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Grizzlies Free Agency Preview

After a month of anticipation for last week’s NBA draft, we’ve only got a few days left before the start of NBA free agency, a period that promises to be far less momentous for your local franchise. (Which will not stop me from writing roughly 10,000 words about it. Buckle up!)

This coming Sunday, July 1, the free agent moratorium begins, a time when restricted free agents can sign offer sheets and verbal agreements can be reached between teams and unrestricted free agents. On Friday, July 6, the moratorium ends and contracts can be signed. What’s possible for the Grizzlies?

Before we look at some potential Grizzlies targets, let’s set the scene, both for the Grizzlies and the league. (At the very end, if you want to skip down, I simply rank the Top 10 quasi-realistic targets I think the Grizzlies should pursue.)

The Grizzlies Roster

Coming out of the draft, the Grizzlies’ presumptive depth chart looks something like this:

  • Point Guard: Mike Conley – Andrew Harrison – Jevon Carter – Kobi Simmons (2-way contract)
  • Scoring Guard: Wayne Selden – MarShon Brooks – Ben McLemore – Myke Henry (2-way contract for now)
  • Small Forward: Dillon Brooks – Chandler Parsons
  • Power Forward: JaMychal Green – Jaren Jackson Jr. – Jarell Martin
  • Center: Marc Gasol – Deyonta Davis – Ivan Rabb

That puts the Grizzlies at 14 players on the main roster, with one open spot left. The team’s clearest need is on the wing, where the team could use more scoring/shot creation and could also use a defender with size to match up with better small forwards. It will be very hard — impossible really — to find both qualities in one player.

The Grizzlies could open up additional roster spots via trade or by waiving/stretching players on the roster’s margins (Ben McLemore, maybe Jarell Martin), but their avenues to fill any extra spots would be equally marginal.

If the Grizzlies are shopping for one player — best wing available — next month, what do they have to offer?

The Grizzlies Salary Cap Situation

There’s not much of a middle class on the Grizzlies payroll. They have three players (Mike Conley, Marc Gasol, Chandler Parsons) on max-type deals, north of $20 million each, nobody in the $10-$20 million range, and only three players (JaMychal Green, Ben McLemore, Jaren Jackson Jr.) who will be in the mid-level $5-$10 million range.

If you want to get down to the dollar, you can find NBA salary spreadsheets at various points on the internet. (I keep my own. What? You don’t?) But we’ll forego the public accounting here and cut to the quick: All together, the Grizzlies will enter free agency with a projected payroll of roughly $112 million, above the projected $101 million league salary cap but below the projected $123 million luxury tax line.

As a team above the salary cap, the Grizzlies will be restricted to using exceptions for free agents, of which they have access to only one: The full mid-level exception (MLE), which is projected to be $8.6 million. (Sweating the details: The Grizzlies have a couple of smaller trade exceptions, which could come into play, though not in free agency. They do not have access to the bi-annual exception, which was used last summer to sign Tyreke Evans.)

Of note: If the Grizzlies want to sign second-round pick Jevon Carter to more than a two-year contract for more than the rookie minimum (spoiler: they will), that will require using a portion of the MLE.

Practically speaking, the Grizzlies’ budget for outside free agents: $7.5 million. Using all of it would still leave the team a little breathing room under the tax line.

The Free Agent Landscape: Teams

Before we (finally, amirite?) get to some specific players the Grizzlies could or should target, let’s take a quick look at how the competition sets up. It can be hard to fully pinpoint what all teams have to spend in free agency, because incumbent free agents signing elsewhere, teams renouncing their own free agents, and trades can shift things around. But, for now, here’s a best guess of how teams are positioned for free agency.

Big Game Hunters: The Lakers and Sixers have significant cap space and will presumably target the offseason’s great white whales, either via free agency (Lebron James, Paul George) or using space via trade (Kawhi Leonard). If either team comes up short, there’s a good chance they’d shift to overpaying on one-year deals. They did so last season (Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in Los Angeles, J.J. Redick in Philly) and could do so again with the same players or other free agent wing players.

Cap Space Non-Competitors: The Mavericks and Suns have cap space and may want to shift into win-now mode after their big draft nights, but neither seems likely to target the wing. The Mavs have Wesley Matthews, Luka Doncic, and Harrison Barnes in the fold and a hole at center. The Suns have Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, T.J. Warren, and Mikal Bridges and a question mark at point guard.

The Bulls and especially the Hawks have significant space but seem further away from contention. They’re expected to leverage their cap space into future assets (taking other teams’ unwanted salaries for draft picks, for instance). The Nets are under the cap, but not by much and seem to be eyeing 2019.

Cap Space Competitors: The Pacers, Jazz, and Kings all have (or can have) meaningful cap space and all want to win now. The Pacers are most likely to target outside free agents and have already been mentioned in connection with a couple of wings the Grizzlies might pursue (Will Barton, Tyreke Evans). Depending on their long-term plans for incumbent frontcourt players (Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis), they could aim higher by targeting young Orlando forward (and restricted free agent) Aaron Gordon.

The Jazz have some positional flexibility among their best players (Donovan Mitchell can play either guard spot, Joe Ingles either forward spot) and could target the best non-center available. It’s also possible that their focus will be re-signing their own free agents (Derrick Favors, Dante Exum).

There’s ample reason to doubt the Kings’ ability to win this season, but they’re sick of losing and don’t have their 2019 first round-pick anyway. When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose. Small forward would seem to be the most likely position they’d target.  

Potential Mid-Level Exception Users: By my current count, the Grizzlies are among eight teams that may use all or some of the full MLE as their primary free-agent currency. Let’s take them in ascending order of threat.

The Bucks are in win-now mode, but have to worry about their own major restricted free agent (Jabari Parker) as well as the luxury tax line. Their roster is set up for the frontcourt to be a greater need.

The Knicks are probably going to be one of the worst teams in the NBA next season. Do they know this? They probably shouldn’t be in the market for the same kind of players for which the Grizzlies are in the market.

The Hornets have wings young (Miles Bridges, Malik Monk) and old(er) (Nicolas Batum, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist). Their recent trade of Dwight Howard for Timofey Mozgov bought them some more space below the tax line, but I’m still skeptical they’ll be a spender.

The Magic have a major need at point guard and have to worry about their own restricted free agent in Aaron Gordon. Big picture, it’s hard to know how much the Magic are thinking now vs. future.

The Spurs have a Kawhi Leonard situation to deal with, so who knows how free agency will set up for them, but they could be an MLE spender.

The Timberwolves are heavily in win-now mode and need depth on the wing (to the degree that Tim Thibodeau teams need depth). They could be concerned about pushing into the tax, but another immediate impact wing should be on their to-do list.

If Boogie Cousins re-signs with the Pelicans, that would take them off this list. But if he walks, they would seem to be certain to throw their MLE at wing help, and be a pretty enticing location.

In the Tax or Worried About It: The rest of the league — Clippers, Heat, Cavaliers, Celtics, Nuggets, Pistons, Warriors, Blazers, Rockets, Thunder, Raptors, Wizards — are in the tax or probably too close to be a full MLE user, though some of these teams could still try to retain incumbent free agents on the Grizzlies radar.

The Free Agent Landscape: Wing Options

Before we get into the few types of wing free agents the Grizzlies might target, let’s dispense with a few presumed non-candidates.

It goes without saying that the Grizzlies are priced out on Lebron James and Paul George and the same probably goes for unrestricted free agents J.J. Redick and Trevor Ariza and restricted free agents Zach Lavine and Marcus Smart.

I’d scratch Seth Curry for positional reasons (more combo guard than wing), and at the other end of the spectrum, the same goes for Jerami Grant (more forward/small-ball big than wing) and former Grizzly Rudy Gay. I can’t see 38-year-old Jamal Crawford on the same roster as MarShon Brooks.

Which leaves …

Presumed Top Targets

The two remaining free agents that would probably make the most since for the Grizzlies are familiar faces, both former Tigers.

At 27, Will Barton has never had a big payday and this is probably his best shot despite a potentially tight market. He’d be a tremendous get for the Grizzlies — he’s a scorer who, at 6’6”, could start or come off the bench, play the two or the three. The Nuggets have made noises about bringing Barton back, but with a presumed new max contract for center Nikola Jokic this summer that might be tax-prohibitive unless they can find a way to move off some other contracts (Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur).

Would Barton take a small discount to come to a city where he already has connections to a team where he would step into a major role? Maybe. But even if so I don’t imagine it would be a big one. He’s likely to be too costly for the Grizzlies.

There’s been a lot of suggestion that the odd ending to the Tyreke Evans situation last season has poisoned the waters on his return. I don’t believe that to be the case. It’s more a question of whether Grizzlies think Evans and MarShon Brooks offer too much duplication (Chris Vernon has aptly dubbed Brooks “Cheap Tyreke”) and whether Evans gets bigger offers. Unless they can get Barton, I can’t seen the Grizzlies getting a better player than Evans, who put up all-star-level production last year before his tank-season sabbatical.

Evans’ season would seem to warrant a big payday, but questions about his health history and the team impact of his individual production may dog him. I still suspect he’ll get offered more than the $7.5 million starting salary the Grizzlies could offer. A sweetener the Grizzlies alone possess: The ability for Evans to opt out of a multi-year contract after one season and get “Early Bird Rights,” which would allow the Grizzlies to give him a substantially larger raise the following season.

Other Unrestricted Options

The best back-up plan on the unrestricted market is probably Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The 25-year-old guard is not as dynamic as Barton or Evans, but is probably a better defender and has been reasonably productive. He doesn’t offer much in the way of playmaking or positional versatility and is likely to be out of the price range anyway. Caldwell-Pope played for the Lakers last season on a one-year/$18 million deal. If the Lakers strike out on major free agents, they could overpay him again on another one-year deal.

A bigger name option is Avery Bradley, a 6’2” guard with a defensive rep (and questionable reality) who doesn’t really fit the Grizzlies’ need for wing scoring or small-forward defense but who could be a value play if his market is depressed enough after a bad season that ended with abdominal surgery. Bradley is still only 27 and could be a bounce-back candidate.

An under-the-radar candidate might be Joe Harris, a 6’6” wing who found a rotation role in Brooklyn last season and has been a career 40-percent three-point shooter. He might be more obtainable than former Grizzly Wayne Ellington, who finally started shooting the three at the elevated rate his stroke demands in Miami. The Heat have tax concerns, but the bet here is that either they retain Ellington or he finds a home among the top tier of finals contenders.

Mario Hezonja would be a bit of a deja-vu signing after last year’s failed Ben McLemore experiment: A disappointing former Top 10 pick whose original team cut bait early but who showed a little life late in the season before free agency (14 points a game and 42 percent three-point shooting in seven tanking April games).  Do the Grizzlies have the stomach for another “second draft” gamble? I’d be more hopeful on Hezonja than I was a year ago on McLemore, in part because of the versatility his 6’8” length grants him. An interesting roll of the dice, but the odds would be against it working out.

The poor man’s Ellington would be Marco Belinelli, a career 38-three-point shooter, but I think he’s too old (32 … gasp) and too limited for the Grizzlies current needs. More likely to take a small deal with a more certain contender. 

Restricted …  But Gettable?

The hardcore NBA podcast Dunc’d On does an annual simulation of the entire NBA offseason and they had the Grizzlies’ free agent interest in Milwaukee forward Jabari Parker resulting in a sign-and-trade sending JaMychal Green and a future first-round pick to the Bucks for Parker on a deal roughly in the MLE ballpark. I could see the Grizzlies having some interest in Parker for the right price, but I don’t see them being willing to deal another future first (they still owe one to Boston) and it’s hard to imagine Parker and Chandler Parsons both on the same roster. Anyway, that noted …

The obvious restricted candidate would be an awkward one: Rodney Hood, whom the Grizzlies (too) infamously passed on in the draft. Hood’s reality since hasn’t quite matched his local reputation, but he’s a wing with size and scoring ability who will only be 26 this season. He barely played for Cleveland in the playoffs after coming over from Utah, and the Cavs are facing a mammoth tax bill with or without Lebron James. It’s possible they let Hood walk. Do they do so for a deal below the full MLE? (Who are we kidding? Dave Joerger is totally getting the Kings to sign Hood to a big offer sheet.)

Others: Dante Exum in Utah is the biggest name, but he’s not a great fit and the Jazz would probably match any deal the Grizzlies could offer. Similarly, you aren’t getting Kyle Anderson out of San Antonio for any price you should pay. More likely, if the cost is very, very cheap, might be Doug McDermott, who is 6’8” and a 40-percent three-point shooter. He’s not much else, but those two things have some value. Other names to file away: Patrick McCaw (replaced by the Dubs in the draft), David Nwaba (“Nwaba” is “Replacement Level” in Yoruba), and Treveon Graham (Google it).

Bargain Shopping

If you can’t get anyone better, there are still some cheaper options that could add some useful depth and versatility to the roster. I’ll mention a few I’d favor then list off some others:

I’m pretty sure I like James Ennis more than the Grizzlies do, given how (little) he was used last season. They’ve already jettisoned Ennis and brought him back once. I doubt it happens again, but you could do worse: Ennis is still young (28) and is a league-average three-point shooter and wing defender. This is really useful!

An older (32), poorer-shooting variation is Corey Brewer, who seems destined to play on a Chris Wallace team and is running out of time. (I’d rep for Joe Johnson instead, but I don’t think he’s a wing anymore.)

I’d rather take a chance on Thabo Sefolosha, who is 34 and coming off a season-ending knee injury, but if he checks out physically, there’s a quality vet who can defend and spot up. (Similar vet off injury: Gerald Henderson, who missed all of last season after hip surgery.)

A theoretical upside target might be Glenn Robinson III, who is young (24), big (6’7″), and has a nice name. Is there any there there? Robinson has hit better than 38 percent from three on more than 200 attempts but hasn’t really shown a lot of overall growth through three NBA seasons. He got a late start last season after ankle surgery and only logged 5 minutes in the Pacers’ seven-game playoff series against Cleveland. (Note: Robinson was on my initial outline for this column but fell through the cracks when writing. I added him back after someone asked me about him. Y’all are animals.)

Lightning round:

Just say no: Lance Stephenson and Jeff Green.

For sentimental reasons (this won’t happen): Tony Allen, Vince Carter

Destiny I’d rather avoid: A bought-out J.R. Smith.

Probably better off keeping the roster spot open: Luke Babbitt, Shabazz Muhammad, Wesley Johnson.

Undrafted sleeper: Twice recently, the Grizzlies have rostered an undrafted rookie wing: Troy Williams and Wayne Selden. Odds of this repeating are slim, but file away the name Kenrich Williams, from TCU.

Potential Imports

International hoops has been an under-the-radar market for role-playing free agents. The Celtics brought over Shane Larkin and Daniel Theis last season and have already signed guard Brad Wanamaker this summer. The Grizzlies brought MarShon Brooks back from China last season.

Some of the more interesting names probably don’t match the Grizzlies’ needs: Big forward Jan Vesely and combo guards Nick Calathes (the return!) and Nando de Colo.

More likely, if still unlikely, are a trio of American players who have emerged as quality players with major European teams, all in the 6’7”-6’8” range and all in their late 20s: Chris Singleton (a good defender who couldn’t score at all — at all — in three seasons with the Wizards but has shot well the past two seasons with Panathinaikos in the Greek League), James Nunnally (of the Turkish team Fenerbahce), and Will Clyburn (CSKA Moscow). Longshots, but don’t be surprised if one or more of those names pops up in connection with NBA teams.

Other Avenues

It’s harder to predict, but the Grizzlies could use their space under the tax via trade. They’ve got two smaller trade exceptions ($3.4 million and $1.7 million) and could also send out a player (again, McLemore) for a little more salary coming back. There are plenty of teams who will be looking to shed salary for tax purposes. I’m not going to list players here. Haven’t we done enough already?

Proposed Call List

Here’s who I think I’d pursue, in this order:

  1. Will Barton
  2. Tyreke Evans
  3. Rodney Hood
  4. Joe Harris
  5. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
  6. Wayne Ellington
  7. Avery Bradley
  8. Mario Hezonja
  9. James Ennis
  10. Thabo Sefolosha
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Grizzlies Draft First Thoughts: Mike Conley Déjà Vu?

Early in last night’s draft, a friend texted me about the Grizzlies selection of Jaren Jackson Jr. at #4: “I hope Jackson isn’t another Conley — a consolation prize in a three-player draft who takes four years to pay off. I miss those three days when everyone was supposedly down on Doncic.”

If you believe in Luka Doncic, and I think I mostly do, it was disappointing not only to see him taken off the board right ahead of the Grizzlies, but then shipped to division rival Dallas, who picked right after them.

Couldn’t Memphis have made that deal with Atlanta? Assuming they would have wanted to — and we don’t know that — the answer is actually no. Dallas added a first round pick (protected top 5) for next summer. Because of the pick the Grizzlies already owe to Boston, the Grizzlies couldn’t offer a pick until at least 2021, and possibly one whose clock wouldn’t begin until 2023. Blame Jeff Green, for whom the Grizzlies surrendered this pick. Or the executive who surrendered it.

Could the Grizzlies have simply taken Atlanta’s target, Trae Young, at 4 and forced a deal? Who’s to say Atlanta wouldn’t have just made the same deal with Dallas for Jackson, whom the Hawks front office, rather than ownership, was reported to favor?

Let’s not bury the lead: The Hawks basketball people apparently really wanted Jackson at #3, not Young, and not Doncic. Maybe there’s a reason for that?

In the post-draft morning light, the Conley comparison, made ruefully, seems pretty apt.

Both Conley and Jackson were picked fourth overall and both were the first lottery picks after a multi-year playoff run. The first major pieces of a new era.

Both were in fact seen as consolation prizes behind starrier prospects ahead of them (for Conley, it was Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, and Al Horford). Neither was a consensus pick in the eyes of fans. When Conley came off the board, many would have preferred Joakim Noah or Corey Brewer. For Jackson, Trae Young, Mo Bamba, Wendell Carter, and especially Trade Down were perhaps more popular.

Both Conley and Jackson were one-and-done prospects who hadn’t always been considered likely to be, players who arrived in the NBA a little ahead of schedule, at a little higher draft slot than anticipated, and maybe a little before they were/are fully ready.

While playing at opposite ends of the positional spectrum, they are similar types of players: versatile, fundamentally sound two-way players with good instincts, more solid than flashy.

Both were/are smart young men from strong families, each the son of an athlete, each a “junior”: The elder Conley an Olympian, the elder Jackson a 13-year NBA vet.

Like Conley, Jackson isn’t going to show you everything he can be on opening night, or even in his opening season. Here’s hoping his ultimate development is a little less tedious than Conley’s. Here’s hoping it finds a similarly bountiful destination. That Conley pick worked out ok.

In the absence of persuasive trade-down options — and there don’t appear to have really been any — this is the pick I would have made. From my own draft board comments last week:

  1. Jaren Jackson Jr.: The best defensive prospect in the draft, and that end of the floor still exists. Jackson has the length and instincts to be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate down the road, a big man who can blow up pick-and-rolls, switch onto guards and wings, and swat shots at the rim. Offensively, he’s a work in progress, but 40/80 three-point/free-throw shooting is a nice start. There were flashes in college of long off-the-bounce strides from the three-point line to (above) the rim. Here’s betting there’s a lot more of that to come. I think he’s ultimately a center, but foot speed and shooting range give him versatility. I think he can play with Marc Gasol in the short term.

Jackson’s combination of shot-blocking and shooting at a young age is very rare. You can slice those indicators different ways and come up with some narrow and/or impressive lists. How many college freshman have ever averaged 3 blocks a game while shooting better than 35 percent from the three-point line and better than 75 percent from the free-throw line? Jaren Jackson. That’s the list.

Put together some advanced stats indicators on both offensive and defensive impact as a freshman, and it spits out a longer list with some enticing comps. Jackson is easily the most advanced three-point shooter on this list.

Jackson is the very model of a modern major big man. Space the floor, defend the half court from stem to stern, from 1 to 5. That’s what he offers. Will he create a lot of offense for himself with the ball? Maybe not.

He also probably won’t be a major impact player as a rookie, at least in terms of his stat lines. You can take offense at this, but it’s probably accurate:

Does Jackson’s selection run counter to the Grizzlies’ front office and ownership talk of being back in the playoffs next season, of winning 50 games? Yes, and some fans seem angry about that. I’d suggest relief instead. The Grizzlies can use free agency or the trade market to try to shore up their competitive hopes this season. This pick needed to be about the future. They needed to take the best long-term prospect available to them. I believe they did that.

I’m not sure that’s the case with the team’s second-round pick at number 32, where the team took college veteran backup point guard candidate Jevon Carter over some higher-upside candidates (Khyri Thomas, Melvin Frazier, De’Anthony Melton). Carter’s a bulldog but I’m not even sure he was the best backup point guard candidate on the board. Villanova’s Jalen Brunson, a better shooter and passer, went next, again to Dallas. They will make for an interesting comparison this season.

The Grizzlies will introduce Jackson and Carter at 2 p.m. today at FedExForum.

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Grizzlies Draft Day: Doncic/Bamba bidding war, Chandler Parsons’ contract, and Eight Potential Scenarios

Note: For anyone who’s happened upon these draft posts this week and doesn’t otherwise know (but somehow cares, I guess), this is not where my basketball writing (or most other writing) normally exists. I’m stuck between stations this summer but will re-emerge at a “real” space (which I’m excited about) sometime before next season begins. (Stay tuned.)

Hey, it’s draft day! Whether the ultimate outcome is a good one for the Grizzlies will essentially remain a mystery long after the dust clears tomorrow morning, but having the #4 pick in a strong but unsettled draft has at least yielded plenty of intrigue. Before we break down eight scenarios for what could happen with the Grizzlies in tonight’s lottery portion of the draft, let’s take a look at a couple of related news (read: scuttle) items from yesterday:

The Roar of the Masses Could Be Trade Chatter

With the Kings still expected to take Marvin Bagley at #2, there appears to be enough interest in both Luka Doncic and Mohamed Bamba to create a wealth of suitors for both Atlanta’s pick at #3 and the Grizzlies’ pick at #4. Seven different teams — Dallas, Orlando, Chicago, New York, L.A. Clippers, Denver, and Boston — have been mentioned as trade-up candidates in pursuit of one or the other. Bidding war!

Here’s a question: What if the Kings take Doncic? Is there the same level of trade-up interest in Bagley? Another: If the Grizzlies want a shot at Doncic, should they play extremely coy in hopes that a Bamba pursuer becomes more motivated to move up to #3?  

Whatever happens, I’d expect the chatter to be strong throughout the day, even if the result could be everyone staying put and generally taking who they were projected to take a month ago.

About That Parsons Contract

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been responding (mostly on social media and daily radio hits) to suggestions about the Grizzlies “getting off the Parsons’ contract” with leading questions about what exactly people think this means. It’s become a mantra without a follow-up explanation, like “getting off Parsons’ contract” is some kind of magical fairy dust that would transform the Grizzlies’ fortunes.

So, I was glad to see a report on the notion that considers the actual impact. From Jonathan Givony last night:

Knee soreness has led to Parsons playing in only 70 games since joining the Grizzlies in 2016. For Memphis, trading Parsons would potentially create significant salary-cap space in the summer of 2019, and only point guard Mike Conley is under a guaranteed contract for the 2020-21 season.

Still, due to NBA rules requiring matching salaries for teams over the salary cap, any trade Memphis makes on Thursday will need to bring back a contract or several contracts of significant size, at least for the 2018-19 season.

Theoretically, there are scenarios where the Grizzlies could move Parsons contract for close to full immediate savings, but this isn’t going to happen. The reality of “getting off Parsons’ contract” is as Givony describes it: You might save a few million this summer, which could have some use for next season. But that won’t really impact 2019 free agency, which is almost certainly going to be restricted to the mid-level exception even with a Parsons deal.

Rather, the best case scenario is removing the final year of Parsons’ contract (2019-2020) and creating some meaningful cap space in the summer of 2019. Personally, I’m skeptical about whether the Grizzlies should or even would be able to use significant space that summer.

If you trade down in the draft, you get paid for doing so in the form of additional value beyond the lower pick you obtain. If you attach Parsons’ onerous deal to the pick you’re trading, that lessons the additional value. It acts as a kind of anchor. There are complicated reasons why the Grizzlies should try to be competitive this season, but it should not be at the expense of long-term value, at the expense of the next post-Conley/post-Gasol Grizzlies team. If the Grizzlies trade down, the extra value they should most want should be tangible (not cap space) and with some form of long-term control: Additional picks or desired youngish players on multi-year deals.

I certainly wouldn’t mind moving Parsons if I’m the Grizzlies, but I’m not interested in deals where this is the primary goal.

With that in mind …

Eight Grizzlies Scenarios at #4

Here are the eight most likely ways tonight could go down for the Grizzlies in regard to the #4 pick, ranked in my own order of preference:

1. Luka Doncic: I don’t think Doncic is a sure-thing star, but I do think he’s the second-best overall prospect in the draft, whose size/skill/position profile is the most valuable in the modern NBA and who would give the team both an opening night starter and a new long-term cornerstone. How does this happen? The mostly likely path would be Marvin Bagley going #2 to Sacramento and Atlanta either taking Jaren Jackson at #3 or trading with a team that’s moving up to get Mo Bamba. It’s not likely, but it’s quite a longshot either.

2. A “Good” Trade Down: I’m not quite as sold on Marvin Bagley’s certain stardom as a lot of Grizzlies fans seem to be. I think it’s a close call between him and the less electric but much more well-rounded Jaren Jackson or even Wendell Carter. If the Grizzlies can trade down in a way that would guarantee them either Jackson or Carter as well as secure a meaningful piece of value beyond this season — another first-round pick now (such as Chicago’s #22, as a starting point), a not heavily protected future first-round pick, or a quality still-youngish player with more than one year left on his contract (such as Orlando’s Evan Fournier) —  I’d probably do that even over taking Bagley, though it would not be popular. The problem with the 4 for 7/22 scenario here is that I don’t think you could agree to it with certainty of getting Jackson or Carter at 7. If Bamba goes 4, then it’s quite possible that Jackson goes 5 and Carter goes 6. I’d take Bagley over taking that risk.

3. Marvin Bagley III: I would however set aside my doubts and take Bagley straight up over Jackson or Carter due to the relative safety his rare combination of athleticism, pedigree, and production suggests, his instant fit on the current roster, and the excitement he would generate. How does this happen? The Kings take Doncic at #2 and the Hawks either take Jackson at #3 or trade with a team moving up for Bamba. Probably the least likely scenario on the board, but still very possible.

4. A “Decent” Trade Down: With Doncic and Bagley off the board, I’d take Jackson or Carter at #4, and since I think it’s a relatively close call between the two, I’m willing to trade down as long as I can secure one of them. Any trade down is going to net at least some measure of additional value, even if it’s just the kind of likely middling value that would come from slicing away some of the burden of Parsons’ contract.

5. Jaren Jackson Jr.: If trade-down scenarios can’t guarantee me still getting Jackson or Carter, I’d just stay put and take Jackson, whose upside potential is on the same level (at least) as Doncic and Bagley and whose health, pedigree, and defensive fundamentals suggest more safety than the Bamba/Trae Young/Michael Porter class of potential stars.

6. Wendell Carter Jr.: If the Grizzlies choose Carter over Jackson, I won’t fully approve, but I won’t hate it either. Jackson has more upside and more foot speed, the latter not unrelated to the former and offering him an easier short-term fit alongside Marc Gasol. But I think Carter is rock-solid, the kind of tough, skilled big man for which I tend to fall.

7. A “Bad” Trade Down: I’m less enthusiastic about trade-down scenarios that can’t bring back Jackson or Carter and/or which bring back relatively minimal future value. Deals with the Clippers or Knicks that put you more into the Mikal Bridges/Kevin Knox/Miles Bridges range and pair that with middling rotation players such as Courtney Lee or Patrick Beverly aren’t worth moving down.

8. Michael Porter: I’m assuming this is now a non-starter given some of the bleak recent suggestions about Porter’s prognosis for next season. But maybe those not-quite-reports are smokescreen. Maybe the Grizzlies, totally mum on this front, are more comfortable with Porter than we have reason to expect. I don’t know. But based on what I know — the only thing I have to go on — I couldn’t go into the draft with the 4th pick and come out with a guy with this health profile.  

Hey, There’s a Pick at #32 Too

There’s so much speculative action at #4 that the Grizzlies pick at #32 hasn’t gotten much attention. But I think this is a pretty deep draft and the team has a good chance to add a nice piece here. The only indication from Chris Wallace has been an admission that roster balance and the pick at #4 might influence this pick. Translation: If the Grizzlies end up getting a big with whatever they do at #4, they’re not taking a big at #32. I don’t think they’re taking a big here regardless. Best perimeter prospect available.

There’s been some suggestion that the Grizzlies are high on Khyri Thomas and Melvin Frazier if either is available. Since I’ve got those long-limbed defense-first wings ranked 14th and 18th, respectively, on my own draft board, I’m going to take this as an indication that the Grizzlies front office has been taking my published consultations with the proper gravity.

However it shakes out, I expect there will be several players still on the board at #32 I’d find intriguing (other candidates: Jacob Evans, Jalen Brunson, Landry Shamet). I’m prepared for the Grizzlies to instead take someone totally different. Regardless, it will be a nice draft-night dessert for Grizzlies fans after the heavy action earlier in the night.

Mock Draft Roundup

A final look at mock draft predictions for the Grizzlies picks as of early this morning:

  • ESPN: Jaren Jackson Jr./Melvin Frazier
  • The Athletic (Sam Vecenie): Jaren Jackson Jr./Jevon Carter
  • Sports Illustrated: Luka Doncic/Moritz Wagner
  • CBS (Gary Parrish): Jaren Jackson Jr./
  • Bleacher Report: Jaren Jackson Jr./Khyri Thomas
  • Tankathon: Jaren Jackson Jr./Josh Okogie
  • NBADraft.net: Jaren Jackson Jr./Josh Okogie
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Grizzlies Draft: One Day Out — Or, Why Nobody Wants to Be a Grizzly

The final two days before the start of the NBA draft is typically a time filled with lots of noise and little activity. 

But when the smoke settled and tea leaves were sorted from yesterday, it’s hard not to note that it was a pretty rough day for the Memphis Grizzlies.

We’ll get to the potential machinations above them in the draft order in a bit, but first, a couple of reports from ESPN/Draft Express’ Jonathan Givony, one on local radio:

And one one Twitter last night:

The Bamba news was greeted with something of a shrug: As noted in this space a few weeks ago, Bamba is just a bad fit now for the Grizzlies and vice versa. Of course he’d rather go to Dallas to pair up with Dennis Smith or to Atlanta to be the centerpiece (no pun intended) of a fresh start than to Memphis to back-up Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies would have liked access to Bamba, but were almost certainly never going to take him.

But Jaren Jackson making a workout leap over Memphis, from Atlanta to Dallas, was already a bad look. If he intentionally withheld medicals from the team, that only compounds it.

As has been widely noted, the Grizzlies have had only one lottery prospect in town for a workout, Duke’s Wendell Carter. (Of note: Top prospect Deandre Ayton has only met with the Suns at pick #1, Luka Doncic has been playing overseas, and Michael Porter has been accessible to all, but only on his home-turf terms.) (Also of note: Givony has also reported that Bamba and Jackson similarly shunned Sacramento.)

This for a franchise only one year removed from a seven-year playoff run and only a few years removed from being touted as the best franchise in all of pro sports by ESPN The Magazine. What’s up?

Market size undoubtedly is a factor, but I don’t think it’s a determinative one. Instead, I’d point to three other factors: Ownership/front office perception, competitive trajectory, and the specific make-up of this roster. Let’s take them in reverse order:

  • Roster considerations: As noted with Bamba, the Grizzlies present a blockage at point guard and center next season. This makes it a bad landing spot for Bamba or Trae Young. It makes it a debatable landing spot for Carter (who came in), Jackson (who didn’t), and Bagley (who hasn’t visited below #3 as far as I know). I would make the case that Memphis is actually the best fit for Bagley, who is more of a four than a five.
  • Competitive trajectory: All the teams in the high lottery are bad; that’s how they got there. But the Grizzlies are probably perceived as just beginning a likely-to-be arduous rebuild they’re intentionally tapping the breaks on at least for one more season. Despite the recent histories of the Suns, Kings, Mavs, and Magic, and the scorched landscape in Atlanta, it’s easier for objective parties to see sustained bright times ahead in those situations. These teams are further into their rebuilds and thus likely presumed to be closer to emerging from them. (Though past performance tells us that rebuild attempts often stall out.)
  • Ownership/front office perception: This is the big one. The franchise’s ownership status was unsettled until very recently, and though Robert Pera has emerged with an even firmer grip on the franchise, he remains something of a cipher to most. As lead basketball executive, Chris Wallace has a track record so long that it’s well-populated with both successes and failures. But among the latter are some very damaging blown draft picks (Hasheem Thabeet at #2), free agent signings (a damaged goods Chandler Parsons on a four-year max), and trades (a still outstanding future first-round pick for Jeff Green). One imagines the perception is that Wallace remains in the pilot’s seat not on the merits but out of a lack of ownership-level will to make a change. When Pera did re-emerge briefly this month, he promised to be more visibly involved going forward.  This is needed, whether that’s to bring change or better explain a commitment to stability.

Anyway, back to the draft:

What are Sacramento and Atlanta doing?: The Grizzlies decision at #4 will obviously be limited by what’s happened ahead of them. A day and a half out, it seems pretty clear that Deandre Ayton is going to Phoenix at #1, but Sacramento and Atlanta, at #2 and #3 respectively, remain a mystery.

Sacramento seems likely to pursue one of three scenarios: Reports are bubbling that taking Marvin Bagley is their most likely move. Bagley is a big college star (see: Hield, Buddy) who seems likely to be instant impact (Sac has been out of the playoffs for a long time and doesn’t own their 2019 pick; they want to be a playoff contender next season) and may play the Kings’ position of greatest immediate need (if Bagley is a “four,” and I think he is). Makes sense.

Still, the Kings braintrust has been to Spain recently to meet with Luka Doncic, and context clues suggest he’s an option. The Kings are also said to be enamored with Michael Porter, which could be a trade-down option.

What about Atlanta? How’s this for a smokescreen season special:

Followed by this last night:

For what it’s worth, I believe the Givony side of the coin on Jackson.

As for Doncic, maybe the Hawks are moving in that direction, but it also feels like a way to ring the bell for trade offers. It may still be Jaren Jackson or a trade.

For the Grizzlies, is Bagley/Doncic coming off the board ahead of them a worst-case scenario? That will be the perception, at least.

While I don’t think there’s an obvious long-term talent drop-off from 3 to 4 in that scenario — I have Jackson in the same tier as Doncic and Bagley — I do think there’s a drop-off in fit, instant impact, and fan-base enthusiasm.

In this scenario, the Grizzlies options seem four-fold: Jackson, Carter, Michael Porter (if that’s really even an option), or trading down.

Who’s trading up?: If Sacramento or Atlanta are willing to move down, who’s most likely to jump the Grizzlies? If the Grizzlies find themselves unhappy with their options at #4, who’s likely to make them an offer?

On the former, Dallas, currently at #5, could be a candidate to jump the Grizzlies. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has suggested that the Mavs are high on Doncic and could be willing to try to move up for him. The Mavs also have pick #35 in this draft, but that’s not enough. More likely would be adding future draft assets (they own all of their future first-round picks) or taking on unwanted contracts.

No-one has really reported on the Magic being interested in moving up, but they have enough asset flexibility to add value to their pick at 6 and move up a little if they want to.

The most likely trade partner for the Grizzlies has always been the Bulls, armed with picks at 7 and 2w, and that seems even more true today.

From K.C. Johnson in the Chicago Tribune this morning:

There’s a sense around the league that if the Bulls want Bamba, they’d have to trade up to the fourth pick and perhaps the third pick to land him. The Grizzlies have been trying to unload Chandler Parsons’ cumbersome contract in any talks about surrendering their fourth pick.

I’m skeptical about Parsons being involved in a trade with the Bulls, but you can build plenty of smaller deals around 4 for 7/22, including moving Ben McLemore in the deal.

There’s also been talking of the Clippers as a trade-up candidate, with picks at 12/13 as a foundation.

The Michael Porter Question: At least a couple of national NBA media types have hinted this week about Porter perhaps needing another surgery or taking a “redshirt” rookie season, but teams (including the Grizzlies) have been mum on what they learned from evaluations in Chicago last week. But what is leaking out sounds pretty pessimistic:

I’ll get into more on the Grizzlies’ apparent options and make some predictions tomorrow.  

 

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Grizzlies Draft Watch: Three Days Out

After a lively Friday it was a pretty quiet weekend for NBA draft news. The report that Kawhi Leonard wants out of San Antonio took over the weekend news cycle instead. Here’s hoping the Spurs stay strong and refuse to send him west. Let the Lakers fend for themselves in free agency. As for the Grizzlies, a few quick notes to get the week started. We’ll check in daily here the rest of this week, since my next official writing home is still under construction.

Chicago Road Trip: The Grizzlies were among the teams in Chicago last Friday for an invite-only medical examination of Michael Porter Jr., an on-again/off-again affair that was ultimately scaled down from an expected workout to only an evaluation after Porter was reportedly limited by hip problems.

All is mum so far on the results of this examination. I had Porter ranked #5 on my own draft board last week, based on optimistic reports about his health. That was still too low for the Grizzlies pick at #4, and given my belief that the Grizzlies need to balance upside with minimizing risk with this pick, there’s no way I could comfortably take Porter. He could become the best player in the draft, but he won’t be the only prospect available at #4 about whom that can be said. Give me the guy who hasn’t had back surgery nearly a year ago and still hasn’t looked normal since.

Parsons Deals: One of the rumors from late last week was that the Grizzlies might seek to pair the #4 pick with Chandler Parsons’ contract (2 years left at a max-type salary) in trades. I don’t necessarily put a lot of stock in these reports, but I did a little tweetstorm on Friday to illustrate the different types of deals this could be.

Short version: Trades designed to use the #4 pick as payment for teams to take Parsons’ deal are both very unlikely and almost certainly a bad idea for the Grizzlies. However, two other types of deals are more realistic and more worth pursuing: One would essentially be the #4 pick for a current player, with Parsons’ contract needed for salary matching purposes. The other would be trading down in the draft, with the Grizzlies payment for moving down being able to flip Parsons for a more useful (but still well-compensated) player.

These types of deals are worth exploring, but I still suspect that Parsons’ contract is so onerous that including it lowers the value of that #4 pick too much. Staying put or trading down in a way that doesn’t include Parsons as an anchor are probably better long-term paths. Are the Grizzlies focused enough on long term?

I had some fun last week with that concern:

Workouts Still Likely: Though nothing has been announced yet, I’m hearing there will likely be another Grizzlies draft workout at FedExForum tomorrow and there may be another on Wednesday. I’d expect these to be for second-round prospects.

Mock Draft Roundup: Looking at the latest editions of 10 high-profile mock drafts (some I take more seriously than others), the spread of Grizzlies predictions at #4 is: Luka Doncic (4), Jaren Jackson (4), Michael Porter (2). None of these 10 mocks has Marvin Bagley available at the fourth pick.

In the mocks that include second-round picks, the #32 picks are: De’Anthony Melton (2), Jalen Brunson, Josh Okogie, Jevon Carter, Melvin Frazier, and Jacob Evans. This array of names underscores my sense that the Grizzlies should get a pretty promising prospect at #32 in this draft.

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Grizzlies Draft Watch: Personal player rankings, new assumptions, Pera speaks

Back when I first wrote on the 2018 draft for The Commercial Appeal, I promised three iterations of a personal draft board, the final one right before the draft. At the time, I didn’t anticipate that I’d be between official writing homes when the time came.

But here we are and so I’ll fulfill that obligation in this space. But first, a couple of related items.

Assumption Adjustments: When I last weighed in, before last week’s vacation, I began with seven then-current assumptions, presented in descending order of certainty. The first five of those still apply, but the squishiest final couple of assumptions now seem to be more in question. Let’s revisit them:

  1. Trading down can’t be discounted but is still unlikely.

  2. Michael Porter is too risky.

Note this recent tweet from ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski:

Maybe Jackson had a great workout in Phoenix. Who knows?  It’s smokescreen season. But what I do believe is that there’s going to be a lot of trade talk at 2-4, and the reason for that is that the draft seems to be settling into a broader second tier of players. My assumption a couple of weeks ago was that DeAndre Ayton would go #1 and the #2/#3 picks would come from a pool of Luka Doncic/Marvin Bagley/Jaren Jackson. At #4, the obvious move for the Grizzlies would be to take the player left, with secondary options taking a risk on Michael Porter or trading down/out.

That’s still the most likely scenario, but now it seems like the group of candidates at 2/3 may be a little larger, with Porter working out and sharing medicals opening the door to him reclaiming his former spot as a top-of-the-draft candidate and the enormous upside of Mo Bamba shifting into the spotlight. There are three picks ahead of the Grizzlies and it looks like there are six possible players for those picks.

The size of that presumed first/second tier (and the chance that some team may add Trae Young or Wendell Carter to it) makes it more likely that someone at 2/3/4 might be able to move down two or three spots and still get what they want. The expectation now is that there will be very little certainty, starting at pick #2, by the time draft night rolls around.

Pera Talks: Grizzlies controlling owner Robert Pera made an unexpected appearance yesterday, conducting an exclusive interview with Chris Vernon on the Grizzlies’ own communications arm. I’m going to forego an annotation here. The newsiest elements were probably Pera’s implication that he’d be a little bit more present/visible now that last season’s ownership uncertainties have been resolved and his confirmation that he has no interest in attempting to relocate a franchise. The latter is unsurprising, but he sounded entirely guileless and honest on the subject. His soundbite about the Grizzlies winning 50 games next season may prove unhelpful, but we’ll revisit that at a later date (and in a different venue).

Most of the conversation was career/personality oriented, and was a reminder that Pera is an interesting and persuasive figure when he emerges. Hopefully we’ll get more not too far down the line, perhaps once this offseason is over and all the legalities of the recent ownership transactions are finalized. And hopefully he’ll be willing to field some more Grizzlies-specific questions from some non-affiliated questioners. We’ll see.

My Draft Board

A few quick notes before the list:

I don’t claim to be a “draft expert,” but the last Grizzlies season went off the rails by January and I shifted into draft scouting mode very early, spending more time on it than I have in years.

Some players on this list — DeAndre Ayton and the Duke/Michigan State/Villanova/Kentucky guys especially — I watched play 10 or so times last season.

Most others I watched two or three times. A few I never got around to seeing (or they weren’t playing) in full game action. Everything is supplemented by stats, scouting reports, conversations with other people trying to figure all of this out, etc.

These rankings are not made with the specifics of the Grizzlies situation in mind. There may be spots where I would veer off my own rankings slightly due to fit issues or the particular place the Grizzlies are in. I made note of that in the player comments, which I tried to keep to 100 words each. I went 30 deep. I divided it into tiers to reflect that not every dip from one player to the next is equal.

The Grizzlies pick at #32, but several of these players will likely be on the board when that pick comes up, so I think a 30 player list covers that pick. 

UPDATE: A final adjustment before the draft. The only change here is moving down Michael Porter based on new information on health concerns.

TIER 1

1. DeAndre Ayton: An old-school franchise center coming into a new-school league. Could be a dominant inside-the-arc scorer and rebounder in short order, but he’s hinted at plentiful growth potential on the perimeter, on both ends of the floor. The question of whether he has the awareness/instincts to be a defensive anchor in the paint is a big one, but it’s a mystery, not a lost cause. The highest floor in the draft. Maybe the highest ceiling too.

TIER 2

2. Luka Doncic: He’s not without concerns. Doncic looks heavy-footed on film and while he may have faced good competition, he has not faced a lot of NBA-level perimeter defenders. I’d feel better if he were a knockdown three-point shooter, but he’s not … yet. How much can size, handle, vision, and court sense (all seemingly positionally elite) make up for these concerns? I think the shooting needs to come, and probably will. On the former? I think he finds a way. Add give-a-damn to his skill set. Tie goes to the perimeter in 2018.

3. Jaren Jackson Jr.: The best defensive prospect in the draft, and that end of the floor still exists. Jackson has the length and instincts to be a Defensive Player of the Year candidate down the road, a big man who can blow up pick-and-rolls, switch onto guards and wings, and swat shots at the rim. Offensively, he’s a work in progress, but 40/80 three-point/free-throw shooting is a nice start. There were flashes in college of long off-the-bounce strides from the three-point line to (above) the rim. Here’s betting there’s a lot more of that to come. I think he’s ultimately a center, but foot speed and shooting range give him versatility. I think he can play with Marc Gasol in the short term.

4. Marvin Bagley Jr.: A board-and-bucket-getter whose offensive game as a shooter/driver/passer should expand. I believe in him on that end of the floor. On defense? To quote President Bartlet quoting Governor Ritchie: Boy … I don’t know. Despite his size in a game growing smaller, I think he’s primarily a 4 in the NBA, not a 5. That means he needs a frontcourt partner that can give him space offensively and protect the paint defensively. The Grizzlies have one, at least for now. For reasons of fit and, even more so, fear of risk, I might move him up one for the Grizzlies. In a vacuum, though, I give Jackson the nod.

TIER 3

5. Wendell Carter Jr.: Sue me, I love skilled bigs. Carter is a basketball player: Long, strong, fundamentally sound on both ends of the floor. He’ll shoot from distance, work on the block, make the right pass, hit the boards, and react well to everything happening around him. I love him. But I also think his middling foot speed and average lift limits his upside. The best player on the board who has no chance of being the best player in the draft. From a Grizzlies perspective, I don’t really think he can play with Marc Gasol.

6. Trae Young: The most important qualities in a point guard today are passing/vision and deep shooting off the dribble. He’s potentially elite on both counts, so I think his massive college numbers are a hint of major NBA upside, not necessarily an NCAA mirage. That said, he’ll likely be a deplorable defender, may struggle to score inside the arc, and I’d worry about this durability at the next level. Probably a non-starter for the Grizzlies given the years left on Mike Conley’s deal.

7. Mohamed Bamba: The Thabeet comps are unfair. He’s a more nimble athlete, has more scoring upside, and seems to have a better head on his shoulders. That said, he’s pretty raw in both skill and body and is locked into one position. He might make a team very happy, but I’d be reluctant to roll the dice higher than this. The lowest ranked player on the list who could be the best player in the draft.

8. Mikal Bridges: Players who took three years to become lottery prospects have a spotty track record. The risk is that Bridges has already topped out, but I believe in him as a high-level three-and-D pro. Think Danny Green but with above-the-rim finishing ability. Those players don’t make All-Star games but they help you rack up wins.

TIER 4

9. Michael Porter Jr.: He pops off the screen in highlight clips in a way that Doncic doesn’t. Nix the Durant comps, but a bigger, better rebounding Jayson Tatum? That’s the upside and it’s #1 pick worthy. But the questions start rather than end with (gulp) back surgery. It’s hard to develop much of a sense of defense and overall feel for a guy who’s never played a healthy game above high school level. Still, health reports seem to be trending in the right direction and his Tremendous Upside Potential (Hubie Brown voice) is such that I’ll put him at the top of this tier. Update: Sketchy new information on health moves him back down.

10. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: I started watching Kentucky for Kevin Knox and Hamidou Diallo, but the eyes always shifted to the long, slinky kid making things happen with the ball, and he proved to have staying power. As previous Grizzlies draft endorsements of Delon Wright (good call!) and Wade Baldwin (um …) attest, I’ve got a weakness for big point guards once the potential stars are off the board, and so it goes. A plus defender across the backcourt, a potential spot-up threat, and someone who can handle/initiate offense. Profiles as a useful rotation player for anyone and a potential starter with the right (superior) perimeter partners.

11. Kevin Knox: The poor man’s version of Michael Porter, but without the back injury. Could never settle into his NBA role on a mismatched Kentucky squad and was an inconsistent contributor. Only an average freshman three-point shooter (34 percent), but with his form and age, I think he’ll end up a plus shooter relative to his position, which will mostly be a 4. Athletically, I think he’s more of a Morris Twin than the Next Paul George, but those guys are NBA starter level, and I think he will be too.

12. Collin Sexton: A fierce competitor with the ball in his hands, so if he pans out this could undersell him significantly. But where Trae Young excels in the pass/shoot department, Sexton seems more ordinary: Worse than 34 percent from downtown, fewer than 4 assists per game. Is he good enough to be a ball-dominant starter on a decent team? If not, you’re consigning yourself to mediocrity on the ball (which probably means mediocrity in the standings) or you’re consigning him to the bench. He’d probably be pretty good coming off the bench, and at 12 you can draft him for that.

13. Miles Bridges: His bouncy athleticism, defensive willingness, and positional versatility put him in the mix here, but I watched Michigan State a bunch and have some doubts. He was a decent college three-point shooter (36 percent) and his 85 percent free throw shooting is encouraging, but I didn’t see a lot of NBA range in those attempts. More at issue is that his handle looked very shaky. I think he’s more of a small-ball four. He’s physical enough for it, but at not-quite 6’7” that makes him a bench player.

14. Khyri Thomas: The guy I’m highest on relative to all the mocks/rankings out there. Right, he’s already 22 and is only 6’4”. But he’s got length (6’11” wingspan), above-the-rim hops, defensive want-to (two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year), and a jumper (41 percent from three, nearly 78 percent from the line). Not much of a handle, but in the right setting (say, between Mike Conley and Luka Doncic), I could see him being an NBA starter.

15. Robert Williams: Clint Capela is the right comp, but it’s best case scenario and few players reach their peak outcome. Only 6’9”, but long, strong, and quick off the floor. He’s a center, and while he won’t stretch, he’s not unskilled with the ball. He could be a starter. Docked a little because tie goes to the perimeter.

TIER 5

16. De’Anthony Melton: Rangy, sound, physical backcourt defender who handles/passes well enough to initiate offense. Did the copious skill-development time that came from a year off result in an improved shooting stroke? If so — apparently so? — he could be a Pat Beverly type. If the jumper looked wonky in workouts, I’d move him down several spots. 

17. Lonnie Walker Jr.: At a glance, he looks like a prototype NBA two guard. Big wingspan, glides across the floor, finishes above the rim, and has nice shooting form, including off the dribble and from deep range. Look more closely and it’s more fuzzy. The pretty three-point shot hit net less than 35 percent of the time and maybe he’s a little stiff laterally, maybe a little slow to react off the ball. I’d worry that he looks the part more than he plays it, but there’s NBA starter upside here.

18. Melvin Frazier: Disconcertingly raw for a soon-to-be-22-year-old with three years of college under his belt, but he’s an especially toolsy late-bloomer. At 6’6” with a 7’2” wingspan and twitchy quickness, Frasier is a steal/deflection machine who took a step forward as a shooter last season (39 percent from three). He’s otherwise an adventure with the ball, but there’s considerable 3-and-D potential here.

19. Kevin Huerter: A 6’7” guard who shot better than 40 percent from three and seems to have enough in the skill/athleticism department to not be just a specialist is worth a close look. At this stage, it’s probably worth a pick.

20. Donte Divincenzo: His role at Villanova is probably his role in the NBA if he pans out: Irrational confidence shotmaker off the bench. It wasn’t just the title game; he was dynamite in that role all year. Probably as much tweener as a combo guard, but such a gamer that I believe in him as a second-unit spark plug.

21. Jalen Brunson: He has very little chance of being an NBA starter, but I’m pretty sold on him as a quality backup, where strength and savvy can compensate for limited size and athleticism. He’s an NBA deep shooter off the dribble, puts passes in the right place, and has great presence.

22. Landry Shamet: Not sure why he’s gotten so low on mocks, but he’s one of the best shooters in the draft (44 percent last season, and can shoot NBA range off the dribble) and is a good passer with good size (over 6’5”).

TIER 6

23. Elie Okobo: Late-breaking International Man of Mystery. This is the point in the draft where I’m skeptical enough about what I know of the remaining prospects to take a chance on the mostly unknown and he seems the most promising of that category. All indications suggest a dynamic scorer/shooter in a sturdy 6’3” frame. He might be a tier (or more?) too low here, but I just don’t know enough.

24. Mitchell Robinson: The Hassan Whiteside trajectory reminds us that sometimes a big, long thumper is worth taking a shot on even when surrounded by questions. (Though I’d be reluctant to take a big at #32 for the Grizzlies.)

TIER 7

25. Josh Okogie: Production (18 points per game as an ACC sophomore), length (6’5” with a 7’0” wingspan), shooting (38 percent from three, 82 percent from the line), and athleticism that shows up in the box score (1.8 steals, 1 block) suggest a player worth a shot in the late first.

26. Keita Bates-Diop: Productive as an older college vet but with tweener size/athleticism. For Bates-Diop, though, I think small-ball will be his friend. He’s 6’8” with a 7’3” wingspan, had decent rebounding/block production, and was a gamer. If his 36 percent three-point shooting portends a decent three-point threat at the NBA level, he could be a solid back-up four.

27. Zhaire Smith: He’s got lift, but I wasn’t blown away by his athleticism when I watched him. One of his comps via The Ringer is “Shorter Andre Roberson” and I’m just not that excited by a 6’4” guy with big questions about both his ball handling and shooting, especially when Thomas and Melton offer similarly sized athletic defenders with a little more offensive oomph. There aren’t many Tony Allens in the world.

28. Aaron Holiday: A small guard, but length (6’8” wingspan), production (20 points a game at UCLA), shooting (43 percent from 3 on more than 200 attempts), and pedigree (both older brothers are good pros) suggest he’s a good backup point guard bet.

29. Jacob Evans: Jack-of-all-trades wing. Decent size, decent defender, decent shooter, can handle a little bit for a wing. It seemed like whenever I watched him play my eyes tended to wander more to Landry Shamet or Melvin Frazier, but a solid basketball player, and I’ll trust his nice statistical profile over my eyes a little bit at this stage of the list.

30. Jerome Robinson: Not a point guard, but a shooter (41 percent from three, 200 attempts) with size (6’5”) who can handle a little bit.

 

 

Revisited

1997 Revisited

There are lots of terrific records here, led by one of my all-time favorites on the album list and some witty/funny hip-hop/R&B on the singles list. But scanning contenders on the singles list reminded me of how deeply lousy the late-1990s were for rock-oriented pop music, with the mid-1990s commercial co-option of indie/alt devolving into scrunge, nu-metal, fratty rap-rock, bad ska, lounge-pop, weird third-hand big band nostalgia, ersatz Lilith Fair exploitations, and so many empty-headed “alt” bands that would have been more bearable as the more proudly empty-headed hair-metal bands they would have been a decade before. The idea of the Foo Fighters (a fun, catchy, B+-level hard rock outfit) as an Important Rock Band starts here, I guess.

Not really related: I re-listened to OK Computer again for this and it’s every bit as soggy and ponderous as I remembered. One of the most overrated albums ever made.

Anyway, the lists …

1997 Albums (2)

ALBUMS

  1. Dig Me Out – Sleater-Kinney: “The Drama You’ve Been Craving.” “Turn It On.” “Words + Guitar.” “Dance Song ’97.” “Bring your heart to us and we’ll get it purified.” “It’s not want you want/It’s everything.” This album makes big promises and overdelivers. Their previous, 1996’s Call the Doctor, was suffused with a sense of becoming. This is a different brand of thrilling: With Janet Weiss grabbing the sticks for the first time, it’s about pure motorvating mastery, making room along the way for one of the most fraught end-of-a-relationship songs (“One More Hour”). If we’re being honest, it flags just slightly on three of the last four songs (rallying on “Dance Song ’97”). If we’re being honest, you were exhausted by then too.
  2. The Songs of Jimmie Rodgers: A Tribute – Various Artists: Unless I’ve missed something, the apotheosis of a middling genre (the tribute record) but also maybe the secret beginning of “Americana” (as opposed the previously preferred “alt country”), predating both Mermaid Avenue and O Brother, Where Art Thou? as roots rescue missions. It has a lower profile than either, but tops the latter and goes toe-to-toe with the former. Listening is believing. Favorites: Bob Dylan, Iris Dement, Willie Nelson, Alison Krauss, Steve Earle …. really, everyone but Bono.
  3. Supa Dupa Fly – Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott: Mary J. Blige forged “hip-hop soul” a few years before, but here’s the real synthesis. Inspirational plain talk: “It’s the things that you do that make me not love you.”
  4. I Can Hear the Heart Beating As One — Yo La Tengo: A guided tour de force of their buzzy, sleepily romantic little corner of the (indie rock) world. Nerd-lust apex: “We could slip away/Would that be better?/Me with nothing to say/And you in your autumn sweater.”
  5. … Play 9 Songs with Mr. Quintron — The Oblivians: Not just the great Memphis trash-rock band, but the great American trash-rock band. Did they catch religion off of that added organ or call in the organ after catching religion? Either way, the hottest Memphis rock-and-roll since the Sun Sessions.
  6. When I Was Born for the 7th Time — Cornershop: A new(ish) sound that portended big things that never really came. It’s still pretty sweet on its own terms.
  7. Brighten the Corners — Pavement: Their prettiest album, if occasionally too precious.
  8. The Carnival — Wyclef Jean: Without the need to share time and blend his personality with his Fugee comrades, Jean drifts hard toward corn, as his subsequent career attests. But here he’s still jet-propelled by the energy of his band triumph The Score and his first foray into solo diasporan hip-hop sounds, much like the Cornershop record, like a future we never quite got.
  9. Life After Death – Notorious B.I.G.: The double album (no, worse: double CD) sprawl lacks the focus of Ready to Die, of course. But despite the tragic unintended resonance of the title, it’s so much more than its conceptual trappings. Rather it’s a tribute to craft. “Somebody’s Gotta Die” is one of the finest short stories from one of pop music’s sharpest writers and still best for its rhyme-for-rhyme’s-sake (“Lear jets and coupes/The way Salt ‘shoops’/How to sell records like Snoop … oops”).  His off-hand humor bursts out everywhere. There are too many guests, but here the intent seems less padding than generosity, and the presence of so many mere mortals underscores his own enormous talent. RIP.
  10. Introducing … Ruben Gonzalez – Ruben Gonzalez: The best album to come out of the Buena Vista Social Club Cuban jazz (here piano) boomlet
  11. El Corazon – Steve Earle: I’ve got a soft spot for I Feel Alright, but this is probably his best.
  12. Time Out of Mind – Bob Dylan: Prematurely feted as a new Dylan masterpiece, something that would actually come four years later with “Love + Theft”. But Dylan’s most overrated album is still damn good, though I do think producer Daniel Lanois’ atmospheric murk impinges too much on Dylan’s natural wit and musicality. More a great Bob Dylan album for U2 fans than a great Bob Dylan album for Bob Dylan fans.
  13. Retreat From the Sun – That Dog: A lost gem of 1990s indie/alt, here the “chamber rock” of their debut has (almost) fully transitioned into hooky, scruffy guitar pop, with heart, brains, and more than a dollop of deadpan mischief.
  14. Too Far to Care – Old 97’s: I’m less enthralled by this breakthrough than most other Old 97’s’ fans I know. It has a few of their very best songs as written, but they hadn’t quite hit their musical stride yet, at least in studio. Here, they’re still trying to be an “alt-country” band, and the results are a little pokey at times. But there are hints of the rootsy, poppy rock-and-roll band about to emerge.
  15. Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton – Doc Cheatham & Nicholas Payton
  16. Springtime – Freakwater
  17. Perfect From Now On – Built to Spill
  18. Baduizm — Erykah Badu
  19. Dig Your Own Hole – Chemical Brothers
  20. Township Jazz ‘N’ Jive – Various Artists: Subtitled “18 South African Urban Swing Classics from the Jivin’ ’50s,” this buoyant comp does for the urbane small-band marabi (think jump blues and Dixieland and swing) and pennywhistle jive of the ’50s what Indestructible Beat of Soweto does for the more rockin’ mbaqanga that followed, giving a joyous portrait of a scene: an elegant fusion of indigenous rhythms and melodies with the influences of American artists such as Count Basie and the Mills Brothers.
  21. Fish Ain’t Bitin’ – Corey Harris
  22. The Velvet Rope – Janet Jackson
  23. Latyrx – Lateef & Lyrics Born
  24. Lee Ann Womack – Lee Ann Womack
  25. The Lonesome Crowded West – Modest Mouse

Singles

  1. “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” – Missy Elliott
  2. “MyBabyDaddy” – B.Rock & the Biz
  3. “Tyrone’ – Erykah Badu
  4. “Autumn Sweater” – Yo La Tengo
  5. “Brimful of Asha” – Cornershop
  6. “MMMBop” – Hanson
  7. “I’ll Be Missing You” – Puff Daddy & the Family
  8. “Got Til It’s Gone” – Janet Jackson
  9. “The Ice of Boston” – The Dismemberment Plan
  10. “Sock It 2 Me” – Missy Elliott
  11. “Hypnotize” – Notorious B.I.G.
  12. “Ship to Shore” – Dub Narcotic Sound System featuring Lois
  13. “Thinking of You’ – Tony Toni Tone
  14. “Feel So Good” – Mase
  15. “Block Rockin’ Beats” – The Chemical Brothers
  16. “Everlong” – Foo Fighters
  17. “On and On” – Erykah Badu
  18. “Mo Money, Mo Problems” – Notorious B.I.G.
  19. “Gone Til November” – Wyclef Jean
  20. “Never Say Never” – That Dog
  21. “Da Dip” – Freak Nasty
  22. “Song 2” – Blur
  23. “Tubthumping” – Chumbawamba
  24. “Makes Me Wanna Die” – Tricky
  25. “Criminal” – Fiona Apple
  26. “Face Down” – Prince
  27. “You Don’t Seem to Miss Me” – Patty Loveless
  28. “Lovefool” — The Cardigans
  29. “Michael Jackson” – Fatboy Slim
  30. “Ladies Night” – Lil Kim
  31. “Torn” – Natalie Imbruglia
  32. “Other Side of the Game” – Erykah Badu
  33. “I Know” – Kim Richey
  34. “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Could See” – Busta Rhymes
  35. “Up Jumps Da Boogie” – Timbaland and Magoo
  36. “Hey Hey, You Say” – Papas Fritas
  37. “It’s All About the Benjamins” – Puff Daddy featuring Notorious B.I.G., the Lox and Lil Kim
  38. “Monkey Wrench” – Foo Fighters
  39. “Blue Flowers” – Dr. Octagon
  40. “Fly” — Sugar Ray

Movies

The usual caveats apply. I’ve re-visited every album and song listed in this post but don’t have time to revisit the films. So this list is based on my reaction to the films when I saw them filtered through my sensibility today; essentially how I suspect I would rank them if I did rewatch them all.

I’m struck by the international art cinema here (Kitano, Kar-Wai, Imamura, Kiarostami), from a time when I wasn’t quite a working film critic. It was a reflection of my intersection of interests and free time to pursue those interests, but I also think it’s a reflection of a better time for theatrical film distribution. “Taste of Cherry” did not get a theatrical screening in Memphis, but I think the others did.

  1. Jackie Brown (Quentin Tarantino)
  2. Boogie Nights (Paul Thomas Anderson)
  3. The Apostle (Robert Duvall)
  4. Fireworks (Takeshi Kitano)
  5. The Sweet Hereafter (Atom Egoyan)
  6. Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami)
  7. Kundun (Martin Scorsese)
  8. L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson)
  9. Happy Together (Wong Kar-Wai)
  10. Chasing Amy (Kevin Smith)
  11. Career Girls (Mike Leigh)
  12. Eve’s Bayou (Kasi Lemmons)
  13. Lost Highway (David Lynch)
  14. The Eel (Shohei Imamura)
  15. My Best Friend’s Wedding (P.J. Hogan)
  16. Starship Troopers (Paul Verhoeven)
  17. Grosse Pointe Blank (George Armitage)
  18. The Ice Storm (Ang Lee)
  19. The Rainmaker (Francis Ford Coppola)
  20. Contact (Robert Zemeckis)