If you are a cerebral Memphis Grizzlies fan, you have no doubt struggled with the reality of the crossroads that the franchise is now at. Last year was tough for fans and I’m sure players alike. The Grizzlies lost their starting point guard to a season ending injury and played themselves to a pathetic record of 22-60. However, there was always light at the end of the tunnel because the poor record meant that Memphis would have a greater chance at a top tier draft pick. The end result was the Grizzlies owning the 4th pick and making the best of it, drafting Jaren Jackson Jr.
The way that the 2018-’19 season started, it looked like a healthy Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, and several off-season additions – Kyle Anderson, Garrett Temple, Shelvin Mack (when he was playing well) – would help push this team back into the playoff race. This was actually true through late November, when the Grizzlies found themselves atop the Western Conference standings.
Since then, Memphis has been in a tailspin and has lost 20 of their last 25 games. This includes embarrassment on their home floor on MLK Day and Monday’s recent meltdown against the Denver Nuggets, when the Grizzlies gave up a 25 point lead and only scored 32 points in the second half.
These facts have led us to the aforementioned crossroads. We know that Mike and Marc are on the trade block and that the front office is very interested in kick-starting a rebuild based around Jackson. We also know that Memphis owes a first round pick to Boston due to the lopsided Jeff Green trade several years ago. This pick is top 8 protected this year, and top 6 protected next year if it doesn’t convey this year. If Boston doesn’t take over the pick in either of those drafts, then they will own it in 2021 without restrictions.
This means that the Grizzlies’ pick this summer will either go to Boston if it is outside of the bottom 8, or Memphis will retain the pick if it is pick 1-8.
Below you can see the actual lottery odds of each position to help better understand the situation that the Grizzlies – and their pick – are in. The #1 seed is the team with the worst record, #2 seed second worst record and so on.
Technically, no matter where the Grizzlies finish this season, they could convey the pick to Boston or keep it, depending on what happens the night of the draft lottery. Even the 14th worst team in the league still has a minuscule chance at the #1 pick. However, the better a team finishes out the regular season, the worse their odds at a top four pick become and the better they are that they will pick at or below an appropriate range for your record.
By many pundits, this year’s draft is considered very top heavy after the likes of Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. This means that in order to have the best odds of selecting one of these two prospects, a team will need to finish at the very bottom of the league.
This puts the Grizzlies between a rock and a hard place.
Currently, Memphis sits at 6th from the bottom in the league (as of Tuesday). A great resource for tracking these reverse standings can be found on Tankathon.com, which updates daily.
With their red-hot start, Memphis seems to be well out of range of “catching” the bottom four teams and setting themselves up for the best lottery odds this Summer. The Grizzlies are already over 8 games better than the fourth-from-the-bottom Chicago Bulls.
This means that right now, the most likely scenario – based on the lottery odds – is that Memphis will land either the 7th or 8th pick this year and most likely draft someone who may or may not be in the NBA in a few years based on Memphis’ recent draft history.
The tough part for Memphis fans is the question of should they root for the team to get as close as possible to the bottom by losing games – like most people did last year – or hold out hope that Memphis can claw back to a place where the odds and lady luck will be on their side and help convey the pick to Boston?
Before you make that decision, here is some food for thought. The team who has finished 9th from the bottom since 2000 has had an average of 33.22 wins. That isn’t to say that they received the 9th pick, but just that is where they finished out the season record-wise. Since there is a lottery system in place, this is just a target to aim for because if a team finishes there, then they will either get a pick 9th or worse, or a top 4 pick. Both of these outcomes would be deemed as desirable.
After a thorough perusal of the Grizzlies’ remaining schedule, I have circled the games that I think would provide us the best chance of winning.
Memphis has 6 games remaining against the bottom four super-tank teams (Cleveland, Atlanta, New York, Phoenix) that I assume they will win. I think it’s realistic to split the home and homes with Dallas and Orlando as well. They probably don’t win any against the Thunder or Warriors (total of 5 games), and honestly won’t be favored to beat any team in serious playoff contention, whether at home or on the road.
If Memphis follows closely to the predicted win schedule, then they will finish out with 28-ish wins. They might luck out and pull out a few more games to get them to 30 wins. This puts them dangerously shy of the original predicted (though not mathematically advanced) goal of 33.22 wins. This means that the Grizzlies will need to steal some additional wins along the way if they want to climb out of the hole that they have put themselves in and achieve the “ultimate” goal of the season – conveying that first round pick to Boston.
A more advanced way of looking at the situation is to click on over to FiveThirtyEight and check out their NBA projected win totals that are updated daily and see where they predict Memphis will fall. Currently they have the Grizzlies finishing the season at a seemingly optimistic 35 wins. Also according to their projections, this would slot Memphis in at the 7th worst record, meaning that this season would be a recent high in wins for teams finishing out of the bottom 8. Since 2000, those 35 wins would get a team out of the bottom year in every season except one. Another stroke of tough luck for the Grizzlies. Something that Memphis fans should be fairly used to at this point.
The time is now for the Grizzlies. They either need to dive headfirst into the business of flipping players for future assets, or dig deep and find a way to impress and gut out some wins in the final third of the season.
Feature Image [Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports]