The NBA is reportedly looking to expand for the first time since the addition of the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets) in 2004. The cities rumored to be in the lead are Las Vegas, which has added and NHL, NFL, and WNBA team in recent years, and Seattle which famously lost the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City in 2008.
Expansion of the league would also mean the first expansion draft since 2004. Assuming the draft parameters are the same, each NBA team would be allowed to protect eight players on the roster. With such a good, young roster, it is important to strategize protections based on 3 things: the skills of each player, the likelihood of an expansion team drafting him, and the years remaining on their contract.
For the Memphis Grizzlies, it could be a very tough decision once you get past the first few players. Lots of things come into play such as salaries and possible contract negotiations, but here are my picks for who the Grizzlies would look to protect and why.
The No Brainers
- Ja Morant
- Desmond Bane
- Jaren Jackson Jr.
These are the 3 players that the Grizzlies front office is betting their future on. Starting with Ja Morant who, after winning MIP and getting his first All-Star start last season, has taken the leap into superstardom. He also has 6 years remaining on his contract after signing a 5-year extension that could be worth well over $200 million based on his performance this season.
Desmond Bane also took a leap last year, doubling his scoring average from 9.8 to over 18 per game. He also was one of the most efficient three-point shooters in the league, hitting over 43% from 3 last season. No other player in the NBA hit that high of a percentage from beyond the arc while also matching Bane’s volume. Bane is also still on his rookie deal, which is huge for the Grizzlies’ ability to build around him.
Jaren Jackson Jr. made First Team All-Defense and led the NBA in blocks last season. His size and switchability on the defensive end are elite, as long as he stays out of foul trouble. At just 23 years old entering year five, the sky is the limit for Jackson’s potential on that end. If he can find his shot from behind the arc and continue to improve his finishing around the rim, he could become a 2-way star.
The Bench Locks
- Tyus Jones
- Brandon Clarke
- Ziaire Williams
Tyus Jones shined last season when Ja Morant was out with injury and earned himself a new 2-year contract worth $30 million dollars. His 20-6 record as a starter (including playoffs) last season solidified his place as the best backup PG in the league. The expansion would not be coming until at least 2024, but if Tyus is still on the roster, he will definitely be protected.
The same goes for Brandon Clarke who hasn’t signed an extension, but I expect him to re-sign at some point this year. He showed his value off the bench this postseason, especially during the Timberwolve series. If he doesn’t end up signing an extension, then maybe someone else could take this spot, but Clarke’s consistency and efficiency off the bench makes him a clear favorite to be protected.
Ziaire Williams played well in his rookie season, especially when filling in for Dillon Brooks in the starting lineup, and showed his potential to score at all three levels. Williams also showed off length and athleticism on the defensive end, where he will only continue to grow as he matures. This off-season, Ziaire played much more on the ball in summer league and looks to take a a jump similar to Bane last year.
Which rookies should be protected?
The Grizzlies added 5 rookies this off-season, but with only eight spots it would be impossible to keep them all. If I had to pick two, it would be the first-round picks David Roddy and Jake LaRavia.
Roddy showed his promise in the Summer League and looks to be the most important rookie off the Grizzlies bench this season. He will be asked to replace a good amount of the minutes left behind by the off-season departure of Kyle Anderson. He has the potential to be a very good scoring option off the bench for the foreseeable future.
LaRavia struggled in the Summer League, but with the way the NBA is heading, his shooting ability could be extremely valuable. He shot over 38% from behind the arc in college and will have even more opportunities in a better spaced, perimeter-oriented style of play in the NBA.
Based on how long it takes for the proposed expansion to actually happen, Kennedy Chandler could have played himself into the Tyus Jones role, but for now I don’t think he would be the first choice for an expansion team. The same goes for 2-way rookies Kenneth Lofton Jr. and Vince Williams Jr.
The Most Notable exclusions
- Dillon Brooks
- Steven Adams
Both Dillon Brooks and Steven Adams are huge parts of this Grizzlies team and will be integral to their success this season. The reason I left them off is not because of their ability, however both players are going into the last year of their deals. It’s not clear whether or not these two will be Grizzlies in 2 years, which is not the case for the 8 players I think they would protect.
Also, with the contracts of Jackson Jr. and Morant kicking in soon, it will make it much harder to build a roster. Also, Desmond Bane won’t be on the most team friendly deal in the NBA after this season and the Grizzlies will be ready to sign him to an extension as well.
If expansion does happen, it is still at least 2 years away. It’s impossible to know exactly how the roster will look by then, but regardless the Grizzlies will have some tough decisions to make at that time.