The pivotal domino of the Memphis Grizzlies’ offseason has fallen. On August 7th, their three-team deal with the New Orleans Pelicans and Charlotte Hornets became official. In short, former fan-favorite Jonas Valanciunas heads to New Orleans, and Memphis receives Steven Adams, Eric Bledsoe, Ziaire Williams, and the Los Angeles Lakers’ 2022 first-round pick (top-10 protected) as compensation. While this transaction is a long-term win for Memphis on paper (Valanciunas will be an unrestricted free agent in 2022), rumblings suggest Zach Kleiman has not yet finished dealing this summer.
On the initial day that the trade was reported (July 26th), Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes published a Tweet stating Bledsoe is “unlikely to stay in Memphis.” Considering Bledsoe is both undersized and a below-average three-point shooter (34.1% on five attempts last season), his fit alongside Morant at the two is questionable. And though Bledsoe is at his best initiating the offense, his opportunities to do so would be restricted as the backup point. Bledsoe’s been a starter for the lion’s share of his career, yet he won’t find such an opportunity in Memphis. The two sides are better off heading their separate ways.
The Bledsoe quagmire spawns a few questions. Where can Bledsoe see starter-level minutes? Who/what does Memphis want in return for the defensive-minded guard? Both queries are likely (understandably) at the forefront of Grizzlies fans’ thoughts.
If the recent Valanciunas deal confirms anything, it’s that Kleiman makes moves with the future in mind. Valanciunas was, at times, the best player on Memphis this past season and their most reliable offensive weapon. Yet, the front office parted with him to take a flier on Ziaire Williams’ potential to be a vital member of the next great Grizzlies team. Essentially, this demonstrates Kleiman’s willingness to sacrifice short-term success if it means establishing a perennial contender down the line.
Time to put on your general manager’s hats. Let’s break down two realistic, Bledsoe-centered trade packages that fit the Grizzlies’ signature “long view” philosophy. These are hypothetical deals that reward Memphis with players who fit the timeline of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr., while also granting Bledsoe an opportunity to fight for a starting point guard spot.
(Note: the trades listed below have been approved via ESPN’s NBA Trade Machine.)
Dallas Mavericks receive: Eric Bledsoe, 2022 unprotected second-round pick
Memphis Grizzlies receive: Maxi Kleber
The Grizzlies are a team that prioritizes depth at every position. Over the past few seasons, Memphis’ bench has consistently ranked among the league’s best in multiple statistics. Justise Winslow and Valanciunas’ departures, theoretically, open up a spot for one final big in the rotation. Maxi Kleber, currently a Dallas Maverick, can address a glaring area of improvement for Memphis and provides them with a knockdown shooter and intelligent defender.
Arguably the most valuable aspect of Kleber’s game is his ability to shoot the rock. The German big man swished 41% of his threes (90th percentile among bigs per Cleaning the Glass) on 4.2 attempts in 2020-21. His three-point percentage has also risen every season in the league (Kleber is entering year five as a pro). Not to mention his free throw percentage of 91.9% ranked in the 99th percentile. Kleber only took 0.7 free throws per game, so take the number with a grain of salt. However, it further demonstrates that he is one of the premier sweet-shooting bigs in the game today.
Aside from the unicorn Jaren Jackson Jr., Kleber would be the best perimeter shooting behemoth on the Memphis roster. Finishing just 24th in the NBA in three-pointers made per game last season, Kleber’s presence could provide the shot in the arm (pun intended) needed for the Grizzlies to ascend the rankings next season. Desmond Bane is the lone Grizzly who knocked down his threes in 2020-21 with greater accuracy.
Kleber is one of the more underrated defenders out there. While his 1.2 combined stocks (steals and blocks) don’t necessarily scream fantastic defender, his impact truly goes beyond the box score. He is a superbly versatile irritant who possesses above-average lateral quickness for a big at 6’10”, which enables him to hold his own when switched onto guards and wings on the outside.
To boot, Kleber is an intuitive help defender who’s excellent at making quick rotations to the front of the rim for chase-down and weak-side blocks (he’s finished in the 65th percentile or better in block percentage three out of his four seasons). The cherries on top of Kleber’s all-around defensive game are that he fouls opponents less than most (73rd percentile in foul percentage) and harries three-point shooters. Players shot six(!) percent below their season average from deep when checked by Kleber, according to NBA.com.
With all that said, Kleber has his flaws. He shot just 60% at the rim, well below the average for his position. But Kleber wouldn’t be on the court to score inside. He’d be out there to do what he does best, and that’s stretch the floor for Morant and company as well as protect the rim and deter dribble-penetration on the occasional switch. For a Grizzlies squad that hopes to take that next step as a three-point shooting team while remaining staunch on the defensive end, Kleber makes too much sense.
Los Angeles Clippers receive: Eric Bledsoe, 2022 top-six protected first-round pick (UTAH), 2022 protected second-round pick
Memphis Grizzlies receive: Marcus Morris Sr., Jacob Preston
It would be only fitting for Bledsoe to return to where his career began. But storybook homecomings aside, Morris Sr. and Preston would be quite the haul for Memphis and well worth a first-round pick set to fall in the mid-late 20s (even if the latter spent a year with the Hustle). This package presents the Grizzlies with both a shot-making big/wing and a floor general with the potential to be a terrific backup to Morant.
Like Kleber, Morris Sr. is a flat-out perimeter marksman. The critical difference between the two, though, is Morris Sr’s in-between game as well as his ability to create his own offense. He converted 46% of all shot attempts from between 14-18 feet with the Clippers (70th percentile), with 40% of his total field goals falling therein. This efficiency is even more impressive when considering a whopping 62% of his mid-range makes were unassisted. From deep, Morris is primarily a catch-and-shoot threat, but a deadly one at that; his 48.4% clip was the highest of any big to log 1,000 minutes in 2020-21, per Cleaning the Glass.
There was a dire shortage of perimeter-oriented self-creators on the Grizzlies. Valanciunas, Winslow, and Kyle Anderson all ranked top five on the roster in terms of the percentage of their baskets that were unassisted. Morris Sr. could be Memphis’ perimeter version of Valanciunas. And by this, I am not saying Morris Sr. would be anything near the rebounder or interior scorer Valanciunas was. But he can be that security blanket, a player they can give the ball to and say “go get a bucket” when a possession breaks down. These talents are invaluable to winning in the postseason.
Jacob Preston could very well end up being the real prize of this deal. A 2021 second-round pick, Preston is a cerebral point guard with an ideal build for his position at 6’4”. His basketball IQ and playmaking creativity are right up there with the best in this class; he keeps his head up in transition, is adept at running the pick-and-roll, and can thread the needle through tight passing windows to find teammates.
Preston’s orchestrating is what he’s best known for, but he impacts the game in an all-around fashion. An outstanding rebounder at the one, Preston pulled down 7.3 rebounds nightly in his swan song with Ohio, including 1.1 offensive boards. Also, Preston’s three-point jump shot improved leaps and bounds from his first to last collegiate year (20.8% to 39%). And defensively, Preston is active in the passing lanes and has a penchant for coming up with steals and deflections (1.5 steals per game as a junior).
Admittedly, Preston has been quite up and down in Summer League thus far. Two games in, and he’s scored just two points total on a combined 1-for-6 shooting. While Preston hasn’t been torching the Summer League scoring-wise, he’s shown flashes of the game-changing facilitator he was in college. Take the August 9th showdown versus the Milwaukee Bucks, for example, when Preston dished out a team-high eight dimes compared to one turnover.
Preston is a natural-born point guard. He enjoys sharing the sugar and would fit beautifully running the show for Memphis’ offensively talented bench unit. Brandon Clarke, De’Anthony Melton, and Xavier Tillman would all benefit from playing with him. Tyus Jones has been a dependable backup playmaker, but Preston’s feel for the game is on another level. Morris Sr. and Preston both have the makings to be long-term fixtures with this group of Grizzlies.
Which of these Bledsoe deals do you like? What are some other ideas that could work?