Uncategorized

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
Uncategorized

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.  

 

Uncategorized

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.

Uncategorized

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)
Uncategorized

Grizzlies Draft Watch: Four Weeks Out

Since I’ll be stuck between stations through this year’s NBA draft and free agency, I’m going to weigh in here on occasion.

With a month to go before the draft and only one real Grizzlies draft workout in the books, let’s focus today on the team’s pick at number four, and start by setting some apparent parameters.

Current Operating Assumptions

We’re in the middle of what one NBA professional I talked to this week dubbed “smokescreen season,” so consider all of this somewhat subject to change. But for now these are our operating assumptions, presented in descending order of solidity:

1. Deandre Ayton is off the board: I listened to a podcast from ESPN’s Ryen Russillo on the plane home to Memphis late this week and he told a story about a recent discussion he’d had with an NBA front office executive he considers to be among the brightest. Russillo asked the front office guy about all the concerns about Ayton’s fit in the modern NBA game, about whether he’d even be on the floor at the end of close games. And Russillo said the exec looked at him like he was crazy and said, essentially, “Have you seen this guy? He’s awesome. He’s the pick. Don’t overthink it.” I am that front office executive. For Grizzlies purposes, though, it doesn’t matter. Ayton’s the one player who has no chance of being there at #4.

2. Trading up is out: There was a discussion on 92.9, home of my radio side hustle, recently about the prospect of trading up. Would you trade the #4, #32, and Dillon Brooks to get to #2? Two hosts said they would not. This was presumably based on the defensible belief that the talent gap in the 2-4 range in this draft is relatively flat. But it’s a moot point: Even if that’s true, Brooks and #32 is still not enough added value to move up two or three spots within the Top 5 of a draft. Given the first-round pick they still owe to Boston, the Grizzlies don’t really have the assets to move up to #1 or # 2. Maybe to #3 if Atlanta senses who the Grizzlies want, it’s not who they want, and they squeeze a little something out of their leverage.

3. Memphis is the wrong place at the wrong time for Mo Bamba: Set aside the unfair Hasheem Thabeet comp. Bamba is a more fluid athlete and higher-upside prospect. He’s on the short list of players who could end up being the best player in this draft, which has to make him a candidate at #4. But, wisely or not, the Grizzlies want immediate help from this pick. Because of his project status and because he probably can’t play with Marc Gasol, that’s not Bamba. More importantly, the Grizzlies need a cornerstone for the future. That certainly could be Bamba, but the Grizzlies are right to worry about risk. Bamba presents too much of it given the other options.

4. Trading out is unlikely: As much as the Grizzlies want to be back in the playoff mix next season, it’s hard to see the #4 pick fetching an established all-star-level player in his youngish prime, especially given the added and likely unwanted salary that would probably have to be attached to the pick. Anything less than that in return isn’t worth forgoing the long-term potential/rookie-salary-scale value of picking at #4.  

5. The fourth pick is ultimately too high for Wendell Carter Jr. or Trae Young or Mikal Bridges: I like all of these players, but they seem like trade-down options (more on that next), not picks at #4. Bridges is a decent bet to be a long-term NBA starter, but players of his type (those who don’t emerge as lottery-level prospects until deep into their college careers) have a risky history and the star upside seems minimal. I believe in Young as a deep shooter and playmaker, two of the most important skills in the modern NBA, but worry that his severely limited size/athleticism will make him too weak a defensive link to fully mine those skills, and the presence of Mike Conley on a still-lengthy contract makes Memphis a hard place to maximize Young’s value anyway. Carter is a closer call, but I just don’t think he has the same upside as the big men likely to be taken earlier and also think his poor fit alongside Gasol undercuts his instant-impact potential.

6. Trading down can’t be discounted but is still unlikely: The Top 10 of this draft is deep enough to envision a team moving down a few spots and still getting the guy they want or a close runner-up. I could see this as more of an option for the Grizzlies if someone falls hard enough for Bamba (or, less likely, Young) to move up for him. Here’s an entirely made-up scenario:

  • The #4 pick and Ben McLemore to Orlando for #6, Jonathan Simmons, and #35.

Something like that. The Magic’s front office seems to have a hankering for wingspan. Dallas, at #5, needs a center. Maybe Orlando wants Bamba and can’t be sure to get him #6. Who can say at this point?

You’re not adding a star by moving down within the lottery, but I could see scenarios where the Grizzlies can bolster next year’s rotation while still getting a similar-level draft prospect. Still, I probably wouldn’t move down from #4 unless I could still get the exact player I would draft at #4.  

7. Michael Porter is too risky: As consensus Top 4 prospect before last season with a game — a big face-up combo forward with go-to scorer potential — that fits well in the rapidly changing NBA, Porter has to be a candidate at #4 if his medicals aren’t an issue. But I don’t see how his medicals won’t be an issue. He had back surgery less than a year ago and didn’t look right at all during his too-early return at the end of the college season. The back questions, especially given the Grizzlies’ recent history with damaged goods acquisitions, just seems like too big a risk this high in the draft. Even fully healthy, Porter’s not a sure thing. There are questions about every prospect, but defense, shot selection, and mentality are among Porter’s. Let’s set aside the Kevin Durant comp. Porter doesn’t have that length. He could be Jayson Tatum. He could also be a Ghost of Grizzlies Past (Rudy Gay/Jeff Green). He’s on the outside looking in right now. If he gives the Grizzlies access to his medicals and assents to a workout, he could move into the following discussion.

Where That Leaves Us

The process of high-to-mid-lottery elimination leaves three names standing: Luka Doncic, Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr.

We could spend thousands of words on this trio, but we’ve still got a month to go, so let’s stick to only a few quick observations for now:

Buckets and Boards vs. The Little Things: The debate between Bagley and Jackson in the frontcourt is partially about what you value at the position. Bagley profiles as an Amare Stoudemire/Zach Randolph-style 20-10 machine, a go-to-scorer whom you may have to work around on defense. Jackson profiles as an Al Horford/Serge Ibaka/Draymond Green type: A versatile defender and spot-up shooter who will impact both ends of the floor but may never be a 20-point scorer.

The first type is traditionally perceived as more of a “star,” the second type more of a glorified “role player.” Why take a role player in the top four, some would say?

Because there’s ample evidence that the NBA has shifted in a way that this second type of frontcourt player contributes more to winning.

Bagley’s signature skill is his quickness off the floor. This results in rebounds and dunks.

Jackson’s signature skill is his combination of length and defensive awareness. This results in blocked shots that Jackson shows a knack for keeping in play and snuffed out offensive actions.

The buckets and boards are crowd-pleasing, but are they more important that the defense?

I’m putting a little bit of a thumb on the scale, rhetorically, for Jackson here. I’m torn between the two, and think Bagley has more potential for improvement than his staunchest critics allow. But I do think Jackson has the kind of game that’s built for the modern NBA, more so than it was built for a year of college basketball as an 18-year-old under a traditionalist coach.  

Present vs. Future: Bagley and Doncic have the kinds of pedigrees (elite-ranked prospects who have backed it up with elite production) that have a good NBA track record. They also seem like the players, other than Ayton, best equipped to impact NBA games as soon as they become a part of them.

This combination of future and present value would be hard to pass up for a franchise that hopes to acquire a first foundational piece for a post-Gasol/Conley future but also wants someone who can help make some noise alongside them in the short term.

Positional fit adds to the sense that Doncic or Bagley could be immediate impact players in Memphis. The Grizzlies are weakest on the wing and have put an increasing (probably overdue) emphasis on pairing Conley with secondary perimeter playmakers. Doncic, who needs a ball handler/defender at the point to pair with, seems perfect for the Grizzlies and vice versa.

As for Bagley, his high-motor work around the rim would shore up a Marc Gasol weakness. Perhaps more importantly, Gasol’s ability to (at least theoretically) anchor a defense from the center position while stretching the floor offensively would cover some of the weaknesses Bagley would bring into the league. Memphis is probably the best potential fit for Bagley.

Jackson may present more ultimate risk than Bagley and Doncic (this is debatable), but certainly seems like less of an instant-impact option. He’s younger and less fully formed physically (which might suggest more growth potential going forward) and his best position in the NBA is likely to be at center.

Still, Jackson’s perimeter skills, especially on the defensive end, giving him a path to playing alongside Gasol while he develops into the team’s starting center of the future. That’s why Jackson might be a better short- as well as long-term bet than the more seasoned but also more defensively paint-bound Wendell Carter Jr.    

Tie Goes to the Perimeter: The great case for Donic is history of production paired with position/style. In the old NBA, the tie went to the big man, now the tie goes to the perimeter player. Could even that short-sell the current shift? Might “reaching” for perimeter talent such as a Trae Young or Mikal Bridges prove the smarter gambit?

Positional value would seen to give Doncic an edge over Bagley and Jackson. But the league’s perimeter tilt may work in favor of Jackson, at least relative to Bagley, even if he’s the biggest player in this discussion.

The now-overused term “unicorn” was intended for big men who can both the protect the rim and stretch the floor. In this draft, as eye-popping as Deandre Ayton and Mohamed Bamba may be as physical specimen, that’s Jackson. He blocked shots at a higher rate than Bamba. He was the best three-point shooter among the lottery bigs, a skill projection bolstered by 80 percent three-throw shooting. But Jackson adds a third dimension to this sense of rarity: At north of 6’11” with a wingspan past 7’5”, he’s the most comfortable big in the mix, by far, at guarding the perimeter. At defending pick-and-roll plays, at switching onto guards and wings, at closing out on shooters.

As a more traditional big, Bagley has moved away from the modern game by standing still. But a shift that has endangered big men generally has perhaps had the effect of increasing Jackson’s value.

Maybe the Decision Will Be Made For Them

We can argue about these players for the next few weeks, but odds are the Grizzlies won’t have to on draft night. At #4 there may be only one of them left, and perhaps the lone man standing will be both the obvious and right pick.

Maybe they’ll be debating between the one left vs. taking a chance on Michael Porter vs. trading down. But Doncic vs. Bagley vs. Jackson is likely not a choice the team would actually be making.

Is Doncic really part of all of this? I suspect he’ll be gone before #4, but ESPN’s Jonathan Givony has suggested there’s a 50-50 chance Doncic is still on the board at #4. There are enough legitimate questions about how his athleticism translates to the NBA and enough highly regarded draft competition, that I don’t thinking Doncic “slipping” is at all far-fetched.

Other Related Issues

Mock Draft Consensus: I started tracking 10 higher profile mock drafts after the lottery and the first, um, drafts had Jaren Jackson as a pretty strong consensus at #4. That’s changed a little since. The current distribution for the Grizzlies’ top pick: Bagley (4), Jackson (3), Porter (2), Bamba (1).

Ed Stefanski Moving On: Grizzlies VP of player personnel Ed Stefanski took a plum job last week to oversee a basketball operations rebuild in Detroit, where he’ll apparently have leeway to pick the team’s day-to-day operations leader at GM and a new head coach, allowing the East Coast-based Stefanski to guide the team without having to be on the ground every day. It’s not an unexpected departure — Stefanski has been mentioned as a candidate with multiple teams in the past year. The immediate questions for the Grizzlies: Will Stefanski take anyone else to Detroit with him and will the Grizzlies make any high-level hires to replace him?

On the former, in first reporting Stefanski’s hire, ESPN suggests that Grizzlies front office assistant Tayshaun Prince, a former Pistons star, might follow Stefanski to Detroit. This makes sense on the surface, but I wouldn’t count on it happening until it actually does. Prince has been a quietly important figure for the Grizzlies, as perhaps the front office figure closest day-to-day to the players and coaching staff. Stefanski provided sage advice and guidance, especially to some of the team’s junior executives, which includes not only Prince, but former Iowa Energy general manager Chris Makris, who’s quietly risen within the Grizzlies management structure to a key player personnel/scouting role. Perhaps the Grizzlies hire to replace Stefanski, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the franchise move forward with a core of Chris Wallace, John Hollinger, Prince, and Makris steering the ship.

Josh Okogie: The Georgia Tech wing is now the first and so far only actual draft prospect (at #32) in for a workout in Memphis. I’d expect action on that front to pick up as we get into June. I was on a plane when Okogie was in town, and so wasn’t at the workout. I listed some of my outside-the-lottery faves in my final Pick-and-Pop column. Okogie wasn’t on the list, but that’s only because he wasn’t (yet) considered. He’s on the list of players who were not considered 2018 draft prospects until deeper into the season. Others: Maryland shooter Kevin Huerter, Villanova sixth-man Donte Divincenzo, and international guard Elie Okobo. Divincenzo was on a team I was already watching, and I took a liking to him early. The other three fell under the radar for me.

Okogie’s combination of physical make-up (7’0” wingspan, elite athletic testing results at the draft combine) and production (18-6-3 as a sophomore, with 38 percent three-point shooting, 82 percent free-throw shooting, 1.8 steals, 1.0 blocks) is impressive and he seems to be trending up enough that he may not last to #32.

Revisited

1978 Revisited

I’ve been sitting on these lists for a while with no time to write anything about them. I’m going to toss out some rambling notes and just post, since all the relistening is now in the past tense. But I’m likely to have a little more hobby writing time on my hands for the next few weeks …  so after a dormant period, I’d expect a few more years to tumble out in short order. As for 1978 …

It’s a bit of an odd year. Classic rock and soul is mostly over. Hip-hop is still on the horizon. The early excitement of punk’s arrival has subsided, but so much of the most interesting stuff is the aftermath of that arrival, the sorting out of the new world being forged.

It’s a year full of good (ok, very good) work from great artists: Rolling Stones, Parliament-Funkadelic, Ramones, New York Doll David Johansen, Neil Young, The Clash, Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Prince, Pere Ubu, Television.

All made albums in 1978 good enough to crack this list, or come close. All made better records soon before or soon after.

Exceptions: Elvis Costello and Blondie were career artists that did peak early here, and those are my chart-toppers. This Year’s Model grows less relatable but no less raging as years pass. X-Ray Spex was a shooting star, still thrilling but on revisit best as a singles band despite the eternal album title Germfree Adolescents. Wire was a little of both.

Classic rock, declining (Stones), ascending (Springsteen), or imploding (Big Star) still does pretty good though. Some Girls is a disreputable album (that title track) from a disreputable band, but one musically incapable of making a bad record for most of their recording lives. Whatever else, that’s still Charlie Watts playing drums, Bill Wyman playing bass, Keith Richards scratching out riffs. They play the hell out of this one.

Darkness on the Edge of Town raises the question of what makes a great album. It is the personal Springsteen favorite of many (maybe most) of the biggest Springsteen fans I know. In a peak period that I’d say runs 1974-1987, it is the only Springsteen record that has songs I actively skip over. But what is a lack of perfection in the face of “Badlands” and “Promised Land”? (See here.) There are more flawless records I would leave behind to save Darkness if only so much music could be preserved.

The singles list is more repetitive and probably overlaps more with the album list than in most years. I’m sure this reveals some gaps in my listening and/or perception, but I think a lot of it has to do with the year. Punk was a great singles genre, and disco too. But we’re really waiting for hip-hop and Prince and the pop energy of the 1980s to start shaking things up.

1978 albums

ALBUMS

  1. This Year’s Model — Elvis Costello
  2. Parallel Lines — Blondie
  3. Some Girls — The Rolling Stones
  4. Darkness on the Edge of Town — Bruce Springsteen
  5. Third — Big Star
  6. Motor-Booty Affair — Parliament
  7. Road to Ruin — Ramones
  8. Honky Tonk Masquerade — Joe Ely
  9. Germfree Adolescents — X-Ray Spex
  10. Pink Flag — Wire
  11. Comes a Time — Neil Young
  12. Give Em Enough Rope — The Clash
  13. More Songs About Buildings and Food — The Talking Heads
  14. The Modern Dance — Pere Ubu
  15. One Nation Under a Groove — Funkadelic
  16. David Johansen — David Johansen
  17. Stardust — Willie Nelson
  18. Pure Pop For Now People — Nick Lowe
  19. Body Meta — Ornette Coleman
  20. Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) — Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band
  21. Pure Mania — The Vibrators
  22. Before and After Science — Brian Eno
  23. For You — Prince
  24. Generation X — Generation X
  25. Adventure — Television

SINGLES

  1. “Badlands” — Bruce Springsteen
  2. “Ain’t U/Hedi’s Head” – Kleenex
  3. “What Do I Get?” – Buzzcocks
  4. “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” — The Clash
  5. “Radio, Radio” – Elvis Costello
  6. “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding” — Elvis Costello
  7. “Hanging on the Telephone” – Blondie
  8. “The Day the World Turned Day-Glo/I Am A Poseur” — X-Ray Spex
  9. “Le Freak” – Chic
  10. “Uptown Top Ranking” – Althea & Donna
  11. “One Nation Under a Groove” – Funkadelic
  12. “Another Girl, Another Planet” – The Only Ones
  13. “Take Me To the River” – Talking Heads
  14. “Damaged Goods” – Gang of Four
  15. “I Don’t Mind” — Buzzcocks
  16. “Pump it Up” — Elvis Costello
  17. “Ever Fallen in Love” – Buzzcocks
  18. “Life’s Been Good’ – Joe Walsh
  19. “Miss You” — The Rolling Stones
  20. “Identity/Let’s Submerge” — X-Ray Spex
  21. “Alternative Ulster” – Stiff Little Fingers
  22. “Beast of Burden” — The Rolling Stones
  23. “Flash Light” – Parliament
  24. “Soft and Wet” — Prince
  25. Teenage Kicks” – Undertones
  26. “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” – Sylvester
  27. “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea” – Elvis Costello
  28. “Shattered” — The Rolling Stones
  29. “Promises” – Buzzocks
  30. “Because the Night” — Patti Smith
  31. “I Want Your Love” — Chic
  32. “September” — Earth, Wind & Fire
  33. “Just What I Needed” — The Cars
  34. “Clash City Rockers” — The Clash
  35. “Listen to Her Heart” — Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
  36. “Everyone’s a Winner” – Hot Chocolate
  37. “Surrender” – Cheap Trick
  38. “Running on Empty’ – Jackson Browne
  39. “Shake Your Groove Thing” — Peaches & Herb
  40. “Love You More” – The Buzzcocks

MOVIES

There’s too much from 1978 I’d either need to rewatch to place (Days of Heaven, American Hot Wax, Fingers, The Deer Hunter) or that I’ve just never gotten around to (Get Out Your Handkerchiefs, Interiors, An Unmarried Woman), so I’ll just offer five faves from the year. The first was mostly unseen until a revival a few years ago (actually, it’s still mostly unseen) and is among my very favorite films. I wrote about it here. “The Last Waltz” is a movie I love almost beyond rationality, though my experience of it has evolved over the years. (Read Levon Helm’s bio, where he and Ronnie Hawkins take the piss out of its mythologizing, and you’ll never see it quite the same way again.)

  1. Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett)
  2. Gates of Heaven (Errol Morris)
  3. Dawn of the Dead (George Romero)
  4. The Last Waltz (Martin Scorsese)
  5. Blue Collar (Paul Schrader)