Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Draft Preview: Breaking Down the Grizzlies Options at #25

Posted By on Wed, Jun 27, 2012 at 12:09 PM

After yesterday's final workout, featuring Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague, Grizzlies Player Personnel Director Tony Barone Sr. was asked about the likelihood that the team's pick at #25 in Thursday night's NBA Draft would come from the pool of players that had been in for a workout. He put it at 60 percent. A few minutes later, I posed the same question to Scouting Director Tony Barone Jr., who put the odds at 70 percent.

With that in mind, I'm going to focus on the — by my count — 10 draft-worthy players that were brought in:

Michigan States Draymond Green: The Beyond the Arc-endorsed Grizzlies pick in this years draft.
  • Michigan State's Draymond Green: The Beyond the Arc-endorsed Grizzlies pick in this year's draft.
My Pick: If I had my choice of this group it would be Michigan State forward Draymond Green. If the Grizzlies went with Green it would be seen as going for “best player available” over “need”: Green seems more ready to be an NBA rotation player next season than anyone else in the group but would join Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Dante Cunningham, and Darrell Arthur in a glut of 6'7”-6'9” forwards on the roster.

Because he's a tweener (a 6'7.5” college power forward) who played four years at Michigan State, Green's been promoted as the proverbial “guy who plays hard” with a “high basketball IQ” who “coaches love.” All that seems to be true, and it's all important, but I also think it short-changes Green's impressive and versatile skill-set: He rebounds at a very high level, which we know tends to translate. Along with Royce White, he's probably the best frontcourt passer in the draft. And he can shoot it: Connecting on 39% of his threes last season on 3.6 attempts per game. He showed all these skills in a very strong workout with the Grizzlies, including a demonstration that he should be able to extend that shooting range out to the NBA three-point length.

Physically, Green's over 7'1” wingspan and toughness allows him to play bigger than his 6'7.5” height suggests. He's in the ballpark, physically, with effective undersized power forwards such as Trevor Booker, Carl Landry, and Udonis Haslem, but with much better passing and shooting ability. His ability to score on the block in the NBA will probably be match-up dependent, but that's true of most frontcourt prospects. The real question is defensively, where Green's tweener status is a real issue: Is he too small to guard bigs and too slow to guard wings? But Green's steal and block numbers were good in college, and his combination of wingspan, strength, and smarts should make him at least a passable defender in most instances.

I've become convinced that Green is going to be good rotation player in the NBA and the projections seem to back that up. Green had the fourth highest score on John Hollinger's draft rater in this class, behind on Anthony Davis, Jared Sullinger (the draft rater doesn't know Sullinger might have back issues), and Thomas Robinson. And the draft-rater history of players who score as high as Green's 14.84 is very strong.

As to the question of need and fit: Clearly the Grizzlies have a greater need for a point guard or a pure three-point shooter, but I do think there's a place for Green here. Like Cunningham and Arthur, Green is versatile and I could easily see all three playing together: Cunningham can guard the three and will likely play more at that position this year. Arthur, if he's back, will likely return to playing lots of small-ball center minutes. I think Green is going to be primarily a stretch four, but will be able to match-up with some bigger small forwards and smaller centers.

Ultimately, Green's just the only guy on this list I'm convinced will be a good NBA player, and I think he's versatile enough to find a role.

Tony Wroten
  • Tony Wroten
Point Guards: The Grizzlies worked out three point guard prospects typically projected to go in the 20-35 range — Tony Wroten, Marquis Teague, Tyshawn Taylor. Of the three, I dismiss Taylor as an option at #25. I think he's too wild, too questionable as a true point, and too lacking upside to take in the first round. I wouldn't draft him there and don't think the team would either.

Wroten and Teague are both viable options, but as much as back-up point guard is an acknowledged “need,” I question the wisdom of trying to fill that need here. What evidence do we have that the Grizzlies would really embrace and nurture a rookie at this position? Greivis Vasquez was yanked in and out of the rotation his rookie season, watched Jason Williams and Ish Smith both brought in late in the season, and was then traded. Jeremy Pargo was signed for the role last summer, was bounced in and out of the lineup, saw Gilbert Arenas brought in late, and was then left off the active roster for the playoffs. Are Wroten or Teague — both coming out after only one year of college — talented enough or, more importantly, polished enough to get different treatment? If not, I don't see how a team trying to win now while staying under the luxury tax can afford to keep three unproven/project young guards (Pargo, Josh Selby, and a rookie) on the roster.

My hunch is that the Grizzlies would be better off looking elsewhere in the draft, for a type of player — a shooter or a versatile game-ready player like Green — more likely to contribute. At the backup point guard spot, they probably need to reinvest in Pargo, who is still under contract and showed signs of being passable if he can settle down a little. The team could also bring in a free agent on a partially guaranteed deal if they can find someone they like. Cobble it together and hope for the best. If it isn't working out, look to sign or trade for a vet at midseason. I would love to tell you they should pursue a more substantial veteran now, bit unless they free up money via a trade or decide to exceed the tax — and both scenarios seem unlikely — that just doesn't seem feasible.

But, the Grizzlies may well decide to go for another young point guard here, and if they do I prefer Wroten. The one thing that might help Wroten have a longer leash as a rookie is his defensive potential. Wroten has great size at 6'6” and showed great defensive instincts in his workout. He could be a great change-up off the bench to match up with bigger point guards like Russell Westbrook or Deron Williams. Wroten also seems to have real point guard skills as a passer and playmaker.

The big questions with Wroten are maturity and shooting. Wroten's shooting was terrible as a freshman at Washington and he couldn't hit anything at the beginning of his workout with the Grizzlies. But his shot didn't look broken and he shot much better as the workout went on. With Wroten's defensive ability suggesting the chance for immediate minutes and his size and playmaking skills suggesting more long-term potential than most players in this range, I have Wroten second on my draft board. He would be a stronger second if I were more convinced the Grizzlies would be willing to commit to him or any other rookie in this role.

Wroten's shooting is also a bigger problem considering that his most likely backcourt mates would be Tony Allen or Quincy Pondexter. If O.J. Mayo were returning, I think that might make Wroten a better fit.

I'm less enamored with Teague. As the starter on the national championship Kentucky team and the younger brother of a current starting NBA point guard (the Atlanta Hawks' Jeff Teague), Teague's credentials are strong, but he just looks so ordinary: Ordinary size (6'2” with a good 6'7” wingspan but small hands), seemingly ordinary athleticism (he registered a 40” vertical but I didn't see his brother's explosiveness in the Kentucky games I saw or in his workout), ordinary distribution skills (a high school scorer who averaged 4.8 assists last season), and ordinary shooting (33% from college three). Perhaps I'm swayed too much by his very disappointing workout with the Grizzlies on Tuesday, where Teague's energy level seemed very low, but I just don't see any particular skills to really build on here the way I do with Wroten.

As far as which of these two players the Grizzlies might actually take if they decided to go point guard, I've had a tough time getting a read. I used to think Teague was the more likely pick but workouts this week seem to have muddled the waters and I sense there's a bit of an internal disagreement over Teague and Wroten. If both players are on the board, choosing between them could be difficult.

Kim English
  • Kim English
Shooters: If the Grizzlies feel like they need to draft for “need” but can't reach a comfortable consensus on the point guards, I could see a shooting specialist being a compromise pick. The Grizzlies worked out three potential options here — Kim English, John Jenkins, and Doron Lamb.

Lamb was supposed to have more “combo” guard skills than Jenkins or English, but didn't show it in his workout and doesn't seem to be a real option.

Jenkins and English are similar prospects: Both are 6'4” guards who shot the ball very well against major-conference college comp: English hit 46% from college-three on 4.9 attempts per game at Missouri, Jenkins shot 43% on 8.7 (!) attempts per game at Vanderbilt. Both are limited athletes and ball-handlers, suggested they would likely be specialists at the NBA level. Jenkins has been projected in the 25-35 range throughout the process, while English began the process projected as a late second-rounder but has been shooting up, with Chad Ford slotting him at #31 (the first pick in the second round) in his latest mock.

I'm skeptical of either as a first-round draft pick: Could they be an Anthony Morrow or Danny Green-style role player? Sure, but I'd rather bet on a more substantial talent. The gyms of the world are filled with good three-point shooters who can't hack it in the NBA.

I missed English's workout, but I heard it went very well and even before the mocks started to note it I detected that English had lots of fans in the Grizzlies organization and was being seriously considered at #25. I would be surprised but not shocked to see Jenkins or English announced at #25, and my hunch is that the Grizzlies would be more likely to take English.

Evan Fournier
  • Evan Fournier
Others: There were three other viable prospects in the Grizzlies pre-draft workouts that don't quite fit the point guard or shooter mold — Evan Fournier, Will Barton, and Jae Crowder.

Of the three, I think Fournier is the most interesting prospect and probably the only potential pick at #25. Fournier's floor game is smooth: He handles and passes the ball very well at 6'7” and seems to have excellent agility. His shot is similarly smooth, except it doesn't seem to go in enough. Fournier stroke looked great at his workout, but his actual percentages were mediocre, and he shot only 28% from three in the French league last season. Is he a shooter but not a maker?

While Fournier is smooth, he isn't strong, and there's reason to doubt his ability to defend the wing at the NBA level. Still, he's 19 years old and his ball-handling and playmaking ability on the wing would add a needed dimension for the Grizzlies. If I felt better about Fournier as a shooter, I would have him third on my board, behind Green and really pushing Wroten. As it is, if the Grizzlies are focused on immediate help, I think English, Jenkins, and even Teague are probably more likely picks.

Barton is an interesting prospect, but despite the local connection, I don't think he's someone the Grizzlies would draft. I can't seen them taking a shooting guard that isn't a shooter. Crowder is a bull of a defender on the wing and flashed a very good mid-range jumper. The Grizzlies seem to like him a lot, but he's not a first-rounder.

Who Could Drop?

If there's a 60%-70% chance the Grizzlies select a player from that group, who are the other options? Chances are one or two players projected to go ahead of the Grizzlies pick will drop on draft night, and I see seven potential options:

Royce White: A rugged, skilled forward who is similar to Draymond Green, but with more upside and more questions. I think he would get very strong consideration from the Grizzlies if he dropped.

Andrew Nicholson: A rugged stretch four in the David West mold. I think the team is high on him and would have a hard time bypassing him if he falls.

Fab Melo: A big true center, which is a position I don't think the team really wants to use this pick on. My guess is the Grizzlies wouldn't bit on him.

Jared Sullinger: The real wild card. Too much of a one-dimensional post player to fit any other the team's desired types and the back issue that could send him this low would be a big concern for the Grizzlies as well. But he might be too talented to pass up if available.

Quincy Miller: The most likely of this group to fall, but I don't sense the Grizzlies are high on him. The team didn't seem to make much an attempt to get Miller in for a workout. My guess is they would pass.

Arnett Moultrie: The Memphis native would give the team a kind of player it's lacked for years: A long (6'11”), athletic combo big. This isn't necessarily the kind of player they're looking for, but Moultrie would have to be given strong consideration if he fell.

Kendall Marshall: The least likely player to drop, but I wouldn't rule it out. He apparently hasn't been working out well and Chad Ford has him down to #20 in his latest mock. Marshall doesn't have the defensive ability Lionel Hollins wants at the back-up point guard spot, but his size, polish, and playmaking ability would make him very, very hard to pass up in the unlikely even he drops this far.

Finally, a Plea to Buy, Not Sell: David Aldridge's mock draft today says the Grizzlies are “expected” to sell their pick to a team that doesn't have one. This is the first I've heard of this notion, though Aldridge is not a reporter I would ever dismiss. If this happens — and I doubt it would — it would be a really stupid move. When you're trying to ball on a budget, late first-round picks are your best friend. They are a chance to lock up contributors on cheap, multi-year contracts. The Grizzlies did this with Greivis Vasquez, and even though they traded him, they got back someone in the same position in Quincy Pondexter. These are exactly the kind of cost-efficient contributors with which you need to feel out your roster.

Instead of looking to sell, I think the Grizzlies should be looking to buy. There are players in this draft the Grizzlies like — mostly notably English and Crowder — that are likely to be available in the early-to-mid second round. The Grizzlies should attempt to buy a second-rounder to go after one of these players. Buying a pick is a way to put money into your roster without it counting against the tax, and the Grizzlies need whatever wiggle-room they can find.

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