Without a doubt, the Memphis Grizzlies are easy to identify as one of the more intriguing young teams in the NBA. Furthermore, it’s easy to notice why they have become so good so quickly: their own ability to identify talent. Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr., Dillon Brooks, Brandon Clarke, Desmond Clarke, John Konchar, and Xavier Tillman have all been added via the draft over the past four years. De’Anthony Melton, Grayson Allen, and Tyus Jones have been added via trade and free agency. Though each of these players obviously fill different roles and offer different levels of significance, the fact that the Grizzlies have built the roster they have through young talents that have instantly produced is a wonderful development for a team rebuilding in a small market.
A big reason for the immediate impact several of these players have made is the fact that, despite Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. being the stars and cornerstones of the future, they play a highly effective brand of basketball. Whether it comes through outstanding shot selection, significant contributions outside of scoring, or making an impact defensively, many of these players add significant value in multiple ways on the court. Specifically, Melton, Konchar and Clarke did it during the 2019-2020 season. With the same preferences in mind, the Grizzlies added Desmond Bane, Xavier Tillman, and Killian Tillie in the 2020 draft. Bane and Tillman thrived as significant rotation pieces for much of the season, while Tillie showed promise in limited minutes. The end result of the past two years of acquisitions and drafts is a highly valuable supporting cast to support Morant and Jackson Jr.
The Grizzlies have the chance to once again strike gold with the 17th and 51st picks in a loaded 2021 NBA Draft class. Though there is a good chance Memphis will once again be aggressive in pursuing the targets they value, applying past draft and trade preferences to this draft class could help identify some likely names on the Grizzlies radar. Some may matchup with names that have reportedly interviewed and worked out already for the Grizzlies.
In this three part series, through applying the same criteria that identified Bane, Tillman, and Tillie as likely targets for the Grizzlies, let’s take a look at what names could be ideal for Memphis to prioritize.
The first area of preference the Grizzlies have really valued over the past year is shot selection. In the 2019-2020 season, Clarke had one of the most efficient scoring seasons by a rookie in NBA history. During the 2020-2021 season, Tillman and Bane finished first and second, respectively, in both eFG% and TS% among last year’s rookies who averaged 15 or more minutes in at least 50 games played. Furthermore, Bane also was one of the most accurate rookie three point shooters in NBA history.
Konchar and Clarke are two of 53 NCAA players since the 1992-1993 season who have produced an eFG% and TS% above 60% while attempting more than 900 career field goals. Corey Kispert and Sam Hauser are two names in the 2021 draft class that also reached this splendid statistical standard during their college careers. Though Tillman and Bane did not make the list, both players had TS% marks above 60% and eFG% marks above 58.5% during their college careers. While the majority of the players among this group did not have NBA careers, smart shot selection is certainly important for a team like the Grizzlies. With a roster that does not currently have a lot of individual shot creators, talents that have shown the ability to consistently take high percentage shots are critical.
The Grizzlies certainly have done well to find roster additions over the past two years that can find the right shots, especially in the lane. However, the key to adding Bane in last year’s draft was also to improve the team’s three-point production. Bane certainly did his part, but the Grizzlies remained in the bottom third of the league in terms of three-point shooting. Adding a good shooter from distance, especially in the form of the wing, would be ideal for the Grizzlies.
Both Hauser and Kispert fit that mold, as they both operates as wings on the court and certainly can accurately and intelligently shoot from distance. While other wings in this class may not have as much experience as these two, a few other potential draft targets stand out from this season. During the 2020-2021 NCAA season, only 10 players had a field goal percentage of 50% or better, true shooting percentage of 60% or better, and three-point percentage of 40% or better while making 50 or more threes. Along with Hauser and Kispert, Matthew Hurt, Davion Mitchell, Chris Duarte, and Trey Murphy III stand out as potential 2021 draftees. In particular, Duarte and Murphy III have been two of the names most frequently linked to Memphis in mock drafts. They both also fit the wing talent roster need the Grizzlies have as well.
However, while the Grizzlies certainly could benefit from more shooting, the biggest need for the Grizzlies is players who can create their own shot. According to Barttorvik.com, more than 90% of the three point attempts from each of Kispert, Hauser, and Murphy III were assisted/of the catch and shoot variety. For Duarte, just over 65% of his 144 attempts where catch and shoot, as he showed a better ability to create his own shot than the other three players. Of the players who made 40% or more of their three point attempts (min. 100), only Mitchell and Duarte had 15% or more of their threes unassisted among players likely to be drafted in 2021.
Names such as Kispert, Duarte, Murphy III, Hauser, and Hurt are logical targets for the Grizzlies due to their size and shot selection. While Mitchell may not be a wing, his potential as a two-way perimeter player certainly stands out. However, the key strength of the 2021 draft is the depth of upside it offers. Many of the best talents in this draft will likely not have the productive college track record the Grizzlies have shown a preference toward over the past few years. However, if the Grizzlies truly hope to find a significant shot creator to add to their roster, they make have to make potential the priority over production.
A few of the better natural shot-creators in this draft are guards James Bouknight and Tre Mann. While Bouknight may be a bit out of reach unless the Grizzlies trade up, Tre Mann could be an option at pick 17 or if Memphis trades back. Among freshman in the draft, Josh Christopher and Cam Thomas are highly-intriguing talents with significant potential as shot creators. However, each of these talents project more as combo or shooting guards than true wings. One freshman talent that is highly intriguing as a shot creator is Ziaire Williams. However, Williams was limited during his time at Stanford, and is likely one of the bigger boom or boost options projected to be picked in the top 20.
A few other intriguing freshman projected in the first round of the 2021 draft are Moses Moody and Josh Primo. Among the freshman who attempted at least 100 threes and shot 35% or better from three during the 2020-2021 NCAA season, Primo and Moody were two of the three freshman who are all but certain to be drafted. The third player is Cade Cunningham. Though Memphis certainly has maintained a preference for proven track records and production with its picks over the past few years, there are plenty of options for the Grizzlies to consider if they want to make a pure upside play. In terms of excellent shot selection in the form of a big, Turkish big Alperen Sengun showed a high level of good shot selection at a very young age this past season.
Many of the aforementioned names could make plenty of sense for Memphis. For the best mixture of both shot creation and shot selection, Durate, Mitchell, and Mann make a lot of sense for Memphis to prioritize. If the Grizzlies wanted to find significant shooting potential in a true wing presence, Kispert, Moody, Murphy, and Hauser certainly make sense. The key for Memphis is that while shooting and scoring are important, adding value elsewhere also is highly important. Though many of these options make sense with their potential in terms of shot selection and shot creation, the players that also make an impact outside of scoring and on both ends of the floor will likely narrow the pool of players that are truly in play for the Grizzlies’ selections.