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Memphis Grizzlies 2021 NBA Draft Primer: Preview and Predictions

Things are about to get weird.

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NCAA Basketball: Stanford at Arizona State Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

WHAT: The 2021 NBA Draft

WHERE: Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York

WHEN: 7:00 PM CT


The Skinny: The Memphis Grizzlies, after agreeing to trade Jonas Valanciunas, #17 and #51 in this draft to the New Orleans Pelicans for Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams, #10 and #40 in this draft, and a 2022 1st from the Lakers, have been connected to numerous prospects. From Franz Wagner to Josh Giddey, James Bouknight to Moses Moody, there have been rumors and speculation about what Memphis plans on doing. Will they trade again? Will they swing for upside? Will they play it safe?

After weeks of speculation and analysis, the 2021 NBA Draft is here. Grizzly Bear Blues has covered the proceedings from about every angle imaginable, from prospect profiles to the GBB Big Board. Check out all the wonderful work from the GBB Staff here.

With the big day finally arriving, the Memphis Grizzlies find themselves as one of the more intriguing teams to watch. Rumors continue to swell regarding whether or not Memphis is done dealing. There is really a possibility for anything to happen, from trading up, to trading back, to standing pat at #10. The thing that drives home the challenge of predicting this draft for the Grizzlies is the logic behind all three options.

Trading up results in another chance to get their guy to add to their “standard” in a way that allows for whoever they select to grow up alongside Ja Morant and presumptively Jaren Jackson Jr.

Trading back adds to the draft pick treasure chest again if their “guy” is gone by #10, and it surely only forces them back in to a similar conversation they were having about their initial selection at #17.

Staying at #10 means you get to choose among better options than if you had stayed at #17 initially, and the process way of thinking of getting that future 1st from the Lakers (via the Valanciunas/NOLA trade) already makes that trade a long-term plus while it may sting some in the here and now.

So the Grizzlies are sitting pretty regardless. But pressure is mounting. Asset accumulation season cannot last forever, and Jonas Valanciunas was a beloved fan favorite who also produced. The pick here is going to be heavily scrutinized, and Grizzlies GM Zach Kleiman has a lot of the goodwill he’s build over the last two years with many fans on the line.

Here are some things to watch for on Draft Night.

The names that pop up in the rumors

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Denver Nuggets Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Tyus Jones, Brandon Clarke, Dillon Brooks, Kyle Anderson, Grayson Allen...the list of names that have been mentioned in Grizzlies trade speculation is long but distinguished. Roster consolidation was always coming for the Memphis Grizzlies. The question was when it would be coming...could the time be now? It’s possible - but we have to remember that to this point the only players (if we are to believe Chris Haynes reports, which we should) gone almost certainly are Justise Winslow and Eric Bledsoe. Steven Adams replaces Jonas Valanciunas, and the lineup remains heavy on undersized guards and front court players.

Who could be on the move? First and foremost, players on expiring contracts. Tyus Jones and Kyle Anderson are to be unrestricted free agents and both (but especially Kyle Anderson) could be due substantial pay raises. Grayson Allen is to be a restricted free agent, meaning Memphis can match any offer made to him, but that cost could be close to an eight figure per year price tag. If Memphis feels that one (or more) of these players isn’t in their long-term plans, they could be shipped out like Jonas Valanciunas was.

That’s not to say Clarke, Brooks, or even another potential soon-to-be free agent Jaren Jackson Jr. (any potential talk of jumping in to the top-4 has to include Jaren, right?) are completely off the table depending on the deal. Given the way Memphis is approaching this draft, all options aside from trading Ja Morant are likely being considered. But this front office has yet to overpay a player, or sign a player to a contract that doesn’t align with their roster building philosophy. If Jonas Valanciunas, one of the team’s best players this past season, can be dealt for the greater long view, then Tyus Jones/Grayson Allen/Kyle Anderson are very much in play.

Jaren seems less likely...but rumbles of a package with Cleveland becoming louder would be worth monitoring.

Where they prioritize the “sure thing”

Syndication: Arizona Republic Patrick Breen via Imagn Content Services, LLC

It is easy to forget among the newly found top-10 pick excitement that the Grizzlies now are the proud owners of the #40 overall pick as well in this draft. That pick’s direction will likely be determined by what happens at #10, but not in terms of positions. Memphis is still clearly being patient with its timeline - you don’t trade away one of your best players for a lesser version and a player that likely won’t suit up for you and get more excited for that than the draft pick improvements. The best talent available is the priority. But once the selection is made in the Lottery, we can start to think ahead to what may be the target for the Grizzlies later on.

If Memphis swings for upside - Ziaire Williams, perhaps - then they may be more interested in an established player like Luka Garza, Sam Hauser, or Joe Weiskamp. If the Grizzlies added a “sure thing” like Corey Kispert, then a swing for the fence late with the likes of Josh Christopher could be more probable. Positions aren’t as important as productivity and potential in a variety of ways. As Memphis strives to remain competitive through their version of the “Process”, adding a bigger wing than can defend and score/an instant bucket getter off the dribble are what matter most as those are the largest areas of need for this team.

How they get there will be the focus - where and when as well.

Predictions for Draft Night

  1. THERE WILL BE ANOTHER TRADE. At least one, if not two. The Grizzlies will lie in wait and see if one of their two main targets (more on that in a moment) will fall for them at 10. If fear grows they won’t be there, they will trade up to get their man. They have the ammunition to do so.
  2. THE GRIZZLIES WILL GET ANOTHER FIRST ROUNDER WHILE SAYING GOODBYE TO ANOTHER CURRENT PLAYER. Know any contenders that could use a steady handed back-up point guard or a low usage starter on an expiring contract? You do? Awesome! Tyus Jones averaged roughly 10 minutes per game in the play-in and playoffs. Ja Morant is a point guard future superstar. As he plays 34-36 minutes a night, Tyus becomes less vital - especially since his fit next to Ja is not as clear. Utah, Phoenix, Brooklyn, the L.A. Lakers...all these teams to varying degrees would be better off this coming season with Tyus on their roster than their late first rounder. That will result in a goodbye to Tyus.
  3. THE MEMPHIS GRIZZLIES WILL STAY AT #10 AND SELECT...FRANZ WAGNER. Josh Giddey gets 1B recognition here. It’s between those two for Memphis - bigger perimeter players who can do a variety of things. But Wagner’s more diversified game becomes the winning factor. He can score, he can defend, he has a versatile frame...he’s not Moses Moody or James Bouknight. But he’s the mortar for the foundation of Morant and Jackson Jr. He can fill a lot of voids with his game. If available, he’s the guy.
  4. WITH THE LATE 1st ROUNDER THEY ACQUIRE THEY WILL SELECT JOSH CHRISTOPHER. Godson to Tayshaun Prince. Ja Morant approved. A player who does not need to be a key contributor on opening night and can grow his game as a member of the Memphis Hustle. When the time comes for players to move on, he can (hopefully) fill in. He has the talent - he just has to refine it. The good news is Memphis’ best player is 21 years old. The Grizzlies have time to spare.

Free agency will become a search for a cheap backup point guard and trying to re-sign Jaren Jackson Jr. Not as fun...but free agency is not where the west will be won for the Memphis Grizzlies. Savvy draft selections and trading to get to the players you desire more effectively in a market like Memphis. The Grizzlies almost surely won’t be title contenders this season but the work of the front office has them in position to make the moves needed to get them closer to that end goal eventually. They just have another major step to execute this evening on that road as it gets more worn by welcome overachievement due to a culture and roster/coaching staff that is doing great work and deserved expectations.

No pressure.

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