Friday, June 25, 2010

Griz Draft: First Thoughts

Posted By on Fri, Jun 25, 2010 at 1:02 AM

Xavier Henry: The Grizzlies top pick.
  • Xavier Henry: The Grizzlies' top pick.
It was an underwhelming draft night for the Grizzlies given that intimations of a potential significant trade never materialized. But I can't really complain about the two picks the team did make: Xavier Henry, the freshman swingman from Kansas whom the team picked at #12, ended up being the number one player on my final personal draft board for that pick — though not without some doubts. And Greivis Vasquez the big, veteran guard from Maryland, whom the team picked at #28, ended up being the second player on my list of five guys I liked late after surprising me at his pre-draft workout with the team.

Henry, despite his youth (still just 19) and pedigree (an elite-ranked high-school prospect), doesn't really seem to have the explosiveness you would assume in a star NBA wing player. And Vasquez's rather plodding athleticism would seem more at home in your rec league than in the Association. These are concerns — though more so for Vasquez. But these players each provide a trait that this particular Grizzlies team sorely needs. Henry, who shot 46% from the floor and 42% from three-point range at Kansas, could add a desperately needed outside threat to balance the team's attack and bolster a bench full of wayward shooters. Everyone identified that as perhaps the team's biggest need this summer.

But Vasquez could add a needed quality that has gone generally under-recognized: The ability to positively impact an offense without scoring. The Grizzlies offense is built on individual scorers, but those scorers will be even more effective with teammates who can spread the floor and draw attention (Henry) and who are adept at helping create shots for teammates (Vasquez).

Greivis Vasquez
  • Greivis Vasquez
If Vasquez can use his size, strength, and craftiness to overcome his lack of quickness, then his court vision, basketball IQ, and passing ability could become very useful. His passing, recognition, and leadership really stood out at his pre-draft workout with the team, and his reputation as a fiery competitor is also a plus.

At 6'6", you could see Vasquez meshing really well alongside O.J. Mayo against certain match-ups: Allowing Mayo to play off the ball as a shooter but keeping him from being overmatched against bigger two guards.

Vasquez, based on his performance during the draft telecast (his fist-pumping, mom-hugging reaction to the pick, his citation of "Rudy Gay, O.J. Mayo, that other guy we drafted tonight" as the team's talent base), also could also add to the entertainment level of a team that already features Zach Randolph, Hasheem Thabeet, and the immortal Hamed Haddadi.

An appropriately homemade recording of the Vasquez pick:

Now, about the team's other pick: The Grizzlies selected South Florida guard Dominique Jones at #25, only to flip him to the Dallas Mavericks for cash. This is a dispiriting but understandable move.

Apparently the team discussed options to trade up from 25 to go after Texas forward Damion James but were unable to secure a deal, only to watch James drift toward them until the Hawks snapped him up (only to trade him) at 24, just before the Grizzlies picked.

What happened from there? My educated guess: The team knew Vasquez would be there at #28 and once their targeted player with the second pick (James) was gone, they decided to sell Dallas the earlier pick, maximizing the financial impact of selling a pick by locking Vasquez in at the lower #28 salary. I would have preferred the team take a player at #25 (Lance Stephenson? Quincy Pondexter? Jordan Crawford?), because even though the success rate of late picks is low, I still think it's a better long-range use of resources than what the Grizzlies did. Pocketing Mark Cuban's $3 million is shortsighted, both from a basketball and economic perspective. Michael Heisley might want to talk to Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver about how selling picks and end up being a mistake.

All along, those around the team knew this was a likely scenario, considered a cost of doing business to convince Heisley to raise the payroll enough this summer to re-sign Rudy Gay and, potentially, Ronnie Brewer. Most NBA followers around the country will interpret the team selling this pick as an indicator that they are not willing the pony up to retain Gay. But I think it indicates the exact opposite: It is a (perhaps necessary in Heisley's mind) precursor to matching a Gay offer sheet, for better or worse.

I'll get into Gay and free agency more once the draft post-mortem is over, but one element of this draft perhaps just as important to the Grizzlies as their own picks is how it impacts the market for Gay.

The likelihood of Gay getting a major offer is not diminished by the day's activity (infact, with the Heat and Bulls expanding their cap room, it might have been enhanced), but the number of teams likely to be in the mix has narrowed. Two teams — the Washington Wizards (who reduced their cap room by taking on the contract of Kirk Hinrich from Chicago) and Minnesota Timberwolves (ditto Portland's Martell Webster, who also plays the same position as Gay, as does top pick Wesley Johnson) — are essentially out of the mix now. Another team that is at least somewhat less likely to make a play is the Los Angeles Clippers, who drafted a small forward at #8 in Al-Farouq Aminu.

My guess as to the biggest threat for Gay this summer: The New Jersey Nets, who didn't address their open small-forward spot with their top pick and watched free-agent competitors Chicago and Miami increase their cap space.


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