After reluctantly revisiting the worst draft decisions in Grizzlies history, we can now take a more enjoyable expedition and relive some of the better draft day moments over the past two decades. Though the Grizzlies have had more struggles than successes, they have made some decent choices since coming to Memphis, especially in their first few years in the Mid-south.
Names such as Kendrick Perkins, Matt Barnes, Kyle Lowry, and Kevin Love were all original selections by the Grizzlies, but then traded away before they could provide on-court value (only Lowry actually played in Memphis, but struggled in his time here.) Fortunately, the Grizzlies have made other picks and draft night trades that helped shape the better moments in the history of their franchise.
When ranking the best moments in the history of the draft for the Grizzlies, many of these moments have occurred over the past few years. While that may seem disheartening, it actually is quite encouraging for a team with one of the best current young cores in the NBA. Now that the good vibes have been established, sit back and enjoy the Grizzlies best draft night decisions...
- In the 2001 Draft, the Grizzlies’ first ever official draft pick was Shane Battier. Not only was Battier a good talent and one of the best collegiate players in recent memory, he was a known commodity and marketable asset for a struggling franchise that had just relocated. While Battier never became a star, he helped Memphis gain respect and become a franchise that could win. He was eventually was traded for the rights to Rudy Gay, meaning that the Grizzlies’ first ever pick in Memphis resulted in a decade’s worth of starting small forwards.
- In the 2019 draft, the Grizzlies traded up to select Brandon Clarke with the 21st overall pick. Viewed as one of the biggest potential steals in the draft, all Clarke has done is become one of the most efficient rookies in NBA history and one of the best Memphis rookies ever. Clarke’s production and potential is a big reason why this current roster may have the highest potential of any roster in the history of the franchise.
5. 2006- Grizzlies trade for Rudy Gay
Originally, I had Shane Battier in this slot, for the reasons mentioned above and the fact that he eventually was the asset that allowed the Grizzlies to acquire Gay. However, Gay simply was a better player than Battier during their times in Memphis. He also helped Memphis transition from trading away a franchise cornerstone in Pau Gasol to eventually the most successful run in the history of the franchise.
Simply put, Gay remains one of the best offensive talents in franchise history. Since the Grizzlies arrived in Memphis, Gay is the only player with at least five seasons of averaging 18 or more points per game (min. 50 games played). Though other players have displayed higher ceilings and better overall talent for the Grizzlies, Gay is easily one of the best offensive performers this franchise has seen.
4. 2018- Grizzlies Draft Jaren Jackson Jr.
When the Grizzlies landed the fourth pick in 2018, there was a bit of disappointment. As the Grizzlies went through the draft process and Luka Doncic looked unlikely to be available and rumors about prospects wanting to avoid Memphis began to surface, many fans became anxious. Once draft night arrived, and it was announced Jaren Jackson Jr. was the pick, the immediate reaction seemed less positive than it should be. Fortunately, the Grizzlies, decision to take the best talent available and make it work proved to be quite beneficial.
Now two years into his career, Jackson Jr. has flashed his enormous upside on both ends of the court on several occasions. His perimeter production and versatility on offense is more advanced than many anticipated. It already is clear Jackson Jr. is one of the best natural talents to ever play for the Grizzlies, and that he is a rare commodity in terms of the NBA overall. He is the only player in NBA history to have made at least 135 threes and produced at least 85 blocks in less than 55 games played in a season. This not only shows his All-Star level upside, but that he can be a true difference maker both offensively and defensively.
3. 2019- Grizzlies Draft Ja Morant
In 2019, the Grizzlies shocked the NBA world by landing the second overall pick in the draft. Yes, it was mainly due to dumb luck. However, for a franchise that had experienced two of the biggest draft blunders in NBA history with the second overall pick both twenty (Steve Francis) and ten years (Hasheem Thabeet) before, displaying common sense and taking the obvious option on the board was no small feat. The fact that Morant has exceeded expectations and has displayed potential no other player in the history of the franchise has shown also helps.
Morant is likely on his way to becoming the second Rookie of the Year in franchise history, and his 17.6 PPG, 6.9 APG, 49,2 FG% and 56.8 TS% production line is a standard only one other player this year - and only one other rookie in NBA history - have matched. Those players’ names are LeBron James and Magic Johnson. Morant’s place on this list is simply due to him still being a rookie. Though it will take time, there are very good indications that Morant will eventually reach the top of this list. As a result, Morant could eventually be the legitimate superstar Grizzlies, fans have yearned for over the years, and the best draft night decision in franchise history.
2. 2007- Grizzlies Draft Mike Conley
Just like they did in 2019, when it was time to make the fourth pick in 2007, the Grizzlies did not overthink their position and simply went with common sense by drafting Mike Conley. Though they had just taken Kyle Lowry in 2006, Conley was clearly the best talent available. In time, Conley would prove to be the one instance in which the Grizzlies greatly benefited from being patient.
During his early years in Memphis, Conley not only struggled but dealt with plenty of speculation. However, he remained true to his craft and developed into an above average point guard in the NBA/one of the best talents in franchise history. The only member of the Core 4 actually drafted by Memphis, Conley currently holds the franchise records for games played, points, three pointers, assists, and steals. He guided the Grizzlies through their best run in franchise history, and represented Memphis better than anyone could have expected. Though he was eventually traded this past summer, he arguably has been the most important talent in franchise history.
1. 2001- Grizzlies Trade for Pau Gasol
During the the Grizzlies’ first six seasons as a franchise in Vancouver, Shareef Abdur-Rahim was by far the best talent in franchise history up to that point. Unfortunately, he never made his way to Memphis, as he was traded on the night of the 2001 draft. In return, the Grizzlies acquired a player who would take Abdur-Rahim’s title as best player in franchise history: Pau Gasol.
During his seven years in Memphis, Gasol turned the Grizzlies into a winner. He is the only Rookie of the Year in franchise history, and became the first Grizzlies player to be named an All-Star. His 2005-2006 campaign remains the best in Grizzlies history, as he produced the highest single-season PER, Win Shares, Blocks Per Game, and VORP marks. He remains the most valuable Grizzles’ player ever based on PER and win shares per 48 minutes. Though other players provided more overall value due to longer stays in Memphis, no one has displayed as high of a ceiling for the Grizzlies than Pau Gasol. He is likely to one day become the first Hall of Fame player to have spent a significant portion of his career in a Grizzlies uniform.
As can be seen, the Grizzlies have actually had some solid success on draft nights during their history. The acquisitions of Gasol and Conley prove that when the Grizzlies do get it right on draft night, they can find franchise cornerstones that can take the franchise to new heights. The fact that Memphis has now landed elite talents in Morant and Jackson Jr. in back to back years is the reason many have such high hopes for them into the future. Hopefully, over the next several years, both Morant and Jackson Jr. will take their places at the top of this list and take the Grizzlies to unprecedented levels of success.