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Five worst draft decisions in Grizzlies history

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Though the Grizzlies have made several questionable draft decisions, some stand out more than others.

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2008 NBA Draft Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images


In any other year, June brings high levels of anticipation and speculation that would be rampant among several fan bases around the NBA as the draft draws near. Unfortunately, that feeling will be delayed a bit in 2020. Yet, memories of past draft nights always come into full focus this time of year, and likely are of bigger significance this year than ever before.

For Grizzlies fans, draft season could reasonably be described as more forgettable than memorable when looking at their two decades worth of selections. Thankfully, feelings of tension and heartache have transformed into triumph and hope based off the 2018 and 2019 drafts. However, the fanbase has had plenty of reasons to dread rather than desire the arrival of draft night before that.

While there are unfortunately many examples to choose from, a few less than ideal outcomes seem more notorious than others. As a result, let’s enjoy this walk down memory lane (aka navigation through nightmares) as we recall the worst draft decisions in Grizzlies history.....


  • In 2016, Memphis selected Wade Baldwin with the 17th pick in the draft. Talent wise, Baldwin was viewed as very good value based on where he was picked. However, he never seemed to be a good fit in Memphis, and was waived after one year. It was another critical missed opportunity for the Grizzlies as they tried to extend the Grit and Grind Era.
  • In 2014, the Grizzlies drafted Jarnell Stokes in the second round over another heavily considered option: Nikola Jokic. Name wise, this could be considered the biggest miss in Grizzlies history, but the same could said of nearly every other NBA franchise. It is hard to put too much blame on Memphis for passing on a second round international stash that no team in the NBA felt would become a Top 10 player in the league. However, as John Hollinger pointed out, this was one of multiple examples where Memphis mistakenly chose talents based on how they “fit a brand” instead of potential and ceiling.


Memphis Grizzlies Introduce 2012 Draft Pick - Tony Wroten Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

A perimeter talent with upside seemed to be near the top of the Grizzlies wish list in the 2012 draft. As a result, Tony Wroten was a favorite mock pick for them due to his potential. However, Wroten’s specific skill set, and the fact that he was much more of a project than other proven talents still on the board, made it unlikely that he was the preferred pick for everyone in the organization.

However, the Grizzlies decided to move forward with him as the pick. As many in Memphis felt could happen, he quickly fell out of favor with Lionel Hollins, and was traded after one season. Furthermore, this exposed a growing disconnect between the Grizzlies front office and coaching staff, a narrative that seems to be quite consistent among these draft night debacles.


Memphis Grizzlies NBA Draft Press Conference Photo by Mike Brown/NBAE via Getty Images

Rinse. Wash. Repeat.

The Grizzlies primary need in 2014 mirrored their main need in 2012. They needed a perimeter scorer, and preferably one that could shoot decently from the outside. Fortunately, there were clearer options to fill that need at pick 22 this time around. The hope was that the Grizzlies would finally get one right.

Unfortunately, that was not to be the case. Though Jordan Adams did show good offensive ability and upside in college, there were clearly better options to fit the outside shooting need still on the board. Furthermore, there were concerns how Adams would age due to a lack of athleticism and body composition. Of course, these concerns quickly became a certified reality, as Adams would play just 32 games in his NBA career, and was out of the league by the age of 21.


Memphis Grizzlies 2010 Draft Press Conference Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Grizzlies had solidified their front count with the additions of Hasheem Thabeet, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol between 2008 and 2010. Now, it was time to once again focus on the perimeter, as questions about the futures of Rudy Gay (re-sign or not?) and Mike Conley (stagnant progression) began to arise.

The Grizzlies selected Xavier Henry and Greivis Vazquez, and — in terms of their potential, perceived draft value, and the Grizzlies’ needs — were logical choices at the 12th and 28th picks (they sold their 25th pick to Dallas). However, more sensible decisions could have clearly been made. The Grizzlies could have used their picks to trade up for better present and future roster fits in Paul George or Gordon Hayward, or they could have traded picks for future assets or an established NBA talent.

Both Vazquez and Henry would last only one season in Memphis, as both were traded to the New Orleans Hornets. Though both players would become eventual draft busts, the bigger issue was that the Grizzlies gained basically zero value from arguably their most valuable single-year assortment of picks in franchise history. Memphis completely squandered a clear opportunity to significantly improve a talented roster.


2008 NBA Draft Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

After trading Pau Gasol at the 2008, NBA Trade Deadline, the Grizzlies had parted ways with their best player and franchise cornerstone. As a result, they needed a big void filled in their front court, hopefully in the form of someone with start potential. These were the main reasons why the selection of Kevin Love made good sense, as he fit both needs well and was a good value at the fifth overall pick. However, his potential stardom was thought to be a few years down the road. Therefore, the Grizzlies decided to make a move designed to make a bigger splash in the present; that did this by trading Love and franchise favorite Mike Miller to the Timberwolves for Love’s crosstown collegiate rival, O.J Mayo.

At the time, this trade was viewed as a win for the Grizzlies, as Mayo arguably was the most highly-touted draft prospect Memphis had ever acquired up to that point. He was a known name for a team that desperately needed one. However, the Grizzlies pursuit of Mayo for non-basketball reasons proved to be disastrous in time.

Though Mayo would finish second in the 2008 Rookie of the Year race, he would never come close to replicating his rookie production again. Love would eventually become a perennial All-Star and MVP-Level talent. This was also the first instance of an unfortunate trend where Wallace pursued a move on draft night that was not aligned with his coaching staff’s preferences.

Furthermore, this move would influence an even bigger draft day disaster in 2009.


2009 NBA Draft Photo by David Dow/NBAE via Getty Images

Though the Grizzlies had yet another disappointing campaign during the 2008-2009 season, they had a few glimmers of hope: their recent draft night selections of Mayo, Conley, and Gay showed plenty of promise on the perimeter, and they also owned the second overall pick in a deep draft. Unfortunately, those positives actually may have played a part in this night becoming the biggest draft day disaster in Grizzlies history.

When the Grizzlies traded away Pau Gasol in February of 2008 and Love in June of 2008, their roster became very guard-heavy. As a result, they had a clear need for front court help in the 2009 draft, despite the best talents (outside of Blake Griffin) being perimeter producers. Once again, there was division as to what route the Grizzlies would go with their selection. However, this time it was between Thabeet and point guard Ricky Rubio. Meanwhile, talents such as James Harden, Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, and DeMar DeRozan were all available on the board.

Not only were the Grizzles once again following a flawed process by focusing on the name instead of the talent, both of their preferred options were questionable fits and skill sets for the Memphis roster. Nevertheless, the Grizzlies picked Thabeet with the hopes he would be their defensive anchor for the next decade. Unfortunately, like many of the other picks on this list, he would last less than two years in Memphis. He also would become one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history.

There you have it, the Grizzlies biggest draft night disasters in franchise history. Fortunately, the development of the Core Four significantly lowered the impact these decisions could have made on the franchise over the last decade. Furthermore, after a decade of draft night disasters, the past few years may result in a current roster that has the highest potential this franchise has ever had.

Only time will tell.

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