Now that we know who's in and who's out of this year's NBA draft, it's time for take two of my Griz draft board for this summer's lottery pick.
What was already shaping up as a weak draft took a big hit with an unexpected group of top prospects deciding to stay on campus an extra year, taking four players — Greg Monroe, Cole Aldrich, Willie Warren, and Al-Farouq Aminu off my earlier list. Another top prospect who decided to stay in school — North Carolina's Ed Davis — was not on my first list because I never thought he was coming out.
The Monroe and Davis defections, in particular, hurt the Grizzlies, because the Griz desperately need an upgrade at the 4 and Monroe and Davis were the two most promising Blake Griffin consolation prizes on the board.
With those guys, as well as Aldich, out of the mix, don't think it's a given the Grizzlies will go big with their top pick. A lot of mock drafts I've seen have the Grizzlies going for a power forward, presumably out of pure need. In Chad Ford's mock, he has the Griz taking Jordan Hill 6th, but James Johnson 6th or 7th in scenarios where Hill is off the board.
There seems to be a consensus around the country that the Grizzlies have to go big not only because of the obvious need at power forward, but because the team has quality young players at place at the 1 (Mike Conley), 2 (O.J. Mayo), and 3 (Rudy Gay). But what people seem to be missing is that the team's depth along the perimeter is abysmal — Greg Buckner won't be back; if Quinton Ross is back it will be at a reduced role; Marko Jaric is coming off his worst pro season. Even if the perimeter starters average 36 minutes a game, there will still be 36 minutes a night on the perimeter to account for and the Griz desperately need to upgrade the quality of player taking up that time.
Given Chris Wallace's stated preference for "best player available" and given that quality perimeter depth is a strong secondary need after a more physical, higher-upside power forward, I think DeMar DeRozan, Tyreke Evans, and James Harden should and will get strong consideration from the Grizzlies if the lottery gods once again frown on the franchise.
Take DeRozan for example: This is a player with both the size and skill to play both the 2 and 3. If he were the pick and were capable of being an impact player as a rookie, the perimeter depth chart could break down something like this:
PG: Conley (35 minutes)/Mayo (13)
SG: Mayo (25)/DeRozan (23)
SF: Gay (38)/DeRozan (10)
Chances are, a fifth perimeter player — a veteran of some sort — would soak up some spot minutes, but even with Conley/Mayo/Gay in place, there is a role for another high-upside perimeter player on this team. And given the possibility of an eventual move to the point for Mayo, developing a starting-caliber two-guard behind him now is something worth doing.
The updates on the list below are mild and based almost entirely on removing the players who opted out of the draft. I'll have more extensively re-thought lists up following each of the next two draft-events: The May XX draft lottery and the May XX pre-draft combine. I'll also have my long-promised draft board for the late first and early second round picks up later tonight.
Griz Draft Board
1. Blake Griffin
Griffin doesn't require much commentary: The hands-down top pick and exactly what the Grizzlies need. I don't think he has the length or all-around game to be a Duncan/Garnett-level league-MVP-caliber player at the 4, but I think he can be a physical force from day one and a monster rebounder and (emerging) scorer. He's Carlos Boozer with hops and toughness. We can only hope
2. Ricky Rubio
I dont think the Grizzlies need a point guard, but Rubio is the second safest pick in the draft to be a high-level pro. If he's the best player on the board when the Griz pop up, then the team needs to find a trading partner either for Rubio or Mike Conley but you can't let Rubio slip by based purely on value.
3. Hasheem Thabeet
I don't love Thabeet and don't think the Grizzlies need him with Marc Gasol at center. But I think with his physical tools he's going to be a quality center, at least in the Theo Ratliff/Samuel Dalembert mold, and this would be a value pick in a weak draft. Even more than with Rubio, if the Grizzlies find Thabeet as the highest-rated prospect on the board, then the pick should become trade bait.
4. Jordan Hill
I can't believe I have this guy this high. But: Hill has been a consistent high-level producer as a scorer, rebounder, and shot-blocker against quality college competition and seems to have taken significant steps forward each year. He's an excellent athlete with a strong motor. He's quick off the floor and good in transition.
Downside: He seems to be undersized for a pro "4" and doesn't seem to have much of a perimeter or developed post game. I worry he's just a guy at the NBA level, but he plays the Grizzlies' position of greatest need without a clearly better player at another position on the board. Hill is a guy I could move down after seeing him in person if he doesn't look big enough to be a pro "4." The draft combine and individual workouts will have a big impact on how I ultimately rate Hill.
5. DeMar DeRozan
With his size (6'6"), wingspan, and athleticism, DeRozan would probably be able to back up Mayo and Gay on the wings. He's an explosive athlete with what looked like a pretty decent mid-range game when I saw him and the ability to be a quality defender. His outside shooting was disappointing, though, and putting him this high makes me nervous. Consider this a placeholder based purely on raw talent in a weak draft.
6. Tyreke Evans
Like a lot of people, I was impressed with Evans' improvement over the course of his college season. At 6'6", 220, he's got a prototype NBA body for a two-guard. He handles the ball well for that position. (He won't be playing point at the pro level.) And he's deadly attacking the rim. Maturity and lack of a reliable outside shot are the question marks, but he's someone who might fit well as a third guard playing behind Conley and Mayo.
7. James Harden
This is a tough one. I watched Harden a couple of times last season and, while he was very productive, he just didn't look like a high-level pro. Maybe it was the beard or maybe it was his stocky build, but my immediate reaction was, "Who is that fat, old dude scoring all those points?" In fairness, Harden has a lot of stuff in his game three-point range, playmaking ability, crafty moves, the ability to take contact and finish. But I can't shake the fear that he's too small and too limited athletically to be a big-time pro. I'll be very interested in seeing him in person if he comes in for a workout.
8. James Johnson:
When I watched Wake Forest early on, I was focusing more on Jeff Teague and Al-Farouq Aminu, so I didn't get a close enough look at the Wake player that's now probably most likely to be a Grizzlies draft target. I was hoping to take a second look in the NCAA tournament, but that didn't exactly work out. Seems to have toughness, athleticism, and versatility. If he's really as big as his 6'9", 245 listing, he could be intriguing. I'll be interested to see him workout if and when he comes in.
9. DaJuan Blair:
Love him as a college player and his rebounding and toughness at the "4" fits the Grizzlies biggest need. But his size and conditioning are big red flags. I've watched him struggle to get his shot off against 6'9" college defenders. In those cases, he typically misses the shot but gets the offensive rebound and putback. Not sure if he'll be so effective on the block in the NBA. Still, rebounding tends to translate. If he goes on the Kevin Love diet and comes into workouts looking more sculpted, this is a guy I could see myself moving up the list. The danger is that he turns out closer to the next Tractor Traylor.
Others worth a look:
Brandon Jennings: A bit of a mystery and one of the few guys in the draft I've never seen play. The last thing the Grizzlies need is a small guard, so I would avoid Jennings unless the team thinks he's clearly the best talent on the board. And even then I'd see Jennings as trade bait.
Stephen Curry: I think Curry will be a good pro in the right, wide-open system. I don't think he's a great fit for the Grizzlies, but with his pure shooting, probably a better one than Jennings. I wouldn't rule him out, but I'd prefer the size, upside, and versatility of Evans or DeRozan if that's the choice being made.