After a series of moves in anticipation of today’s 15-man (and two, two-way players) roster deadline, the Memphis Grizzlies have finalized their 2017-18 opening day squad.
ESPN’s NBA news-breaker extraordinaire Adrian Wojnarowski broke the news that Memphis would be cutting or trading 2016 first-round pick Wade Baldwin and 2016 second-round pick Rade Zagorac.
Baldwin and Zagorac join training camp casualties Jeremy Morgan and Durand Scott’s departures in getting the Grizzlies roster down to 15 with two two-way players in undrafted rookie Kobi Simmons out of Arizona and former UTEP star and D-Leaguer Vince Hunter.
When trying to pair the roster down to the 15 best players, today’s moves make sense. Veteran Mario Chalmers is a very good backup point guard. 2017 second-round pick Dillon Brooks looks like he could be a legit future rotational player in the league. 2016 second-round pick Andrew Harrison showed promise last season. Deyonta Davis, Ivan Rabb, Jarrell Martin, Wayne Selden or anyone else presumably in the mix to get cut or traded have all shown more flashes than Baldwin or Zagorac.
But, when looking at the moves as a referendum on the Memphis front office, it perfectly highlights one of the Grizzlies major problems. They have not nailed, or even gotten a net-positive, first-round pick in the Grit n Grind era. Baldwin, Martin, Jordan Adams (despite the best protests from the online Grizzlies community), Tony Wroten. (Not to mention Hasheem Thabeet, Donte Greene, Xavier Henry, and DeMarre Carroll in the years right after Conley). They were all either misfires, given up on too early, or both. Plus, they traded away their first-round picks in 2011, 2013, and 2017. Nearly a decade with no legitimate prospects gleaned from the first round. That’s almost impossible to pull off.
I understand that when a team is contending, or at least pseudo-contending in that 2011 Mavs way as the Grizzlies have been for most of this era, lower first-round picks means that a team is less likely to find a gem and more likely to trade away those picks for win-now veterans. But even the staunchest of contenders have to hit in the draft during their runs to keep things afloat.
Imagine if just one of those blown first-rounders could have been the wing scorer Memphis so desperately needed in dogfights with the Warriors, Thunder, Spurs, or Clippers, where a couple of buckets could have made the difference. It’s easy to sit back and say “X good player should have been taken instead of X missed opportunity” with the help of hindsight, but Rodney Hood was taken one spot after Jordan Adams. Caris LeVert was selected a few spots after Baldwin.
Guys like that might not have moved the needle a ton or put the Grizzlies over the top, but they would have at least contributed, potentially getting a basket at a crucial moment when the offense was stalled, helping relieve Mike Conley and Marc Gasol and the departed Zach Randolph for just one possession.
For a tougher pill to swallow, but a little bit harder to say it was obvious since they went several picks later, Jae Crowder and Draymond Green (a mind-boggling passed-on player for several teams even with the weight problems coming out of college) were taken within 10 spots after Wroten in 2012.
Now that the Grizzlies have fallen back a level or two in the hierarchy of potential pseudo-contenders under the shadow of the Warriors and Cavs, they have to take first-round picks a lot more seriously. That’s the future of the team once Conley and Gasol are finally done (which hopefully is not for several more seasons).
They’ve landed on a few undrafted players (Selden, JaMychal Green), second-rounders (Brooks, Harrison), and bargain-bin free agents (Chalmers, James Ennis), but those guys are role players. Going forward, the Grizzlies have to improve on actually landing and developing first-round talent in the first round. Something they haven’t accomplished since Conley himself back in 2007.