What was my initial gut reaction to the results of Tuesday night’s NBA draft lottery? I would say that I experienced the full gamut of emotions ranging from utter disbelief, to despair, to unfounded hope. We (the Grizzlies players and fan base) worked (sucked) so hard all season just for this? For a 2nd tier player? I shouldn’t have done this, but I had gotten my hopes up and talked myself into believing that it would all be worth it and we would actually get Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton. At the four slot, we likely won’t even get Marvin Bagley.
After I suppressed the emotions described above, I dug deep and tried to think optimistically.
Bad news: The Grizzlies are selecting #4 in the 2018 NBA draft
Good news: Last time they picked #4 they chose Mike Conley Jr.
— Devin Walker's NEW ACCOUNT. MY LAST ONE WAS HACKED (@Devin_Walker2) May 16, 2018
Okay, I thought to myself, this might still be something that we can work with. This draft is one of the deepest in recent memory. There are a record amount of entrants. We might find that one player who can work alongside our existing guys and help guide us back to relevance. Then I saw a quote from our decision maker Chris Wallace.
Chris Wallace to Grind City Media:
"I was very happy with where we ended up, because we didn't go back to number 5, number 1, and two, inside the first 4, we're still in the first wave of players. We accomplished our main goal, to not go back as much as possible."
— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) May 16, 2018
That was my exact reaction. In no way should we be happy to not have the best opportunity to grab the exact player we want. I would have preferred that he said something to the effect of “It is disappointing that we did not get a higher pick based on the tough season that our guys fought through this year. We still have no doubt that we will be able to add the best available player to our roster and that he will make an impact immediately.”
Now I know that Chris Wallace isn’t the most beloved basketball figure in Memphis, but he is still an NBA executive, and must earned that position over the years somehow….right? He will always appropriately catch hell for drafting Hasheem Thabeet over Harden, Evans, and Curry in 2009, but I’m sure that he has some drafting wizardry to his credit. Well…you be the judge of that. I compiled a complete list of Mr. Wallace’s draft picks including his time with the Celtics. This list does not highlight the draft day trades that he executed, or the mid-season deals that he fostered; it is purely a show of facts of the players that he physically selected on D-Day.
To attempt to accurately compare players, I collected their VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), which is a decent metric to analyze a player’s overall value in the league.
Below is a table that lists Wallace’s draft picks by year. Included with each player is their VORP, and the sum of the number of players who were drafted after them [before his next pick when applicable] who have a higher VORP. Technically a replacement player is valued at -2 VORP, but I only counted “better players” who have a positive VORP to avoid splitting hairs and to give Wallace the benefit of the doubt. I put in a color scale to aid in identifying his best and worst selections.
What this table tells me is that there were several chances where Wallace did really snag one of the best players on the board. The clearest examples of this are in 2001 (Johnson), 2007 (Conley), and 2008 (Love). However, there are just as many data points to support evidence of blown draft picks – 2009 (Thabeet/Young), 2014 (Adams). The last time Wallace selected a player in the first round who was one of the best available was in 2009 in DaMarre Carroll.
Even though the Thabeet pick in 2009 set the Memphis franchise back several centuries, Wallace has generally selected very valuable players when given the opportunity with a top 10 pick. Outside of that range, all bets are off. He hasn’t selected an impact player outside of the top 10 in nearly a decade. In all fairness, he has not had a chance to pick anyone this high in a very long time due to Memphis’ recent streak of playoff appearances. Am I trying to find something to be optimistic about? You bet I am.
Just as this is a crucial draft that will guide the trajectory of our franchise for the next decade, this could also be a career defining moment for Mr. Wallace. If he strikes out on this year’s fourth overall pick, then he will have drafted two busts in four chances with a top five pick. For his sake and ours, I hope that he has done his research and has a plan.