In Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, I detailed some of the best 2021 prospects for the Grizzlies to target when it comes to shot selection and creation and the ability to add offensive value and rebounding value away from scoring. I feel the main priority for the Grizzlies should be overall offensive upside, especially scoring and shot creation. However, a deciding factor between multiple prospects with significant offensive upside could be the value they add on defense.
Consider the main talents the Grizzlies have specifically targeted to add to this roster over the past two years in hopes they would become clear pieces for the future: De’Anthony Melton and Justise Winslow. While it is true only one move has worked out, another key takeaway is that Memphis highly values players that can make an impact on defense. With Ja Morant as the franchise cornerstone, defensive impact, especially on the perimeter, will likely be a consistent area of focus of this team when adding talent.
Obviously, the ability to add defensive impact overall is where to start when looking at this draft class. However, a big area of focus for Memphis has been the ability to create turnover causing occurrences, especially when it comes to steals and blocks. That was a key strength of Brandon Clarke, John Konchar, Xavier Tillman, and De’Anthony Melton during their collegiate careers. The ability to make plays defensively is critical for the Grizzlies roster because it then allows for Morant and the offense to get into fast break opportunities, an aspect of the game the Grizzlies have been among the best at in the NBA over the past few years.
As pure bigs, both Clarke and Tillman produced elite block rates in college while also showing a keen ability to create havoc in passing lanes. With both players on the Grizzlies roster plus Jaren Jackson Jr. and Kyle Anderson, the Grizzlies have good depth when it comes to the four and five positions on defense. A key for Memphis is finding wings, similar to the profile of a Kyle Anderson, who can add some defensive playmaking potential on the perimeter.
Melton, Konchar, and Anderson each produced a season in which they averaged a steal rate of 3% or better along with a block rate of 2.5% (minimum 500 min.) or better while in college. This proves, in multiple ways, that each talent can find a way to turn defense into offense. During the 2020-2021 season, 24 players met this same criteria. The names that stand out are Chris Duarte and Herb Jones. Both of these players certainly could make sense for Memphis in different scenarios around where the Grizzlies pick tonight.
A big key is finding talents that can produce both steals and blocks at significant rates, even if they might do one slight better than the other, such as Tillman and Clarke when it comes to blocks or Melton when it comes to steals. In fact, only eight players at the collegiate level produced a block and steal rate above 2% along with two or more defensive win shares last season. They are Franz Wagner, Neemias Queta, and Jones. Along with being able to create turnovers, these players also offered very good upside as defensive stoppers.
As can be seen, a few familiar names are once again coming into focus in terms of sensible selections for the Grizzlies, both at picks 10 and 40. However, as mentioned in the other two parts of this series, the Grizzlies must also consider the upside in this class in terms of freshman. Though there are plenty of younger players who offer intriguing offensive upside, a few also really stand out in terms of their defensive potential. In fact, 20 freshmen this past season produced block and steal rates above 2% each (min. 500 minutes played). A few names that jump off the page are Cade Cunningham, Keon Johnson, Jaden Springer, Day’ron Sharpe, and Isaiah Jackson. While Cunningham is the likely top overall pick and Sharpe and Jackson are post players, University of Tennessee teammates Johnson and Springer have two of the highest upsides when it comes to perimeter defense in the 2021 NBA Draft Class.
In fact, Johnson’s and Springer’s two-way playmaking rates overall are pretty rare for freshman guards. Since the 2009-2010 season, only 25 freshman guards have produced steal and block rates at 2% or better on defense plus an assist percentage of 20% on offense (min. 640 minutes). Besides Johnson and Springer, Cunningham, Anderson and Melton all are included on this list. It seems the Grizzlies have made smart roster decisions in adding talents that have been significant playmakers on both ends of the court even before they made it to the NBA.
The aforementioned information once again shows that there are a few consistent names that continue to appear in the different areas of preference for Memphis. One name that stands out due to his ability shooting the basketball and making plays on defense is Chris Duarte. In fact, since the 2009-2010 season, Duarte is one of only 19 collegiate players with steal and block rates above 2% and a TS% of 63% or better. Konchar is also included in this group.
Among freshmen, Tennessee’s Jaden Springer really seems to fit many of the Grizzlies' preferences. Among the group that included both he and Johnson above, only Cade Cunningham, Lonzo Ball, and Springer have produced steal and block rates above 2%, assist rates above 20% and TS% of 57% or as freshman guards since the 2009-2010 season (min. 640 played). The production of Springer on both ends of the court certainly stands out as an ideal target for the Grizzlies.
Another name that appears frequently when using the criteria throughout this series is Michigan’s Franz Wagner. Wagner stands out due to both his playmaking and defensive impact. Furthermore, over at USA Today, Bryan Kalbrosky referenced my “identifying 2020 draft targets” article from last year to identify which player made the most sense for the Grizzlies this season. His conclusion was Franz Wagner, a player who many other draft minds have suggested Memphis is interested in due to being an analytics darling who impacts the game in many different ways.
As a result, it seems the most sensible targets for the Grizzlies to go after this year are Chris Duarte, Franz Wagner, and Jaden Springer. To a lesser extent, of names connected to Memphis, Moses Moody and Trey Murphy are sensible selections tonight as well. However, the simple reality is that the Grizzlies have every reason to delve away from their successful structure of selections over the past few years due to the upside of players that will be available in this draft. If Memphis were to choose Josh Giddey and Josh Christopher instead of Wagner and Springer, it will likely be viewed in just as positive of a light due to the natural talent of the players and the Grizzlies proven ability to develop them.
At the end of the day, Memphis is committed to the way it evaluates prospects. Among all of the statistical queries that have been presented over this three-part series, former collegiate big man Cameron Krutwig was the most frequent name that appeared:
Austin Peay’s Terry Taylor has worked out for Golden State & Sacramento, has workouts scheduled with Knicks, Grizzlies; Illinois’ Giorgi Bezhanishvili and Loyola’s Cam Krutwig have upcoming workouts with Memphis (2nd item): https://t.co/oU4LHr8VmJ— Ian Begley (@IanBegley) June 12, 2021
He also just happens to be the first player that was connected to Memphis in terms of an interview or workout leading up to the draft. Though Krutwig has since moved on to play overseas, the most sensible draft targets for Memphis seem apparent. The question now becomes how big of a role their proven methods of drafting will play a part in their decision this year. Whether the Grizzlies stick to their trends or completely change their methods this season, Memphis’s front office certainly has earned the trust of its fanbase to make the right decision.