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#IMHO: The Lottery, Zion and Morant, plus The Brow

by Lang Whitaker | Grizz Gaming GM

Grind City Media’s Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace have been covering the NBA since shorts were short and socks were long, but their opinions about the League don’t always mesh. #IMHO is their weekly chance to weigh in on the most pertinent news from around the NBA. What’s lit? What’s lame? Find out each week right here.

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, May 15, 2019 9:26 AM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: #IMHO

OK, I purposely waited to email you until today, until the day after the NBA Draft Lottery in Chicago, where you are right now. The chances were against us, but lo and behold the Grizzlies hit the lotto! Well, nearly: The Grizzlies ended up with the second overall pick in the upcoming 2019 Draft.

You were in the room where the actual ping pong balls were drawn. Did you pass out when the Grizz came up second? Were other teams upset? And when should I go ahead and order my MORANT jersey in Beale Street blue? Give us the details!!

Grizzlies chosen for the two spot in the 2019 NBA Draft Lottery

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Wednesday, May 15, 2019 12:54 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

Nah, I didn’t pass out. Well, scratch that. I almost passed out laughing after seeing how Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry jumped out of his chair and dropped an F-bomb in celebration after New Orleans landed the No. 1 pick.

It’s always cool to be in that sequestered room. I’ve now done it three times. The first was in 2008 when the Bulls jumped up from ninth to first to ultimately land Derrick Rose. I was also there last year, when Phoenix’s combination of lottery numbers came up three straight times for the first pick in that draft. Coincidentally, that also featured an NBA team landing a hometown product with the No. 1 pick. And the other night, three teams jumped into the top 4, with the Lakers (fourth) joining the Pelicans and Grizzlies.

In terms of reaction, I wrote a piece the other day that set the scene for how the events unfolded and how different execs reacted. Gentry was wildin’ out while Grizzlies executive vice president Zach Kleiman – essentially the newcomer to the room – was cool, calm and stoic in his approach to snagging the No. 2 pick. And then, after everything was done, we all sat and watched the national TV broadcast in suspense as if we didn’t already know what was going to happen. Shoutout to the NBA for recognizing what the Grizzlies are doing with Grind City Media, and the relationships and credibility we’ve built along the way. We were represented in there along with national, veteran media outlets. That’s respect!

Lang, so the question stands: Is the new lottery format good for the NBA? Two of the three teams that had 14-percent odds of landing the No. 1 pick got bounced out of the top four. With the odds flattened out a bit, you can no longer sort of tank your way into the top pick.

2019 NBA Draft Lottery Stage

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Wednesday, May 15, 2019 1:13 PM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

I’ve also spent an evening sequestered in the lottery room, back in 2013. I sat there with everyone else in disbelief when the Cavs leapfrogged a few teams and drew the number one overall pick, which they went on to use on Anthony Bennett.

We’ve seen plenty of teams come out of nowhere to grab one of the top picks, but this year, with the odds as flat as Kyrie’s earth, it was great to see so many teams that nobody expected be part of the final four. And for a team like the Grizz, who refused to go full tank and instead fought to win all season long, it felt like a reward from the Basketball Gods.

So I liked the way it played out with the odds evened out. I understand it’s not going to happen every year, and the team with the worst record still has the best chance to get the number one spot, but more even odds seems like a good idea for everyone involved. (Especially us!)

All that being said, we now have the number two pick, and the way I see it there are three primary options for the Grizz:

1. Draft Ja Morant with the second pick

2. Draft RJ Barrett with the second pick

3. Trade the second pick, perhaps in concert with Mike Conley, as part of a bigger package.

Mike, if you were making the call, what would you do?

NBA Draft prospects Zion Williamson, Ja Morrant, and RJ Barrett

From: Michael Wallace
Sent: Wednesday, May 15, 2019 5:58 PM
To: Lang Whitaker
Subject: RE: #IMHO

I’d keep it simple. Draft Ja Morant. Only one player in NCAA history has averaged 20 points and 10 assists in a season – and it’s Ja Morant. He gives the Grizzlies Mike Conley insurance in case the front office decides to move forward and trade the 31-year-old point guard. But going with Jaren Jackson Jr. and Morant as the centerpieces of a rebuilding team will take some patience when it comes to winning on a regular basis.

On the other hand, if Barrett impresses you and shows he deserves strong consideration for the No. 2 pick, I can understand taking him. He’s a big shooting guard, and the Grizzlies have struggled to find an athletic, dynamic scorer on the wing for some time now. So, in essence, both Morant and Barrett fill a major need for Memphis. Still, I’d lean strongly toward Morant.

Having said that, I also remember 2008, when Michael Beasley put up historic college numbers out of Kansas State and was considered the no-brainer pick at No. 2 behind Derrick Rose. The Miami Heat drafted Beasley second as much out of positional obligation as anything else. Pat Riley was reluctant and strongly wanted to trade down, but, as the story goes, went with the consensus path within the front office. Russell Westbrook (fourth), Kevin Love (fifth) and Eric Gordon (seventh) all quickly turned out to be better NBA players than Beasley. So, sometimes a seemingly sure thing isn’t always a sure thing – especially when it comes to the NBA draft.

Lang, we’ll wrap up on this: Both the Knicks and Lakers end up with top-four picks. Neither team wants to build through the draft right now, especially after losing out on Zion Williamson. So which team is in position – or is most likely – to part with their pick to consummate a major trade? Knicks or Lakers? I say the Lakers are wayyyyy more desperate to win now, and won’t get much use out of an incoming rookie alongside LeBron.

Top 4 NBA Draft Lottery Teams pose

From: Lang Whitaker
Sent: Thursday, May 16, 2019 2:48 PM
To: Michael Wallace
Subject: RE: #IMHO

(First of all, I agree on your draft analysis. Barrett had a great year in a great conference, but the more of Morant that I watch, the more I fall in love with his game. It’s slightly concerning that all the clips take place in what look like high school gyms, which seems to speak to the level of competition he went up against last season, but his feel for the game is evident.)

You can make a pretty good case for the Knicks being the team with the best set of assets to deal for Anthony Davis. Like, they could package the three pick, Kevin Knox, Dennis Smith Jr and some salary filler, which is a nice grouping of NBA stuff. But we already know Davis was sniffing around the Lakers a year ago, and the Lakers have a bunch of good stuff to shuffle around, including the third pick, plus Lonzo, Kuzma, even Ingram if it came to that.

But the more I look at those two teams, the more I wonder if the best option for the Pelicans might be a) trying to find a different team to trade with, or b) to just do nothing. Maybe the best thing to do to is to wait and see how it works. Worst case scenario, Davis’s trade value isn’t going anywhere, and best case scenario, maybe Zion turns out to be as awesome as every thinks and you’re able to actually contend this season. Maybe winning is the way to convince AD to stick around.

The contents of this page have not been reviewed or endorsed by the Memphis Grizzlies. All opinions expressed by Lang Whitaker and Michael Wallace are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of the Memphis Grizzlies or its Basketball Operations staff, owners, parent companies, partners or sponsors. Their sources are not known to the Memphis Grizzlies and they have no special access to information beyond the access and privileges that go along with being an NBA accredited member of the media.


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