As the race for the playoffs heats up at the beginning of March, so does the competition at the bottom of the barrel. Basketball Insiders is set to bring you our “Fixing” series based on all the teams who are lottery-bound for the 2018 NBA Draft.
We’re kicking things off with the league’s worst team by record as of this writing: the Memphis Grizzlies.
Currently, the situation on Beale Street is the lowest it’s been in quite some time.
The Grizzlies have lost 13 straight games and are 18-44.
Doomed by an early season-ending injury to Mike Conley Jr., that event was a harbinger of what was to come for the Grizzlies. They’ve been bruised and battered all season long. Their roster is a mixture of a ton of inexperience and a few guys in their thirties desiring more. To top that all off, organizational mainstay Marc Gasol is disgruntled and hasn’t shied away from expressing his frustration.
What Is Working
The re-invention of Tyreke Evans has been an awesome revelation individually, and he’ll probably earn a nice payday after winning a gamble on himself, but that’s really all that can be said.
It’s hard to see the positives when you’re in the basement of the NBA. However, Memphis has done as good of a job as they possibly can in developing their players.
Dillon Brooks is proving with each game that he was undervalued and selected way too late in last summer’s draft. Defensively, he’s been about as effective as any rookie in his class. Regarding his knack to score, the Oregon alum has taken it upon himself to be more aggressive with each night.
The consistency from the field hasn’t been necessarily amazing, but that’s to be expected from a first-year player. Let’s not forget to mention he’s fifth in games started (54) and eighth in minutes per game (28.5) among his peers.
As for the younger talents, you’ve seen flashes of progress. Jarell Martin’s filled in for JaMychal Green in instances and has taken advantage of the opportunity. Andrew Harrison’s made significant progress in his sophomore year. Ivan Rabb has shown promise in stretches where he’s gotten consistent run on the floor. Similarly, Deyonta Davis has done much of the same. Wayne Selden carved out an important role between late January and mid-February. Two-way player Kobi Simmons appears to be bound for decent minutes in the closing months of the season as well.
The majority of that talent pool is between the ages of 20-23. Despite the terrible record, they’re all getting experience against top-tier players, and that is invaluable when it comes to professional growth.
What Needs To Change
For some reason, Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace was so reluctant to part ways with Gasol that he prioritized his happiness over then up-and-coming head coach David Fizdale. In hindsight, this was probably the wrong move, but what’s done is done.
That being said, Memphis has to move on from its franchise darling. Like previously mentioned, as the losses have piled up, so has the impatience in Gasol. He’s clearly unhappy with where things are. There’s nothing left of the Grind City core besides Conley and Green, so why not find a trade partner?
Surely there’s a contender out there who would love to have one of the smoothest big men in the game today, especially with his ability to stretch the floor and make plays in the post.
Shipping Gasol away would not only rid the Grizzlies of an unhappy superstar, but would also help shed one of their three humungous 20-plus million dollar contracts. When you’re attempting to rebuild, and that’s what the focus should be on after seeing this year, flexibility is paramount to tinkering a roster.
The other two hefty contracts on the books are Chandler Parsons and Conley, but it’d be difficult to track down a team who would be able to take on those deals. Besides, neither is going anywhere because Conley is the heart and soul of Memphis and not too many organizations would trade for Parsons with that kind of cash attached to him.
Focus Area: The Draft
This offseason is going to be absolutely crucial for the Grizzlies. Starting off on the wrong foot in a franchise reset can be catastrophic. There are so many areas of need that it’s difficult to pinpoint what direction they should go in this draft, but hypothetically let’s say Gasol gets traded.
Don’t mess around—go and get DeAndre Ayton. There is no question who the most dominant force is in the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft class. He is a 7-foot-1, 250-pound monster. There’s no other way to describe him.
Ayton is extremely physical down low and is a ferocious finisher. He crashes the glass with the best and provides second chances. He’s able to step out and knock down shots. He gets to the line consistently.
There are drawbacks, too, but that’s expected of any prospect. For example, Ayton’s individual defense leaves something to be desired despite nearly averaging two blocks per game. That could be due to mismatches with quicker guards at times and intangibles. Even so, the upside there is too high to pass on.
Pairing Ayton with an experienced veteran point guard like Conley in the pick-and-roll would make for an instant one-two punch and would absolutely be a head start on teaching him how to play the right way at the professional level.
Basketball reasons come first, but Memphis needs one of those players that makes you say, “Oh man, I’ve got to see this.” They haven’t had that in quite some time. Ayton would immediately accomplish bringing in that mainstream audience.
Focus Area: Free Agency
Unless something drastic happens, the Grizzlies’ hands are pretty much tied as far as targeting impactful players in the free agent pool because of their over-the-cap salary situation. They have a boatload of money invested between the trio of Conley, Parsons, and Gasol.
They’ll have multiple minor contracts expire (Mario Chalmers, Brice Johnson, Evans) and two other deals (Selden, Harrison) are non-guaranteed until July 10 and January 10, 2019, respectively.
If Memphis can make any kind of significant move in free agency, the focus needs to be on bringing in shooters and scorers.
Mario Hezonja seems to be the perfect fit for a mid-level exception. At just 23 years old, he’s shown enough flashes with the Orlando Magic that prove he’s got plenty of untapped potential with an expanded role, and his skill set is perfect in today’s NBA. He could fit in seamlessly with a brand new young core of players.
Reggie Bullock is a bit older with a couple more years of experience, but he’s had a breakout season with the Detroit Pistons after waiting his turn. He’s a deadly perimeter threat and a dependable marksman. He’s still relatively under-the-radar, so that could be a bargain for a team like the Grizzlies to swoop in.
Those are a couple of names that could be a match for the Grizzlies. Not many higher tier players want to come to a rebuilding situation in free agency so that, coupled with little leeway, makes it difficult to attract talent. The brunt of restructuring is generally done internally and through the draft anyway.
Memphis has to undergo a facelift to get back on the right track. They have to figure out whether J.B. Bickerstaff is their guy. They have to make the difficult choice of whether or not to keep Gasol. They have to get the draft right after a sketchy track record in past years.
It won’t be easy, but the Grizzlies have to get it done. The future of the franchise depends on it.
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