MikeCheck: It’s Lottery Time, So Let’s Look Back At the Top Five, Top-5 picks in Grizzlies Draft History
CHICAGO – The Grizzlies have been here before.
Not necessarily here for this reason in Chicago, where the NBA is holding Tuesday’s Draft Lottery on a rare occasion outside of metropolitan New York. But the Grizzlies have been in this position, where they’re bracing for their fate in hopes of landing the No. 1 overall pick for the first time in franchise history in the June 21 draft.
The Grizzlies enter the lottery drawing seeded second behind Phoenix and are guaranteed to land no lower than fifth on the draft board. In the last 10 NBA Lotteries, only once has the team that entered the drawing seeded second come away picking in that No. 2 overall spot after the ping pong balls settled.
So change isn’t just likely.
It’s basically expected.
Ten times in the franchise’s 23-year history have the Grizzlies either drafted in the top five or acquired via a draft trade a player selected with a top-five pick. As they prepare to position themselves for their next potential franchise-altering player, here are my top-five, Top-5 picks in Grizzlies draft history.
Mike Bibby, PG
Drafted: 2nd overall in 1998 by the Vancouver Grizzlies
Notables picked ahead of: Vince Carter (5th), Dirk Nowitzki (9th), Paul Pierce (10th), Rashard Lewis (32nd)
Why Bibby matters: In hindsight, it’s not a good look to see Bibby was drafted ahead of three future Hall of Famers picked in the top 10. But the Grizzlies needed a foundational point guard in Vancouver, and Bibby was the best there was in that draft a year after he led Arizona to the 1997 national title. He was an NBA All-Rookie first-team pick in Vancouver, but was traded after three season for Jason Williams just after the franchise relocated to Memphis. Bibby would have his biggest impact on competitive playoff teams in Sacramento and Atlanta over a solid, 14-year NBA career.
Where he is now: As a three-time champion coach at Phoenix’s Shadow Mountain high school, Bibby is doing for a Phoenix public school powerhouse what Penny Hardaway did while at Memphis’ East High.
O.J. Mayo, SG
Drafted: 3rd overall in 2008 by Minnesota Timberwolves, then acquired by the Memphis Grizzlies
Notables picked ahead of: Russell Westbrook (4th), Kevin Love (5th), Eric Gordon (7th), Goran Dragic (32nd)
Why Mayo matters: Perhaps the Grizzlies should have stuck with the player they actually drafted fifth overall that year, considering Love proved to be a five-time All-Star and NBA champion. Love came into the league as a traditional power forward, a position the Grizzlies would address a year later by trading for Zach Randolph. Memphis swapped the Love pick in for Mayo, who lived up to his billing as a dynamic scorer for four years. Often overlooked is that Mayo averaged 18.5 points his first season, played all 82 games and finished second to Derrick Rose for Rookie of the Year before eventually falling out of favor.
Where he is now: Mayo was recently in Chicago working out – even spotted working at a popular soul food spot - preparing for an NBA comeback after he was banned by the league for a 2016 drug violation.
Shareef Abdur-Rahim, PF
Drafted: 3rd overall in 1996 by the Vancouver Grizzlies
Notables picked ahead of: Ray Allen (5th), Kobe Bryant (13th), Steven Nash (15th), Jermaine O’Neal (17th)
Why Abdur-Rahim matters: Abdur-Rahim was the franchise’s first star. Considering the trajectory, he may also be the most important Grizz ever as the key link to eventually acquiring Pau Gasol, who was ultimately the conduit to landing Marc Gasol, who anchored the best seven-year run in franchise history as a three-time All-Star and Defensive Player of the Year. But Abdur-Rahim’s production and credibility set it all in motion once he finished behind Allen Iverson and Stephon Marbury for Rookie of the Year and then averaged at least 20 points his next four seasons as one of the league’s most versatile big men. Abdur-Rahim was ahead of his times for a struggling team that dealt him to Atlanta for the Pau pick.
Where he is now: Abdur-Rahim was most recently working in the NBA league office as associate vice president for basketball operations, which followed his stint in the Sacramento Kings front office.
Pau Gasol, PF/C
Drafted: 3rd overall in 2001 by Atlanta, then acquired by the Memphis Grizzlies
Notables picked ahead of: Shane Battier (6th), Joe Johnson (10th), Zach Randolph (19th), Tony Parker (28th)
Why Pau Gasol matters: Pau was the face of the franchise once the Grizzlies relocated from Vancouver and established themselves in Memphis. Gasol’s impact and his style of play during those initial seasons after he arrived from Spain have become more appreciated over the years since he departed and won two titles with the Lakers. Gasol was rookie of the year after averaging 17.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and more than two blocks in 82 games during the team’s inaugural season in Memphis. He led the Grizzlies to their first three playoff appearances, although they were swept in the first round all three times, and he was often the scapegoat for teams that couldn’t advance. But Gasol was the first All-Star (2006) in the team’s Memphis era and became the tenth-fastest NBA player to reach 5,000 points and 500 blocks.
Where he is now: Gasol has two seasons and $32 million left on his contract with the Spurs. The future Hall of Famer became the 18th player in NBA history to reach 20,000 career points and 10,000 rebounds.
Mike Conley, PG
Drafted: 4th overall in 2007 by the Memphis Grizzlies
Notables picked ahead of: Jeff Green (5th), Joakim Noah (9th), Thad Young (12th), Marc Gasol (48th)
Why Conley matters: From picks No. 4 through No. 48, it’s safe to say the Grizzlies landed the two best players left on the board in that 2007 draft in Conley and Marc Gasol. They are the remaining members from the Grizzlies’ beloved ‘Core Four’ squads that also featured Randolph and Tony Allen and advanced to seven consecutive playoffs. Conley was the point guard catalyst on the lone Memphis team to ever reach the Western Conference finals in 2013. He’s shaken aside early critics and skeptics from his first two seasons in Memphis and has grinded his way to becoming an elite point guard when healthy. Conley passed Pau Gasol in the 2016-17 season to become the franchise’s leading scorer. And although he has yet to be named an All-Star, he became the first player in NBA history to command a $150 million contract. Not bad for a player who’s adjusted to five coaches in 11 seasons and just keeps getting better.
Where he is now: Conley, the longest-tenured Grizz player, is recovering from January Achilles’ heel surgery that limited him to 12 games after he statistically had the best season of his career in 2016-17.
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