Grizzlies’ Poor Draft History In Focus With Lottery Pick

By Don Wade

When the NBA Draft Lottery is held on Tuesday, May 15, in Chicago, Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley will be watching on TV. The lottery show will air at 6:30 p.m. on ESPN, should you be inclined to join Conley and root along.

“A lot of good talent in this draft,” Conley said. “Whether we’re first or fifth, we’re gonna make the right decision and hopefully get this thing turned around.”

By odds, the Grizzlies have a 19.9 percent chance that the ping-pong balls fall their way and they get the first overall pick. They can do no worse than the fifth overall pick.

Most draft analysts believe this draft goes at least five spots deep. Grizzlies coach J.B. Bickerstaff has gone so far as to say that picking anywhere in the top five could net the team a “franchise-changer.”

He’s right. It could.

Then again, no Grizzlies fan has healed from the selection of Hasheem Thabeet No. 2 overall in 2009. Faith in the front office probably isn’t possible until the Grizzlies nail a draft by scooping up a franchise-changer or something very close to it.

Consider what the Grizzlies missed in 2009: James Harden (franchise-changer) went third overall, Tyreke Evans fourth, Steph Curry (franchise-changer) seventh, DeMar DeRozan ninth and, well, you can look up the 2009 NBA Draft yourself if you want to embrace the pain and regret to its full extent.

The problem, of course, is that the Grizzlies didn’t just take one big swing and miss in 2009; they’ve had a high whiff rate after taking Conley with the fourth overall pick in 2007.

You can’t be too critical of second-round picks because those are calculated guesses. But first-round picks can’t always be busts or quasi-busts and the Grizzlies have had more than a few of those over the last decade.

In 2014, for example, the Grizzlies took guard Jordan Adams 22nd overall only for Rodney Hood to go with the very next pick. In 2012, they selected guard Tony Wroten 25th overall and Draymond Green (franchise-changer) lasted until the second round and the 35th overall pick.

In 2010, they had three first-round picks. Guard Xavier Henry, taken at No. 12, played just one season in Memphis and has been out of the NBA for three years. Guard Dominque Jones was taken 25th overall, sold to Dallas on draft night, and only played 80 NBA games in his career. Guard Greivis Vasquez went 28th overall, played one season in Memphis, was traded and had several productive years with other NBA teams.

So, no, as we draw down on the lottery and look to the draft in June confidence does not come easily.

Then-owner Michael Heisley reportedly insisted on Thabeet, but the Grizzlies have done little since then to make fans believe they are better prepared than they were then. Guard Wade Baldwin was the 17th overall pick in 2016.

The Grizzlies were so frustrated by his attitude and lack of progress they cut him before the start of last season. And what was the biggest, and hardly secret, pre-draft concern about Baldwin? His attitude.

So comes the question to general manager Chris Wallace: How does the team ensure it does not repeat past failures?

“You can’t be more critical of yourself than I am,” Wallace said. “It’s just not possible. There’s reasons why when you make a mistake, and then you try to correct them.

“Every draft’s a new set of players. You try to use your past history.”

That’s a vague and less than satisfying answer. Still, if you look at the top prospects in 2018 it’s not hard to sell yourself on everyone from Deandre Ayton to Marvin Bagley to Luka Doncic being a franchise-changer. But they all carry caution flags to one extent or another, too. And so do all the other top players.

Maybe the best player will turn out to be Trae Young or Jaren Jackson Jr. or Michael Porter or Wendell Carter. They’re all consistently listed in the top seven of mock drafts. Maybe it’s someone who goes outside the lottery, proving how easy it is to get this wrong.

“It’s hard to say there’s a bad pick out there with the pick we’re going to get,” said Grizzlies forward Chandler Parsons.

And maybe there isn’t a bad pick in the top five. But the Grizzlies, with Conley’s and Marc Gasol’s windows beginning to close, can’t just avoid the swing and miss.

Drafting a mere rotation player isn’t good enough. The Grizzlies need the ping-pongs to cooperate and give them one of the first three picks.

They need a hit and preferably a home run.

Don Wade’s column appears in The Daily News and The Memphis News. Listen to Wade on “Middays with Greg & Eli” every Tuesday at noon on Sports 56 AM and 87.7 FM.