March Madness is finally here, and it should be one of the most exciting tournaments — around the city at least — over the past 5 years. The Memphis Tigers made the tournament for the first time since 2014. Other local favorites such as Tennessee, Arkansas, Alabama, and Auburn (predictably) made the tournament as well. Shoutout to the Chattanooga Mocs for making it as well. Then, Murray State University — Ja Morant’s alma mater and a new college the Grizzlies fanbase roots for — looms as a threat as well.
It should be fun.
College basketball isn’t for everyone, even when it comes to people reading this very blog. Folks may prefer the NBA game more, and they might use college hoops to gather a better understanding for the draft.
This is who that’s for!
This draft doesn’t really resonate the same for Grizzlies fans. In 2018, the Memphis Grizzlies were one of the few worst teams in basketball, so there was heavy investment there. In 2019, they were lottery-bound, but the outcome was foggy — thank goodness it was Ja Morant. Then last year, they were trending towards the late-lottery to mid-teen’s, and the draft was considered deep so there was interest there as well.
This year, the Grizzlies may have 3 first-round picks, depending on the Los Angeles Lakers situation. Thankfully, and also worryingly, the Lakers’ play has been so mediocre that the pick could be pretty good — which is an extra incentive to keep up with the draft more extensively.
So who are some players to watch in each region?
- Keegan Murray (Iowa)
- Ochai Agbaji (Kansas)
- Tari Eason (LSU)
- Johnny Davis (Wisconsin)
- Walker Kessler (Auburn)
The Midwest region is probably my favorite one when it comes to Grizzlies prospects.
If you’re looking for the theme of “productive college player that falls due to age” that helped the Grizzlies get Desmond Bane and Brandon Clarke, Keegan Murray and Ochai Agbaji are your prospects — though the former may not be in the range for the Grizzlies. Both prospects are big wings that can score the basketball in a variety of ways. Those players are good.
One of my favorite realistic targets is Tari Eason. He’s another big wing (6’8” with a 7’0” wingspan) that offers strong defensive versatility and a budding offensive game.
Johnny Davis could be a trendy prospect for the Grizzlies, as his draft range is based on who you talk to. He’d be a good backcourt player that can play with Morant, or run the offense with him off the floor.
Auburn is going to be a team to watch with number 1 pick contender Jabari Smith on the roster, and after they got upset in the SEC tournament as the 1 seed they have something to prove. With one of the later picks, shot-blocking machine Walker Kessler could be someone to watch for. I’d like to see the Grizzlies add a 7-foot big man prospect at the end of their bench with a later pick.
- Kendall Brown, Jeremy Sochan (Baylor)
- Justin Lewis (Marquette)
- Tevin Brown, KJ Williams (Murray State)
Kendall Brown and Jeremy Sochan are two players to watch for on a team that could go deep into the tournament. Both players are perimeter forwards with size and versatility, and a big tournament could be impactful for draft stock, especially since they are both just 18 years old.
Surely, I know someone that’ll be excited about Justin Lewis! But seriously, aside from the fact he has the same name as a former GBB writer, Lewis is a huge wing (6’7”, 245 pounds) with legitimate scoring chops — 17.1 points per game, 35.2% from 3. He’s on second round radars right now, but a good run here could launch him into the 1st round.
Murray State will surely have eyes around the Grizzlies fanbase, and with how the Grizzlies have brought other Racers (Shaq Buchanan and Darnell Cowart into the organization), they could look to do so with Tevin Brown and KJ Williams. Brown is a 6’5” guard that’s a volume shooter (38.9% from 3 on 8 attempts per game). He can get into draft/two-way conversations with hot shooting that takes Murray State on a nice run. KJ Williams is another pro talent that’s a productive inside player with good size.
- Bennedict Mathurin (Arizona)
- Kennedy Chandler (Tennessee)
- Caleb Houstan (Michigan)
Bennedict Mathurin is a Laker pick target to watch. On one of the best teams in the country, he can launch his draft stock even higher with a good tournament performance. He’s a combo guard with a knack of creating his own shot at 3 levels.
Former Briarcrest Saint Kennedy Chandler will be someone to watch from a local team here. He’d likely be a target with a later pick, with a potential pathway to becoming the next backup point guard.
Caleb Houstan may not come out in this draft, as a lackluster freshman year has tanked his stock. However, if his shooting comes around like it has here and there throughout the season, he could sneak his way into the first round again. Big wings that can shoot 3’s are commodities.
- AJ Griffin Jr., Mark Williams (Duke)
- Max Christie (Michigan State)
- Jalen Duren, Josh Minott (Memphis)
AJ Griffin Jr. has launched himself into the top 5 on most draft boards, with his versatility and silky-smooth outside shooting (46.7% from 3 on 4 attempts per game). Injuries could cause him to fall, or he could be a trade-up target for Memphis. I’m also completely sold on giving Ja Morant a 7-foot lob threat that can protect the rim. Mark Williams fits that bill with a later pick.
Like Houstan, Christie has seen his stock fall in his freshman season, so he could potentially return for another year to boost it back up. He might be a 2023 target, but a breakout tournament could have teams in the back-end of the 1st round want to take a swing and be patient with him.
I’m firmly on board with Max Christie being awesome at some point, still. He should go back to MSU, I think, to maximize his draft standing. But once those midrange pull-ups (like the one he just missed) become automatic in a year or two, he’s going to be such a monster.— Sam Vecenie (@Sam_Vecenie) March 12, 2022
Last, but certainly not least, there are two Memphis prospects to really watch here. Jalen Duren is an absolute machine, and he’ll likely boost his stock too high for the Grizzlies, but Memphis fans can dream. Duren should give plenty of reasons to dream big this tournament as well. Josh Minott may return next year — and hey, maybe Tigers Coach Penny Hardaway’s hiding him so that he comes back next season — but his do-it-all skillset at his size and age are so tantalizing. (Go Tigers!)
Surely, there will be more players that break out in the tournament, and you’ll daydream about their potential fits with the Memphis Grizzlies.
If you want to support the schools of your favorite Grizzly players:
- Murray State (Ja Morant)
- Michigan State (Jaren Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman)
- Gonzaga (Brandon Clarke and Killian Tillie)
- Tennessee (Yves Pons)
- Texas Tech (Jarrett Culver)
- Duke (Tyus Jones)
- UCLA (Kyle Anderson)
- TCU (Desmond Bane)
- USC (De’Anthony Melton)