The soon to be Memphis Grizzlies avoided the NBA version of the Childrens Crusade Wednesday night by picking Barcelona small forward Pau Gasol and Duke graduate Shane Battier, with the third and sixth picks overall.
The Grizzlies also chose Clemson University point guard Will Solomon as their number four pick (33 overall) and forward Antonis Fotsis from Greece with their 48th overall pick in the second round.
The Grizzlies originally scored the number-six pick during the draft lottery. They traded their best player, power forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim to Atlanta for the Hawks number-three pick, along with point guard Brevin Knight and former University of Memphis power forward Lorenzen Wright. The Hawks also received the Grizzlies number 27 first round pick conditionally. The Hawks took that number 27 pick for Iowa State point gaurd Jamaal Tinsley. The Hawks have since traded Tinsley to Indiana for a future pick.
In other trade news, the Grizzlies continued their off-season upgrades by picking up flashy but streaky point guard Jason Williams from the Sacramento Kings. The Grizzlies also receive Nick Anderson in the deal. In return, the Kings will receive the services of Grizzlies point guard Mike Bibby and oft-injured point guard Brent Price.
The Grizzlies differed in their choices from the other teams in the top six draft spots in that they did not pick a high school senior. The Washington Wizards, under the direction of team president Michael Jordan, made NBA history by choosing Kwame Brown out of Glynn Academy High School in Georgia as the number-one pick.
At the second spot, the L.A. Clippers chose another high school senior in forward Tyson Chandler. The Clippers have since traded Chandler along with Clipper Brian Skinner to Chicago for Elton Brand. After Gasol, Chicago brought in another big young body in center forward/center Eddy Curry. Rounding out the top five, Golden State called out Michigan State sophomore guard/forward Jason Richardson. Richardson was the only other college player chosen in the top six.
About Gasol, Grizzlies GM Billy Knight says, Hes a talented player. Hes seven feet [tall]. He can play on the perimeter. He has ball handling skills. He can shoot the three. Hes played at a high level of European basketball. He adds some experience that a lot of 20 year olds dont have. We think that he has the chance to become an outstanding player.
Gasol averaged 11.3 points per game last season in Barcelona on .565 shooting. He also shot over 32 percent from beyond the three point stripe. At 7 feet but only 227 pounds, hes considered a work in progress in need of strength conditioning as well as defense. It also remains to be seen if he can adjust to the speed and physicality of the NBA game. However, he is considered to have superior ball handling and shooting skills from the outside.
Gasol was under contract with his Barcelona team, but he had the option to buy out his contract for $2.5 million. According to NBA rules concerning buy-outs, no team may contribute more that $350 thousand toward that buy out. Gasol had said publicly that it would be difficult for him to buy out that contract unless he went at least sixth overall in the draft because of the rookie pay structure guaranteeing him the necessary money. As the number-three pick, Gasol should have no difficulty. I expect him here in the fall, said Knight.
Knight said that the decision to draft Battier, who was projected to go as high as the number three, wasnt hard to make. We knew as soon as Golden State said they were taking Jason Richardson that we didnt need any time to think about it, Knight said. In fact, he announced the Grizzlies pick in front of Memphis reporters before David Stern had a chance to bring up the matter on live national television.
Battier led his Duke Blue Devils to the 2001 NCAA championship, earning national player of the year honors. He averaged 19.9 points per game in the tough ACC conference, and became a defensive force at Duke, leading his team in blocks (80) and sharing Co-Defensive Player of the Year award in 2000 along with the New Jersey Nets Kenyon Martin (Martin played for Cincinnati at the time).
Knight nearly dropped his usually closed demeanor while talking about Battier. Hes going to be a fine player, Knight said. Hes going to be a class guy. Hes going to be a welcome addition to our team and our city.
Battier is another good outside shooter (.416 FG%) and at 6-8, 220 lbs weighs in as the most physically and mentally developed of the NBA draftees. He has excellent vision and can run the floor.
However, there has been some talk that at 22, Battier has reached his potential. I laugh at that kind of stuff, says Knight. This guy is a young man. When people say we only want to go for the young kids, this kid is only 22 years old. Thats not an old guy. And hes an accomplished player. Hes won everything you can possibly win and gone through the process and gotten better every year.
In other area draft news, small forward Joe Johnson out of Arkansas University was picked at number ten overall by the Boston Celtics, center Stephen Hunter out of DePaul University will go to Orlando with the number 15 pick, and Alabama small forward Gerald Wallace was picked 25th by Sacramento.