagging Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant with top-5 picks. Now, the job is finding value regardless of draft position. They’ve done well so far with Brandon Clarke (21st in 2019) and Dillon Brooks (45th in 2017) is a solid holdover from the previous regime. They could rack up more draft-night steals as those picks in recent trades start to convey.
The Toronto Raptors built up equity through the draft and its farm system to become a powerhouse Eastern Conference playoff team. While they did accumulate a lot of talent this way, they didn’t move them to capitalize on value as quickly as possible. They waited for the time to strike.
They did an excellent job acquiring DeMar DeRozan, Jonas Valanciunas, Pascal Siakam, OG Anunoby, and Fred VanVleet through the draft. These players have played pivotal roles in its playoff runs, and they nabbed second deals after their rookie deals.
However, once LeBron James went west, the Raptors took advantage on the opening and on its closing window to make the most of one final push. They dealt DeRozan, Jakob Poetl, and the 29th pick in the 2019 draft for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green — still a giant heist. As the top of the Eastern Conference became airtight, they then flipped Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright, CJ Miles, and a 2nd for Marc Gasol. And the rest is history.
For the Memphis Grizzlies, they’ll have the similar opportunity once LeBron retires and as Kawhi Leonard and Paul George age. It’s enticing to make the moves now for players like Bradley Beal, Buddy Hield, or Zach LaVine. However, there’s no rush to make such a move now, especially when nothing’s broken at the moment.
With this approach, the Grizzlies could ink team-friendly extensions to some of its young players, like they did with Dillon Brooks. They could allow the team to grow into a contender organically, or to make the right move at the perfect time.
The Memphis Grizzlies are in a great place, and they have the elements within their team to emulate the success of the Brooklyn Nets, Denver Nuggets, and Toronto Raptors.
Like the Nets, they have the culture that’ll attract players — both internally and externally. In addition, Taylor Jenkins and Kenny Atkinson have lots of elements of Mike Budenholzer’s system within theirs.
Like Denver, the Grizzlies have a big man with a unique skillet to build around with Jaren Jackson Jr. And with the role players in place, they could have lots of depth similar to Denver.
Like Toronto, they have the ingredients and assets to strike on an open window when the time’s right.
The rebuild has been a success, and if Zach Kleiman and company continue executing the quality moves we’ve seen over the past year, we could see the Grizzlies go to places we’ve never seen before.
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