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NBA Draft Team Needs: Memphis’ Search For A Reliable Rookie

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

With Mike Conley about to hit free agency, Memphis needs a reliable rookie at number 17.

This article is part of a series on NBA Draft team needs. With the NBA Draft fast approaching, many NBA franchises are narrowing in on prospects that could improve their teams for years to come. We have now reached the middle of the first round and will be looking at the Memphis Grizzlies. Check out the bottom of this piece for the draft order accompanied by the corresponding articles that have been published so far.

Team: Memphis Grizzlies

Draft Picks: #17

Team Needs: Injection of youth, everything

Key Players: Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, Tony Allen

The Memphis Grizzlies could see their franchise go in a variety of directions this offseason. That has much to do with the fact that their star point guard, Mike Conley, is set to be a free agent, along with seven other Grizzlies. That leaves the active roster at just six under contract players, which includes guard Jordan Adams who is having surgery again. Outside of Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Tony Allen, there’s no telling what this team is going to look like.

If Conley gets the max he wants and returns to Memphis, they’ll be competitive in free agency and will likely be in contention for a playoff seed come next season. Should Conley sign elsewhere, they could build around Gasol and likely still make the playoffs. But, they could also shop Gasol and blow it up. 

With so much uncertainty and the fact that Memphis has very little youth in its current team, this is possibly the most important draft for Memphis since 2007, when they picked Conley with the 4th overall pick. The Grizzlies are more likely to find a solid rotation player than a Kawhi Leonard at 17, but they need to nail this pick. As we’ll discuss further, Memphis seems an unlikely candidate to take on a project with their first round pick. The Grizzlies cannot predict the future, so finding a solid player to have under team control for four years is imperative for a team stuck in between contention and rebuilding. Let’s dive in.Image title

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

17th Pick in the NBA Draft:

Memphis finds itself in the middle of the deepest part of this draft. Their job to select the right player in such a deep range becomes more difficult and easier given they could use a player at every position. With Gasol, Randolph, Jarell Martin, and Brendan Wright they certainly have more bigs than guards and wings, however, they should draft the best player available regardless of position. 

Big men like the towering shot blocker from Michigan State Deyonta Davis, and the polished, skilled big from Utah Jakob Poeltl would be perfect for Memphis, but they’re projected to be lottery picks. That doesn’t mean, though, that there aren’t good big men to target in this range. The two best big men that should be on the board at 17 are Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis and Kansas’ Cheick Diallo. 

Diallo is the perfect, bouncy big man to come in for Randolph and Gasol, but given he doesn’t project to be more than just that, pick No. 17 seems like a bit of a reach. Sabonis on the other hand offers a much more diverse set of skills and has NBA genes. Sabonis is far more than his father’s son, resembling a do-it-all big man who can play in the post, pass, and rebound with the energy of the tasmanian devil. Another thing Sabonis comes with is excellent foot work.Image title

He has an incredible height and size advantage over Justice Winslow there, but look at how quickly he gets from catching the ball on the right side of the hoop to finishing on the left. He’s a very fluid player who had a true shooting percentage over 65 percent, which ranked 19th in the country. Sabonis also locked up projected lottery pick Jakob Poeltl in the NCCA tournament. Questions remain over who he defends and how well, but thanks to an absurd 28.2 defensive rebounding percentage, Sabonis would be the perfect big off the bench for Memphis.

While there may not be a plethora of options for Memphis to add a big man, they have plenty more to choose from in terms of guards and wings. Memphis has long been lacking a steady back up point guard and with Conley’s impending free agency, it would fit the biggest need. A week ago this would have stirred a debate between Tyler Ulis and Demetrius Jackson. That was of course until reports surfaced of real concern over a hip problem for Ulis, meaning Jackson is the only real point guard option here. With last year’s cavalcade of injuries, they cannot take a risk on Ulis.

With Jackson, Memphis would be getting an incredibly tough athlete who defends and shot around 37 percent from deep at Notre Dame. He’ll be a menace in transition, and will immediately someone who is good enough to run the second unit. Should Conley bolt, Gasol’s playmaking could limit Memphis’ need to be reliant on the rookie point guard’s passing. Given he’ll be 22 very soon, Jackson would fit the timeline of a Memphis team looking to take advantage of the golden years of Marc Gasol. He’d also bring a poster threat that the Grizzlies have sorely missed in the “Grit and Grind” era.Image title

Now, there are also an abundance of young wings should Memphis divert their attention elsewhere. Should they want to add some international flavor, they could select either Furkan Korkmaz or Timothe Luwawu. Both players could be off the board by then, and the Grizzlies might feel uneasy about drafting a project like Korkmaz when they still have to pitch Conley on staying. Korkmaz did shoot 42 percent from three this year, which is something Memphis desperately needs. He’s also only 18.

Luwawu on the other hand would be fascinating, as a player who could defend and play in transition immediately. Tony Allen would be an extraordinary mentor for him. Luwawu is also 21, leading you to believe he really could contribute right away. 

Like Demetrius Jackson, he’d bring athleticism that could translate to the open court. And while he’s not the same level of shooter as Korkmaz, he did up his percentage to over 37 percent from three. Even his form looks like it doesn’t need a complete overhaul in mechanics.Image title

In terms of the best wings coming out of college, there’s a young trio that could also entice the Grizzlies: Taurean Prince, Denzel Valentine, and Malachi Richardson. Richardson has been a high riser after a great tournament run and a strong showing at the combine. He’s a player unlikely to be on the board at 17, but his 7-foot wingspan and 35 percent shooting from deep could tempt Memphis. He’s also just 20 years old. 

If Richardson is off the board, Valentine could be an intriguing option. The Spartan was one of the best players in college basketball, and is arguably the best passer in this draft not named Ben Simmons. His season-long stat line of 19-7-7 doesn’t happen very often. But much akin to Tyler Ulis, an injury concern has been raised. Given how badly Memphis needs a good selection here, and how banged up they were last season, it’s probably smart to pass on Valentine. 

That leaves Prince, who seems to be one of the best options for the Grizzlies in this draft. Prince will need time to adjust defensively because he played at the four and in a lot of zone at Baylor. However, he brings everything you’d want in a three-and-D wing.

Prince is a tad under 6-foot-8 and comes with a wingspan that’s just under seven feet. His length and 220 pound frame should allow him to defend very well right away. As he matures and learns the NBA game, he could probably defend some fours as well. Prince was asked to do a lot at Baylor, but at the NBA level his game will be simplified to mostly spot up shooting and cutting. He was excellent at the latter at Baylor and shot 36 percent from three on 4.5 attempts per game. Image title

Prince showed a knack for creating his own shot at Baylor, but shot selection held him back. However, this confidence is necessary to score in the NBA, and his shot selection should be something that the Memphis coaching staff can work with him on. Prince is the kind of wing that could get better each and every year by adding something to his game. That’s not to say he’ll become Jimmy Butler, but that’s not a bad ceiling for him. It’s unlikely, but he has all the tools and Butler was 21 going on 22 when he entered the league as well.

Memphis could use a player at just about every position, but they’ll likely look to someone a bit older who can contribute right away. Prince, Sabonis, and Jackson seem like three very strong candidates who can play both ways and with toughness. With the biggest summer in recent time upcoming, getting a safer draft pick would suit the Grizzlies.

The Draft Order and Team Needs

1. Philadelphia 76ers
2. Los Angeles Lakers
3. Boston Celtics (From Brooklyn)
4. Phoenix Suns
5. Minnesota Timberwolves
6. New Orleans Pelicans
7. Denver Nuggets (From New York)
8. Sacramento Kings
9. Toronto Raptors (From Denver)
10. Milwaukee Bucks
11. Orlando Magic
12. Atlanta Hawks (From Utah)
13. Phoenix Suns (From Washington) - Second 1st Round Pick
14. Chicago Bulls
15. Denver Nuggets (From Houston) - Second 1st Round Pick
16. Boston Celtics (From Dallas) - Second 1st Round Pick
17. Memphis Grizzlies
18. Detroit Pistons
19. Denver Nuggets (From Portland) - Third 1st Round Pick
20. Indiana Pacers
21. Atlanta Hawks - Second First Round Pick
22. Charlotte Hornets
23. Boston Celtics - Third First Round Pick
24. Philadelphia 76ers (From Miami) - Second First Round Pick
25. Los Angeles Clippers
26. Philadelphia 76ers (From Oklahoma City) - Third First Round Pick
27. Toronto Raptors - Second First Round Pick
28. Phoenix Suns (From Cleveland) - Third First Round Pick
29. San Antonio Spurs
30. Golden State Warriors

37. Houston Rockets (From New York)
42. Utah Jazz
46. Dallas Mavericks
55. Brooklyn Nets (From Los Angeles)

No Picks: Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat, New York Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers, Washington Wizards

Edited by Brian Kang, Coleman Gray.

Who did Memphis select in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft?
Created 6/16/16
  1. Jarell Martin
  2. Nikola Milutinov
  3. Larry Nance Jr.
  4. Tyus Jones

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