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MikeCheck: With Claws Crossed For No. 1 Pick, Grizzlies Eye Tuesday’s NBA Draft Lottery Focused on 2-for-1 Haul

by Michael Wallace | Grind City Media

CHICAGO – As suspense builds for how the ping pong balls ultimately fall on the Grizzlies at Tuesday’s NBA Lottery, there’s already clarity in how they view their other pick in the June 21 Draft.

The vision is to snag a first-round, foundational talent with both of their 2018 draft selections.

Having finished with the second-worst record in the league this past season at 22-60, the Grizzlies are seeded second in the order entering the lottery drawing, which airs nationally on ESPN before Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals between Cleveland and Boston.

The Grizzlies have a 19.9-percent shot to land the No. 1 overall pick, 55.8-percent odds to exit with a top-three selection and are guaranteed to fall no farther than fifth in a draft where Arizona center DeAndre Ayton, Real Madrid guard Luka Doncic and Duke forward Marvin Bagley are consensus top-tier prospects.

But the selection approach this offseason is very much a two-part process for the Grizzlies, who consider their pick at No. 32 almost as potentially impactful as the position they’ll lock in on at Tuesday's lottery.

The reason is simple.

At the moment, Memphis’ first-round pick in the 2019 draft is owed to Boston. So the Grizzlies have placed a first-round premium on this summer’s high second-round pick.

“We’re looking at it like it’s our first-round pick for next year, because we won’t have our first next year,” Grizzlies executive vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger told Grind City Media. “So we really want to hit on that No. 32 pick, because that’s as close as we’re going to get to our first next year. When you look at it, this year’s draft is pretty good and next year’s (may not be as deep). The No. 32 this year might be equivalent to a No. 20 next year. So that’s definitely an important pick for us.”

Chris Wallace

Hollinger, general manager Chris Wallace and coach J.B. Bickerstaff all understand the attention, intensity and scrutiny surrounding Tuesday’s lottery results. Collectively, the Grizzlies’ brass won’t overreact to any outcome once the ping pong balls determine their fate.

Instead, there’s a holistic approach to this offseason reboot. Whether Memphis lands first or fifth on Tuesday, they’ll move on to the three-day NBA Draft Combine workouts in Chicago armed with two of the top 32 picks in what’s widely considered one of the deepest drafts in years.

From there, the Grizzlies will assess trade scenarios throughout the league, with an option to flip draft picks or other assets for immediate veteran help to complement Mike Conley and Marc Gasol, and fast track a return to the playoffs. In addition to the draft and the trade route, Memphis will have the full midlevel exception in free agency, with several intriguing wing players set to be on the market.

I would say the plan on the short-term side of it is to get back into the swing of things, and what we’ve been accustomed to in the last seven years is to be in the playoffs and make some noise. I don’t see why we can’t be a very competitive, viable team next year.
-- General Manager Chris Wallace

“We have a lot of options,” Wallace said. “I would say the plan on the short-term side of it is to get back into the swing of things, and what we’ve been accustomed to in the last seven years is to be in the playoffs and make some noise. I don’t see why we can’t be a very competitive, viable team next year.”

The Grizzlies are one of six NBA teams that have never picked first overall in the draft, and there were wildly mixed results the past three times they’ve landed in the top five of the lottery.

Arguably the biggest draft disappointment in franchise history came in 2009, when Memphis selected center Hasheem Thabeet out of UConn with the second overall pick ahead of James Harden, Stephen Curry, Tyreke Evans and DeMar DeRozan. But two years earlier, the Grizzlies snagged Conley with the fourth pick and watched him mature into one of the best players in franchise history.

And the O.J. Mayo experience falls somewhere in the middle. Mayo was picked third overall in 2008 by Minnesota, but was acquired by Memphis in a draft trade package in exchange for fifth pick Kevin Love. Mayo had an immediate impact as a scorer for Memphis, and was a key piece on the Core Four’s first two playoff teams. He eventually flamed out of the NBA after eight seasons in stints with three teams.

Dillon Brooks and Ivan Rabb

Some of the Grizzlies’ better personnel work recently has come from the second round of the draft and in the development of undrafted free agents. The aim is to build on last year’s success, when the Grizzlies traded into the draft to pick Ivan Rabb at No. 35 and Dillon Brooks 10 spots later. Brooks was the only rookie in the league to play in all 82 regular-season games and is in contention as an All-NBA Rookie Team pick.

And Rabb played his way from an early-season stint with the NBA G League’s Memphis Hustle to becoming a regular rotation contributor for the Grizzlies over the season’s final months. Wallace, Hollinger and Bickerstaff held their first session of pre-draft workouts in Memphis last week looking to add to that mix.

Some impact players have been found at No. 32 in the draft over the past 20 years, including the Clippers’ Montrezl Harrell (2015), Oklahoma City’s Alex Abrines (2013), Washington’s Tomas Satoransky (2012) and former players Luke Walton (2003) and two-time All-Star Rashard Lewis (1998).

Expect some mid-to-late, first-round talents to again trickle into the early second round next month. According to several recent and reputable mock drafts, Villanova’s Donte DeVincenzo and Jalen Brunson, Duke’s Grayson Allen, Missouri’s Jontay Porter and Boise State’s Chandler Hutchinson are among projected late first-rounders who could slip down the board and into range at the No. 32 pick.

“We’ve got to see what happens in the lottery first, see what our position is because that’s going to dictate a lot of the decisions that come after that and how we use our time,” Hollinger said. “The pick at No. 32 matters, obviously, and we’re evaluating guys for that. But that top-five pick is going to be so important for us, and that’s where we have to spend the bulk of our time.”

Hollinger then paused briefly, and shifted positions a bit.

The more he thought about it, the more it seemed clear the Grizzlies are putting in as much scouting work to find a gem at No. 32 as they are at landing a top-five diamond.

There’s a narrow list of guys that can be in consideration for that top-five pick. You know the group you’re (potentially) getting in the top five, but there’s a lot more variance at 32, so there’s a lot more work there, definitely. We’ve picked around there three of the last four years. So yeah, we’re anticipating there’s going to be a lot of value with that pick.
-- John Hollinger

“In a way, it’s more work because there’s a lot more players for us to parse through at No. 32,” Hollinger said. “There’s a narrow list of guys that can be in consideration for that top-five pick. You know the group you’re (potentially) getting in the top five, but there’s a lot more variance at 32, so there’s a lot more work there, definitely. We’ve picked around there three of the last four years. So yeah, we’re anticipating there’s going to be a lot of value with that pick.”

Regardless how the ping pong balls fall Tuesday, the Grizzlies have a clear purpose for this draft.

Strike big in the top five.

And land next year’s first-rounder this summer, too.

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