I’m a few days late on this, but I wanted to throw my two cents into the conversation.
Several days ago on Twitter, someone posed a question to the masses asking fans to dig deep into their hearts and also their minds to declare which of their team’s seven players they would protect in a hypothetical NBA expansion draft.
For the Grizzlies, that answer doesn’t seem like it should be too complex – at least not at the top. Despite having a deep roster, I only labored over a few decisions towards the bottom of this seven player group.
1. Ja Morant
Yup, no curveball here. Morant is hopefully a Grizzly for his entire tenure in the league. Ideally he is receiving max extension after max extension for exemplary performances in both the regular and post season for many years to come.
2. Jaren Jackson Jr.
Though we may all be frustrated that between a pandemic-shortened season and injuries, it feels like we have barely seen Jackson on the court, it appears pretty obvious to say that he is part of the future and the Grizzlies’ ceiling is going to be primarily determined by how his career pans out.
3. Dillon Brooks
The 25 year old veteran has been one of the few staples on this Grizzlies roster over the past four seasons. John Hollinger would smile at this selection and proceed to remind us about value picks deep in the draft. Brooks is the most polarizing player for the Grizzlies and his game-to-game efficiency is always a roller coaster. However, he has carved out a definitive role for himself in the league and his willingness to D-up the opposition’s star while also serving as a catalyst on offense is a combination most teams are jealous of.
4. Ziaire Williams
We haven’t seen him take the court in an actual NBA game yet, but in this hypothetical situation, you have to protect the guy that you just traded up to draft. Clearly the front office sees a lot in this young player and they have already invested in him. Similar to with Jaren, the Grizzlies may only fly as high as Williams does.
5. Desmond Bane
Bane was nothing short of excellent in his first season in the NBA. His combination of impressive shooting, solid passing, and determined defense earned him 2nd Team All-Rookie honors. This plus the fact that the Grizzlies have him at a great contract rate for a few more seasons makes this decision a no-brainer. I hate talking about Summer League performances and putting any merit to them, but with Bane, it was clear that he was too good to be out there playing with those guys. He’s a bonafide NBA rotation player and that’s why I’m locking him up in this scenario.
6. De’Anthony Melton
Last season was kind of a weird year for Melton, who missed out on a lot of minutes due to Coach Jenkins’ obsession with Grayson Allen and the “data collection” evaluation period for Justise Winslow. Melton is such a versatile player who is a decent to good point guard at times and who can also fill it up when needed. His role was very diminished last season, but I expect him to spot start and play big minutes off the bench in the upcoming seasons. The Grizzlies have him for around $8mm for the next few years, which is a nice rate.
7. Xavier Tillman
I debated with myself a little bit for this final slot on the protected roster. A few other guys that came to mind were Kyle Anderson and Brandon Clarke. Don’t worry, I’ll explain my decision.
Despite being the MVP for Memphis for most of last season, Kyle Anderson doesn’t make my cut. The main reason behind this is cost. He’s such a versatile player who now can magically shoot threes that this was a tough decision for me. I just think that the Grizzlies are going to have so much money tied up with Ja, Jaren, and Ziaire in the future that retaining Anderson won’t really be possible. It’s unfortunate, but he’s in a contract year and I would be surprised if he is still suiting up for Memphis following the trade deadline.
Brandon Clarke was fantastic in his rookie season. Last year he took a nosedive off a cliff. His ability to efficiently score the ball disappeared and his defense declined as well. Honestly, I did want to pick him in this last slot, but I think going with Tillman is the right choice. I still have faith in Clarke as an NBA player. If he can return anywhere close to rookie season form, then he will be a valuable asset to any team (which I have to remind myself is still Memphis because this is all fake).
Now let’s focus on on Tillman. Talk about a dude. He hit a huge three in the play-in game as a rookie. He bodies up against anyone, including All-Star center Rudy Gobert. He can pace and space. Tillman is versatile enough that he fits in the mold of the ideal modern center. It doesn’t take long to appreciate and grow to love his game. He’s a glue guy and not an All-Star, but every team with championship aspirations needs guys like him on the floor during crunch time.