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Helping the rich Memphis Grizzlies get richer

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NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Jarrett Culver is likely not longed for the Memphis Grizzlies world.

Of course it is nothing personal. He’s been nothing but professional in his time with the Grizzlies, and when called upon he actually has played some good basketball for Memphis. In fact, in 22 games as a member of the Grizzlies he has posted career bests to this point in offensive rating (102), defensive rating (108), PER (12.0), assist percentage (15%), steal percentage (3%), turnover rate (9.6%), and win shares per 48 minutes (.066 - his two seasons in Minnesota were both in the negatives) per basketball-reference.com. He has shown that he, perhaps, can indeed be a NBA player - and in a stable situation, contribute when the time is right.

So why say that Culver is probably not going to be a member of the 2022-2023 Memphis Grizzlies? When the Grizzlies did not opt in to the final year of Culver’s rookie contract (he went 6th overall in the 2019 NBA Draft, AKA the Ja Morant Draft) they put themselves in a position where they cannot offer him any contract more than what his final year of that deal would have been in free agency - 1 year, roughly $8.1 million (per Spotrac). Other teams, especially young ones like Detroit (see Jackson, Josh) or Oklahoma City, may be interested in taking a shot on the talent that Culver possesses and offer him a 2-year (with a partially guaranteed 2nd season) for roughly $10 million and lead to Jarrett making the correct business decision to head out of Memphis.

The Grizzlies have some of the best team chemistry (as the young people call them, immaculate vibes) in the entire NBA. This reality has fans squeamish to make a major move involving a current rotation player - this is understandable, even if the team’s roster may be flawed in terms of playoff basketball. Memphis is ahead of schedule by at least a year in their rebuild. Ja Morant is an All-Star player. Desmond Bane on offense and Jaren Jackson Jr. on defense have made major strides. Perhaps most importantly, we have yet to see this team at “full strength” for a prolonged period of time this season. The presumed starting five of Ja Morant, Desmond Bane, Dillon Brooks, Jaren Jackson Jr., and Steven Adams (allowing for a reserve core of Tyus Jones/De’Anthony Melton/Kyle Anderson/Brandon Clarke) has logged 74 minutes of court time (per nba.com/stats) or 156 possessions (per Cleaning the Glass) this season. We really do not know what this team is capable of yet when all key cogs are in the machine.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it? That probably should apply to the Grizzlies this season, even though Anderson and Jones are unrestricted free agents this summer. But Culver, even more than those two, does not likely figure in to the team’s long-term plans - much like Josh Jackson before him. And when the roster is healthy, does Culver beat out a John Konchar, or a Ziaire Williams, in terms of playing time?

Probably not. So...why not improve the roster’s potential standing and gain a more long-term player with some of the excess draft capital the Grizzlies possess?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

What should Memphis prioritize in such a deal?

  • Additional years. Money is about to get tight for the Grizzlies. Even if it is just one extra season, preferably at a lower number than what Culver is sitting at currently ($6.3 million), that holds value - both in terms of depth being maintained in the event Kyle and Tyus walk in free agency, and if another (larger) trade is made this summer.
  • Versatility. You don’t want a big that only can do one thing (if anything at all - but more on that later). A dribble penetrator that isn’t able to defend more than the point guard position probably should not be in the cards. Wearing multiple hats, even if those hats aren’t the most stylish, matters when looking at end of rotation pieces.
  • Upside. Remember - the Memphis Grizzlies are still in the midst of a rebuild, and this front office has yet to make a move in-season that resembles anyone looking to accelerate a timeline. That of course could change. But sometimes, if it walks like a duck, and talks like a duck...it may well be a “happy to make the playoffs and see what happens” quacker.

With those values in mind, here are some potential options for Culver (and a pick or two) deals. Discipline is key - the commitment to the “vibes” must be maintained in this exercise. No player either currently under contract for next season or firmly in the Grizzlies rotation will be included in these trades. Which means...only one guy is on the move.

Again, nothing personal. Culver has at times played the best basketball of his career in Memphis. He’s served the Grizzlies, and perhaps most importantly himself, well. But between the $6.3 million contract and the plethora of draft picks, if Memphis were to make a trade before the trade deadline next month, Culver is the most sensible candidate.

Here are two targets for Memphis that could fit this mold.

Kenrich Williams

NBA: Oklahoma City Thunder at Memphis Grizzlies Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Trade: Memphis sends Jarrett Culver, 2026 1st round pick (protected 1-24, becomes 2027-2028 2nd round picks if not conveyed) to Oklahoma City for Kenrich Williams

The Oklahoma City Thunder LOVE draft picks. They already have 36 of them through 2028, and they have made it clear they’re willing to take on more salary in any deal if it nets them additional draft capital. They likely want to save that space for a larger trade at the deadline if possible. But say those deals do not come to fruition - here is a chance for the Thunder to acquire a (heavily protected) future 1st round pick from Memphis and not lose flexibility beyond this current season. If Culver thrives in OKC, they can re-sign him. If not? No harm no foul - he moves on, and the Thunder’s draft treasure chest expands even later in to the decade.

For the Grizzlies, ideally Memphis sends two second round picks straight up (2024 ones in particular), but the Thunder already have seven (!!!!) selections in that draft. No, they won’t make them all, but chances are OKC GM Sam Presti doesn’t want more 2nd rounders from that draft. Their selections run dry by 2027, however, and with all the assets Memphis has the next few years, parting with one (again, heavily protected) 1st or two 2nds five to six years from now won’t hurt their future work to do. Besides, by that time the Memphis Grizzlies should be title contenders. While you naturally are tempting fate sending a 1st out like this, the protections save Memphis. If they’re bad (or even just mediocre to good) for whatever reason, it becomes two 2nd rounders. If they’re a top-6 team in the NBA, as everyone hopes they are, that 1st rounder will be a later pick for a player less likely to help a contender.

Why target Kenrich Williams? He checks all three of the boxes listed above. In terms of additional years, the 6’7” point forward Williams is under contract through 2023 and has a cap hit for next season of $2 million. In 783 minutes played for the Thunder this season Williams has made almost 39.3% of his threes on a little more than 2 attempts per game. In fact, Kenrich is in the 98th percentile in non-corner 3 percentage (45%, but admittedly a larger sample size would be good to have). Per 100 possessions Williams grabs almost 10 rebounds (he’s in the 89th percentile for offensive rebounding percentage, per Cleaning the Glass) and also boasts a 1.9% steal rate (81st percentile). His assist percentage (14.4%) is in the 81st percentile as well, all while playing the traditional “2”, “3”, and “4” for OKC this season (mostly at the small and power forward spots) according to basketball-reference.com.

He could make the Memphis Grizzlies better.

Does he beat out John Konchar and Ziaire Williams for the 10th rotation spot on this roster? Perhaps - he provides more positional versatility than Konchar, and his creation for others at his size while still maintaining a healthy three point percentage puts him ahead of Ziaire at this stage of his development. But Kenrich is flawed - his 60% shooting at the rim (40th percentile) is not where it needs to be. Maybe that improves in that area on a better roster in Memphis - the bet here is that it would, and with Kyle Anderson potentially leaving in free agency Williams fills that hybrid 3-4 slot nicely.

Between his size, skill set, and low cap number without impeding future business, it is a calculated risk worth taking. It makes the Grizzlies even deeper...without losing the main energy creators on the roster.

Thomas Bryant

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Washington Wizards Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Trade: Memphis sends Jarrett Culver, 2023 Memphis 2nd round pick, 2024 2nd round pick (via UTA) to Washington for Thomas Bryant

This deal is listed 2nd here because it...well...isn’t as good as the 1st one. Kenrich Williams fills multiple voids for the Grizzlies, both now and beyond. Thomas Bryant would be joining a currently crowded front court and would be competing with Kyle Anderson, Brandon Clarke, and Xavier Tillman Sr. for minutes. He is also an expiring contract, so you’d be giving up two 2nd round picks for a player that may well leave just like Culver/Anderson/Jones.

So why make the deal?

The third bullet point. Upside.

Thomas Bryant has been out much of this season so far and last due to injury. But there is a reason the Wizards signed him to that three year, $25 million contract back in 2019. Before his health issues, Bryant was one of the best bigs in the NBA offensively - he produced 136 points per 100 shot attempts in 2018-2019 (96th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass) and 131 (85th percentile) in 2019-2020. In 270 minutes played last season before his injury (a torn ACL) he was 99th percentile at an electric 145.9 points per 100 shot attempts. He has shown the ability to finish well at the rim (above 65% two of the last three seasons - one of which being the small sample size of 2020-2021) as well as from three (the last two seasons Bryant above the 90th percentile in three point shooting, and is a career 37% shooter from three for Washington). He provides potential in the pick and roll as a finisher at the rim as well as a fader to the three point line.

Bryant is a middling rebounder at best, and defensively he is flawed in terms of his lateral movement. Also, remember that he is an upcoming free agent - Memphis would be potentially committing to signing this big to another MLE-level deal, meaning the time in Memphis of an Adams/Anderson/Tillman/Clarke may be ending beyond this season. But he would provide offensive fire power as either a long-term starter or short-term 14 minutes per game player, and would force teams to play him closer to the rim. You could not play off him the way teams do Steven Adams as a non-perimeter threat, and you’d have to respect him there much more offensively from three than Brandon Clarke or Xavier Tillman Sr. He adds a valuable wrinkle to the scoring possibilities for Memphis.

Why would the cost of Culver and two 2nd round picks suit the Wizards? They currently have Montrezl Harrell and Daniel Gafford on the roster, making Bryant more expendable - especially if they choose to extend Harrell, which they should (assuming the price is right). Washington also currently only has one pick in 2024, and no picks in 2023. It replenishes the draft assets for a Wizards team that could use them, all for a player that - after extending Daniel Gafford last year - may not make as much sense for them long-term anymore.

Bryant, however, could make sense long-term for Memphis. It’s another upside swing for a 24 year old coming off of knee surgery. If he does well? You just added another shooting threat - albeit a non-traditional one - for Jarrett Culver and two 2nd round picks. If not, you let him walk, and still boast five selections across the 2023-2024 NBA Drafts.


There are other possibilities, of course. Terrance Ross of the Magic would bring veteran scoring, but his $12 million on the books next season is not an attractive option (unless the plan is to trade him as an expiring this summer). Ty Jerome, Kenrich Williams’ teammate in OKC, would provide playmaking and shot making within the arc in spurts. And the option to acquire both Williams AND Bryant exists in a potential three team deal (notice how the picks are not connected in these two hypotheticals), but in that scenario you’re moving on from the likes of a Xavier Tillman Sr. or Santi Aldama. The goal of this exercise was to keep players under contract in Memphis for the sake of roster stability.

Jarrett Culver is likely a Grizzlies player for a limited amount of time. The talented, but underachieving, wing will probably continue to get NBA opportunity because of his abilities that made him a lottery pick in 2019. It almost certainly will not happen in Memphis, however - and the Grizzlies would be wise to take that knowledge, and a small portion of the draft capital they have accumulated, to make their playoff prospects better while also helping their long view of the franchise.

It is time for Memphis to be trade deadline buyers - but they can do that without testing the culture they’ve created too soon and maintaining the depth that has them where they’re not supposed to be right now.

Among the NBA’s elite.

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