Grizz: Race to the Bottom

Prior to the start of this season, Memphis Grizzlies owner Robert Pera stated that he believed his team could win 50 games and secure a playoff spot in the ever-crowded Western Conference. Now, as the Memphis Grizzlies return from the all-star break at 23-36, it is abundantly clear that Pera may have expected just a bit too much from an overhauled roster that was brought on to improve last year’s dismal record. However, with 23 games left on the schedule, a different narrative has replaced the former goal of returning to postseason play for the eighth time in nine tries.

What is going to happen to our draft pick?

Thanks to the now infamous Jeff Green trade back in 2015, the Grizzlies owe their first rounder to Boston, with some protections. If the pick manages to land inside the top eight this season, which seems likely, the pick will stay. Likewise, if that same pick falls in the top six in 2020, it does not convey to the Celtics. However, if both of those scenarios play out, there is nothing preventing Boston from the pick in 2021, which also happens to be the rumored year that high school players will once again be able to go straight into the draft.

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What does this mean for the Grizzlies?

Well, depending on how big of a fan you are of the quartet of additions of CJ Miles, Jonas Valanciunas, Delon Wright and Avery Bradley, respectively, it is not likely that this group will move the needle drastically in a winning direction. With that being said, the players acquired via trade are still a solid group of veterans and surely will be competitive enough on the floor that the team’s record does not simply bottom out, although their showing in Chicago right before the break may indicate otherwise.

After all, the Grizzlies find themselves considerably ahead of the other basement dwellers of the league. Outside of the Hawks, who sit at 19-39 and have come on strong behind the improved play of their young core lead by Trae Young, Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman, the rest of the records take a steep drop with the likes of Cleveland, Chicago, New York and Phoenix all having won less than 15 contests.

Unlike the 2018 draft, which featured a large group of potential impact players, this year’s crop seems for now to be much top-heavier. Depending on your opinion on the Romeo Langfords and Darius Garlands of the world, the top four prospects in this class stand out as a tier above the rest. Whether it be freak of nature Zion Williamson, the extra bouncy Ja Morant, lights-out shooter Cam Reddish or take-over-the-game scorer RJ Barrett, any franchise who finds themselves fortunate enough to draft one of these guys will be elated.

Until this year, the odds at landing a pick in the top four would have been much slimmer for a team like the Grizzlies, who have had a rough year but have not been bad enough to be in the race for the first pick. However, after the NBA flattened the lottery odds to reduce tanking as an incentive to race to the bottom, anything is possible. Now, if the standings remain the exact same until the lottery, the Grizz with the six worst record would have a 9% chance at landing number one. The real impact comes at the top, though, as now all three teams with the worst records will have an equal 14% chance at one, instead of the 25% chance that the clubs with the worst record has enjoyed in the past.

Looking Ahead

With a fairer chance at receiving a higher pick than their record would warrant in lotteries of yesteryear, the hope for Grizzlies fans would have to be somehow earning one of those top-four selections. Outside of that first tier of prospects, there are not many perceived as franchise contributors from day one. After dealing Marc Gasol, the focus must be building around Jaren Jackson Jr. as quickly as possible.

It is certainly not ideal that a team that looks primed for a lengthy rebuild owes Boston a pick in the future. That is why it is imperative that if the picks do not convey until 2021, which seems more and more like a likelihood each passing day, that the Grizzlies must hit on their picks in the meantime. The next two drafts, if the Grizzlies end up not conveying the pick this year or next, take on great importance in the direction of the franchise.

For a front office that so desperately tried to cling to the grit and grind era, it is now time to face the music that they have so long avoided. JJJ is a franchise star in the making, and the decision makers must do everything in their power to provide him with a group of young players enticing enough to keep him here.

Despite the pick protections looming overhead, any selections that the team does make must be the right ones. After all, the front office should have a blueprint of what not to do after another all-world big in New Orleans showed what happens when they fail to build accordingly.

Zach Thompson

Zachary Thompson: @zachary__22

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