The 2021 NBA Draft is roughly a month away, and the Memphis Grizzlies will be back in the first round mix to start. Last year the dreaded “Race to Convey” concluded and the Grizzlies finally shipped out the 1st they owed to the Boston Celtics after the Jeff Green trade several years ago so they began draft night without a 1st round selection. Of course the evening didn’t end that way - Desmond Bane became a member of the Memphis Grizzlies with the 30th pick of the draft, and between him and Xavier Tillman at #35 overall it was another successful night for Zach Kleiman and the Grizzlies front office. But entering this draft cycle Memphis sits at #17 overall in the proceedings, and with 14 players potentially under contract entering the 2021-2022 season it seems unlikely that the team will be inactive this time around.
Will they trade up? Trade back? What should be the priority? We tackle those questions and more in this edition of the Roundtable. I am joined this time around by GBB Associate Editor Brandon Abraham, GBB Senior Staff Writer Ben Hogan, and GBB Writer Lauren Harvey.
What type of player do you want the Grizzlies to prioritize at #17 in the NBA Draft?
GBB SITE MANAGER JOE MULLINAX (@JoeMullinax) - A good one? Sorry, couldn’t resist that smart-ass response to my own question. In all seriousness, the one glaring hole on the roster is a bigger wing. Kyle Anderson is more “power forward” than “small forward” at this stage of his career, and while Kyle can be a “point forward” he doesn’t have the speed and athleticism to consistently be a true guard or small forward at this stage. And of course Justise Winslow is a wild card at best at this stage of the process for Memphis, so it’s hard to count on him for a variety of reasons. There are several options that both can play those positions and be bigger and/or longer than De’Anthony Melton or Grayson Allen. Memphis needs that more than anything.
GBB ASSOCIATE EDITOR BRANDON ABRAHAM (@bcabraham) - I think the Grizzlies should prioritize a 3-point shooting wing in the draft. You can never have too much shooting in today’s NBA, and with Justise Winslow being a question mark at this point and Kyle Anderson entering the final year of his contract, the Grizzlies could find themselves small on the perimeter in a couple of seasons. Drafting a 3-point shooting wing with size could provide the team with some solid depth next season and in years to come.
GBB SENIOR WRITER BEN HOGAN (@NotTheGolfer) - I want the Grizzlies to prioritize a shooter at #17, but one that can at least play the ‘4.’ The way the league is going, you can never have enough shooters. But, the Grizzlies deepest position is the wing, and I don’t want them to bring in another guy that could potentially take minutes away from Bane and Melton next season.
GBB WRITER LAUREN HARVEY (@DragicKingdom) - The Grizzlies need to prioritize a player that can shoot with consistency, is switchable on defense and is a high character guy. So basically, what every NBA franchise currently values. Consistent shooting is key. The Grizzlies guards can hit shots in theory but tend to go through cold stretches other than Desmond Bane. One more reliable shooter might be enough to ensure the Grizzlies are in the hunt for a top 4 playoff seed in the West.
Are you more open to Memphis moving up in the draft or trading back?
MULLINAX - Both? I do not see the value in just sitting at #17 in this particular draft (as long as the market allows it) because of the needs of the Grizzlies as well as the reality of the roster. They are pretty set even before free agency begins in terms of who will be on the team. Justise Winslow is the only significant question free agency wise (sorry Jontay Porter) and if there are no major deals the squad is essentially set. With that in mind, Memphis needs to either get up to ensure they get a guy they love (Scottie Barnes, Franz Wagner, James Bouknight, Corey Kispert) or they need to trade back, swing at upside, and let a player develop with the Memphis Hustle while replenishing some of the picks they lost in the Bane/Tillman acquisitions. Either move in to the Lottery to get a contributor, or get back to the late 1st and snag a couple future 2nds. Don’t stick at #17 if you can help it.
ABRAHAM - A lot depends on who the Grizzlies target in any potential trade up or down in the draft but I’m probably more open to moving back. The Grizzlies could move back and pick up an additional asset or two for a larger trade to come by the end of next offseason.
HOGAN - I’m more open to the Grizzlies moving up in the draft. If things work out like they should, the Grizzlies should not be drafting in the lottery for the next decade or so. If they have the opportunity to move up into the lottery in such a deep draft, I think they have to do it. Doing that could also speed up the timeline for the Grizzlies to become a true contender.
HARVEY - Either would make sense for this team but I suppose I would be more in favor of moving up. The track record for this front office is strong enough that if they have a conviction about a player, I would trust that instinct to go up and get them. If the Grizzlies don’t fall in love with a player they believe is worth trading up for, and believe accumulating the most assets is the best path forward, I wouldn’t be shocked if they trade down.
Should the Grizzlies prioritize an established talent or take a swing at upside for the first time in a draft?
MULLINAX - History tells us the Grizzlies front office will prioritize a player that produced during his college career and played a decent amount. So that would indicate a Corey Kispert or Chris Duarte type coming to Memphis, not a Ziaire Williams or Sharife Cooper. But the second question in this roundtable directly impacts this one. If Memphis sits at #17 they might as well continue their process and take the best experienced prospect available.
But whether they move up or trade back they can go in either direction. Prospects like Scottie Barnes, Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer could be Lottery upside swings. They could trade back and select the likes of Ayo Dosunmu, Jared Butler, Aaron Henry for more immediate contributions. They can go in either direction in the opposite way as well...Davion Mitchell played a ton at Baylor and is likely a top-10 pick, while Josh Christopher could possibly be had late in the 1st as an upside play.
Which way should they go? They need to take the best prospect on their board. That’s a bit of a cop out, but it is true. Memphis needs to keep adding talent. Positions do not matter...but given the state of the roster experience means less now than it did this time last year. If Ziaire Williams is #1 on their board when they pick? Take him...and let him work on his game with the Memphis Hustle if needed.
ABRAHAM - With whoever the Grizzlies select likely to spend more time in Southaven than in Memphis next season, barring any major trades, I’d like to see the Grizzlies take a swing at upside in this draft. With so much draft success over the last few seasons, the Grizzlies can afford to take a risk in this draft. The Grizzlies depth gives them the luxury of being able to take a raw player with high upside and give him a redshirt season with the Hustle. It would obviously be great if the player hits, but it also wouldn’t be a major deal if it doesn’t work out either.
HOGAN - This is the draft where the Grizzlies should take a swing at upside. The front office of the Grizzlies has done a fantastic job over the past few years identifying guys that fit into their vision of what they want the Grizzlies to be. But, they have been solid role players — don’t get me wrong, they are important pieces for the future. But, if the Grizzlies can find that gem to be a #2 to Ja or a number #3 to Ja and Jaren, then the sky’s the limit.
HARVEY - Prioritizing an established talent would fit more in line with Kleiman’s philosophy. Still, there are several intriguing high upside prospects in the Grizzlies draft range. I’m all in on the Grizzlies selecting Ziaire Williams if he is available. He needs to improve his jump shot but he has the highest ceiling of any prospect in the range the Grizzlies will pick. The Grizzlies are a deep team but if they can draft a prospect that has the potential to be a ceiling raiser they should not hesitate on draft night.
Thank you to Lauren, Ben, and Brandon for joining me! Stick with GBB over the next several weeks as the 2021 NBA Draft approaches for the Memphis Grizzlies and the rest of the NBA!