MikeCheck: With No. 4 pick in tow, Grizzlies interview lottery prospects as NBA Draft Combine revs up
CHICAGO – With DeAndre Ayton, Luka Doncic and Marvin Bagley skipping the NBA Combine, Thursday’s spotlight shifted to the next set of projected high lottery picks within the Grizzlies’ draft range.
Michigan State power forward Jaren Jackson Jr., Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr. and Alabama point guard Collin Sexton were among Thursday’s lottery prospects at the Combine who confirmed they interviewed with the Grizzlies’ front-office staff this week in Chicago.
“A lot of cool things stood out about that meeting with Memphis,” Sexton told Grind City Media during his session with reporters at the Combine. “It was cool to see Tayshaun Prince in there, and, with him being an NBA player before, I was able to ask him some questions about this process.”
Prince, who retired after a 14-year NBA career that included a championship with the Pistons, is in his first season as special advisor to Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace. Prince, Wallace, executive vice president Ed Stefanski and executive vice president of basketball operations John Hollinger are among the team’s contingent in Chicago for prospect evaluations that wrap up Friday.
Memphis is slotted to pick fourth overall in the June 21 draft, and also owns the No. 32 pick in the second round. The Grizzlies hope to either use those draft selections on players who can contribute to the rotation right away, or use the picks in potential trade packages to acquire veteran help. After finishing 22-60 and missing the playoffs for the first time in eight years, the Grizzlies are committed to returning quickly to the postseason with a core anchored by Mike Conley, 30, and Marc Gasol, 33.
Most of the top draft prospects at this week’s combine in Chicago are sitting out of scrimmages and drills, but have held meetings with teams executives. The consensus top three prospects were unavailable Thursday as the Combine sessions opened, although both Ayton and Bagley attended Tuesday’s draft lottery in Chicago. Doncic remains overseas with his Real Madrid team in the EuroLeague playoffs.
“That’s a trend we’re seeing, and we sort of expected that we might not see the top couple of guys there,” Hollinger said of the evaluation process in Chicago. “We just have to adjust from that and get our information in other ways. We’ve already gathered a lot of information on many of these guys over the course of the year, and now, we’re at a point where we can add to some of what we already know.”
Porter didn’t waste much time in letting everyone know he's now healthy and considers himself the best prospect available in the draft. He missed most of his freshman season recovering from back surgery to repair a herniated disk. A 6-10 versatile scorer who two years ago was the nation’s top prep prospect, Porter was clearly the most intriguing and galvanizing player at the Combine facility on Thursday.
I’ve got a little chip on my shoulder and something to prove. I don’t have any jealously, because they’re all my guys. But I’m just motivated to be the best.-- Michael Porter Jr.
Media members lined up six rows deep around a table awaiting Porter, who did not participate in Combine drills but said he’s cleared to work out without limitations for teams in the coming weeks. Although Ayton, Doncic and Bagley may be off the board with the first three picks, Porter, Jackson and Sexton are in the next wave of lottery talent that could be available when Memphis picks at No. 4.
Despite health issues and a limited college resume, Porter explained why he should be taken ahead of the pack
“Because I’ve played against all of those guys,” said Porter, who led the FIBA U18 national team to a gold medal in 2016 alongside Bamba and 2017 lottery picks Markelle Fultz and Jarrett Allen. “They’re all great players, and I’m not taking anything away from them. But that’s just how I feel. I play in the summer with all the NBA guys that come back to Seattle. Those guys are in the league, but I was still doing my thing against them. I’ve got a little chip on my shoulder and something to prove. I don’t have any jealously, because they’re all my guys. But I’m just motivated to be the best.”
Expect the Grizzlies to be among teams scheduling workouts with Porter, Jackson and Sexton in the next few weeks. Jackson is the youngest player in the field at 18, but league scouts insist his 6-11, 245-pound frame and versatility are destined for NBA success. His father, Jaren Jackson Sr., played 12 NBA seasons.
Advanced analytics favor Jackson over Ayton, Bagley and Bamba. A profile piece in The Ringer earlier this spring declared Jackson as ‘The Most Complete Big Man in the 2018 Draft,’ and listed stats that show he’s a better shooter from three-point range and was a far superior defender than the other big men.
The metric from the article that most stood out: Jackson blocked 15.4-percent of the opposing team’s two-point shots at Michigan State, which would rank as the highest block rate of any lottery prospect since 2010.
“Defense was always something I focused on first, and that helped translate to my offense,” Jackson said. “I worked a lot on that, because you’ve got to play both sides of the ball. To be a two-way player on both sides of the ball is hard, especially in the NBA. And I’m going to definitely work to be that.”
Jackson joked he stopped looking at mock drafts because, “there are 800 of them out now. I was confused.”
While Jackson could theoretically slide in at power forward in Memphis, and Porter could play both forward spots, Sexton would potentially arrive as a backup to an established vet in Conley. Vying with Oklahoma’s Trae Young to be the first point guard drafted next month, Sexton vows to attack the NBA with the same relentless edge and aggression he showed under former NBA point guard Avery Johnson at Alabama.
Sexton was encouraged by what he heard from the Grizzlies, especially Prince.
“There was some great feedback,” Sexton said. “They told me some things I need to work on, some things they like that I’m already doing, some things that they’re looking for in a player and a person. And what Tayshaun told me was big, because I took a lot away from it.”
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