The NBA Draft is tonight. Long considered a national holiday at the Beyond the Arc headquarters, the event arrives this year with less anticipation than in any year in my NBA-watching lifetime — a result of a weak draft class and the Grizzlies having only the #49 pick.
So instead of the usual weeks worth of draft-related stuff, I'm instead emerging from my post-playoffs hiatus for some quick thoughts ahead of tonight:
The Latest Rudy Rumor
The New York Post's Peter Vecsey wrote early in the week that the Grizzlies and Warriors are discussing a Rudy Gay-Monta Ellis deal, with the Grizzlies "offering Rudy Gay."
Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace shot this down rather quickly, going on a local radio program to say that the team had not offered Gay to the Warriors. Wallace repeated the same assertion to me later that morning, and I certainly believe him. But it's a narrow denial.
Putting the pieces together, I'm pretty sure that the two teams have had discussions — which, in and of itself, isn't that newsworthy; this is what GMs are supposed to do — and also pretty sure that Vecsey's take on the situation came from a Golden State perspective.
I also think Ellis — a big-time scorer, good contract, local ties — is someone who would be of interest to the Grizzlies, while Rudy Gay's comparatively over-sized contract would at least open the door to considering — but not yet making — offers. (There's also the issue of Gay's shoulder injury, which is never mentioned in these rumors but which I would assume is a cause of at least mild concern for teams pursuing him, especially given his contract.)
The financial aspect to the potential deal is the best case in its favor from a Grizzlies perspective — and any deal involving the two couldn't be evaluated without knowing the other pieces involved and the subsequent moves it would provoke.
All that said, from a basketball perspective, I would rather have Rudy Gay than Monta Ellis — both in a vacuum and, even more so, for this particular team.
I don't want to spend too much space on a theoretical trade unlikely to happen, but a few notes on Ellis:
Fit: One reason the Warriors are interested in moving him despite his attractive combination of production and contract is because he's considered a poor fit next to Stephon Curry in a too-small backcourt. Ellis would pose similar problems in Memphis paired with Mike Conley.
Defense: Ellis has problems defensively that extend beyond being undersized for the position. CNNSI's Zach Lowe does a great job outlining Ellis' defensive game here.
Offense: Ellis is a dynamic scorer, finishing 8th last season with 24.1 points per game, but that production somewhat overstates his value. First, put it in a team context: Ellis led the league in minutes per game (40.3) and was 11th in usage rate on the league's fifth-fastest-paced team. There was no post scorer with whom to share scoring duties. It was a perfect situation for Ellis to put up a gaudy scoring average.
But, while Ellis was 11th in usage, he was 43rd in PER — suggesting an imbalance between how often he used possessions and how efficiently he did so. Of the 10 players last season with a higher usage rate, only one — Baron Davis — didn't have a significantly higher PER. Davis was also the only one who didn't have a better shooting percentage.
Rudy Gay is a pretty good scorer too, but one who finds a better balance between usage and efficiency and arguably fits better in a system built around the post game. And Gay provides much more value as a defender and rebounder.
Draft Night: What to Expect or Not Expect
Here's one draft-night prediction: The Grizzlies will not make a minor transaction (outside of exercising the #49 pick). If the Grizzlies wanted to move up higher in the second round or into the late first round, what assets would it take? Cash? Not happening. Darrell Arthur? Too valuable to the team next season for what he would fetch in return. Xavier Henry? Too unproven to be worth dealing. Sam Young? I could make the case for dealing Young for a late first or even early second rounder if there's a player available the team really believes in, especially if the team had decided to not deal O.J. Mayo. But I don't think the team sees parting with an established, cheap player in Young is worth the gamble that would come with the kind of pick he would fetch in this draft.
Rather, if the team does anything except simply take a player at #49, then I think it will be a more significant move — a trade involving Rudy Gay (very unlikely) or O.J. Mayo (more possible).
A Mayo trade looked likely a few months ago, but seems less so now. With the Grizzlies intent on maximizing next season and with Mayo's stronger performance in the playoffs, it would take more than last season's aborted Pacers deal to move Mayo. Something could happen, but it seems awful quiet on that front.
The Pick at 49
Picking at 49, its nearly impossible to target specific players are likely contenders. The Grizzlies will hope someone unexpected slips (in the manner of Darrell Arthur and Sam Young) and could go for a foreign player (or American player overseas) to stash. Barring those scenarios, if the Grizzlies want someone at 49 with a chance to make the team, there seem to be three types of players who would best fit the bill:
Ish Smith Upgrades: Greivis Vasquez looks like he can command the bulk of the back-up point guard minutes, but Lionel Hollins would like a quicker alternative for match-up purposes and incumbent Ish Smith is simply too unskilled offensively to hold that spot. There are plenty of potential replacements in the second round — Shelvin Mack, Isaiah Thomas, Corey Joseph, Andrew Goudelock, Ben Hansbrough, Jacob Pullen, etc — and I think somebody from this group is probably the most likely bet.
Big Enough to be a Back-up Center: The Grizzlies would like someone who can pare up with Darrel Arthur in the frontcourt so the team doesn't have to have Zach Randolph or Marc Gasol on the floor all the time. It doesn't have to be a true center, but someone who can get minutes at that spot who Hollins could be more comfortable with than Hamed Haddadi. Potential candidates: Jon Leuer, Trey Tompkins, Greg Smith, Jordan Williams, Keith Benson, Michael Dunigan.
Floor Stretchers: The Grizzlies were the least prolific three-point shooting team in the NBA last season and could use more long-range shooters wherever they can find them. A lot of people in Memphis seem interested in Jon Diebler, a 6'7" swingman who shot 50% from three in college last season and worked out for the team, but I think he's a long shot to be drafted by the Grizzlies — or anyone else. The best available shooters are instead likely to be in that back-up point guard mix. But a few second-round shooters at other spots who might get a look: E'twaun Moore, Scotty Hopson, David Lighty.