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2022 NBA Draft Prospect Profiles: Tari Eason

Could this havoc-wreaking wing be a trade-up target for the Grizzlies?

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NCAA Basketball: Louisiana State at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next 3 weeks, GBB will be profiling various players the Memphis Grizzlies may target in the 2022 draft. We’ll primarily look at who they may pick with the 22th and 29th pick, or with a pick from a possible trade up in the draft.

Tari Eason, Wing, Louisiana State University

  • 6’8”, 7’2” wingspan, 217 pounds, 21 years old, from Seattle, WA
  • Last season at LSU: In 33 games (24.4 minutes per game) — 16.9 points on 52.1% shooting (35.9% from 3, 80.3% from the FT line), 6.6 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 1.9 steals, 1.1 blocks
  • Two-year college career (1 year at LSU, 1 year at Cincinnati): In 56 games (22.4 minutes per game) — 13.0 points on 50.4% shooting (32.7% from 3, 75.7% from the FT line), 6.3 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.6 steals, 1.2 blocks
  • 3 STATS OF STRENGTH (per Tankathon): Box Plus/Minus (14.7), Defensive Win Shares/40 minutes (0.124), PER (33.4)
  • 3 STATS TO IMPROVE: Turnovers Per 36 minutes (3.3), Assist/Turnover Ratio (0.45), Fouls per 40 minutes (4.5)
  • AWARDS AND ACCOLADES: 2021-22 SEC Sixth Man of the Year, 2021-22 All-SEC 1st Team, 2020-21 AAC All-Freshman 1st Team
  • CURRENT BIG BOARD PLACEMENT: 9 (Tankathon), 16 (The Ringer), 18 (ESPN), CBS Sports, 18 (The Athletic), 12 (Bleacher Report)

The Memphis Grizzlies have a type. They tend to gear towards players with size, college productivity, defensive tools — all while not giving a damn about draft age.

Hello, Tari Eason!

The 21-year old wing from LSU surged up the draft boards, after a lost season at Cincinnati. In the process, he set some impressive benchmarks.

Only Keegan Murray and Chet Holmgren finished with a higher box plus/minus in college basketball. He became the 1st D1 player since 2008 to finish with a 4.5 steal percentage, 6.5 block percentage, and a true shooting percentage over 60 percent. He joined Paul George, Tyrese Evans, and Zion Williamson as the only underclassmen in the past 15 years to finish with a steal rate greater than 3% and a usage rate higher than 25 percent.

Eason’s productivity gives him a high floor of someone that can impact the game defensively from day 1. If he refines his offense, he could become one of the biggest steals of the draft.

For the Grizzlies, how high will they have to go to get him?

Areas of strength

Tari Eason is the best defender in this draft. This past season, he averaged 5.0 stocks per 40 minutes, using his size and instincts to defend from all over the floor. He can defend out on the perimeter and cause havoc as a man defender or as a jumper into the passing lanes. He also slid down to the 5 a bit last year — more on that in a bit — but his shot-blocking presence allows for him to man that position in spurts.

Eason’s ability, and willingness, to jump into passing lanes to force turnovers makes him an asset in transition. Last season, he scored 1.339 points per possession in transition, ranking in the 90th percentile — per Synergy Sports. Whether it’s starting the break himself, or flying down one of the lanes, he should be a major factor in the open court from the jump.

Since Eason is going to serve more as a complementary player in the league, his outside shooting will be important for his role projection. His form is a bit suspect, and the percentages don’t pop out, knocking down 36% of his triple tries. However, he scored 1.14 PPP off catch-and-shoot attempts, and he connected on 80% on his free throws — good barometers for NBA range translation.

He also projects well as a cutter (1.18 PPP) and as a roll man (1.152 PPP), which should be beneficial as he’ll likely serve as a complementary 4 on most teams, and he’s also good at drawing fouls to get to the line (5.7 free throw attempts per game).

As a 6’8” wing with a plus-6 wingspan, his strengths make him an enticing prospect to complement an existing core.

Areas of weakness

Tari Eason’s upside is limited by his creation inefficiencies. He ranked in the 20th percentile in isolation scoring, only generating 0.581 points per possession there. One of the attributing factors is his inability to drive left. Per Synergy Sports, he only scored 0.375 points per possession when driving left. His struggles from the left side of the floor wildly translates beyond the arc, as he shot 14.3% and 26.7% from the left corner and left wing.

His limitations as a creator are amplified as a playmaker. Among early entrants for the draft, only Kofi Cockburn as a worse assist-to-turnover ratio than Eason — 0.5 (73 turnovers against 33 assists). So it’s fair to question whether it’s a product of high usage or a lack of feel. The answer will play itself out as he transitions to a smaller role at the next level.

One of his only defensive drawbacks is his fouling. He committed 4.5 fouls per 40 minutes, the most of any early entrant prospect on draft boards — per Barttorvik.com. It’s going to be interesting to see how that translates to the next level, though a lot of it could have come with having to slide down to the 5 for LSU. Nonetheless, his inability to tone down his fouling could hinder his defensive impact.

All of these weaknesses could make him more of an energy forward at the moment, but refining these areas could elevate his upside.

Fit with the Grizzlies

The fit with Tari Eason is clear. With Kyle Anderson entering free agency, there’s a big forward spot that might be open off the bench. Eason would join Xavier Tillman, Santi Aldama, or any possible newcomer in the group vying that role — if the veteran Anderson is off somewhere else.

Stylistically, he’s an agent for a squad that loves to wreak havoc defensively. Last season, the Grizzlies led the league in steals, blocks, and fastbreak. Eason fits this ball to a T — as a long, rangy defender that gambles for defensive events and thrives in transition. In addition, he’ll be on a team that won't require him to have the usage he had last season at LSU. Therefore, he won’t be relied upon to be a creator, but instead rely on his energetic strengths to impact the game.

One of the most important things for the Grizzlies’ team construction is building a big, formidable defense around Ja Morant to make up for his deficiencies on that end. Eason provides phenomenal size, and he can defend the perimeter while toggling between the 3 and the 4.

The question for Memphis will center around how high they may have to go to acquire him. The latest mock drafts have Eason going 18 to Chicago (ESPN and The Athletic), or 16 to Atlanta (Bleacher Report and The Ringer). Those spots are a good trade-up range for Memphis — though any framework will be discussed later when more tealeaves drop on draft and trade rumors.

For what it’s worth, the Grizzlies and Eason met at the draft combine, per The Athletic’s Mike Vorkunov. It doesn’t mean a whole lot, but it doesn’t mean nothing.

All in all though, Tari Eason will be a great prospect to bet on with the Grizzlies — one whose strengths and productivity aligns with the team’s schematic philosophies.

Stats found on Synergy Sports and sports-reference

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