A Decade of Drafts
Hope can be a dangerous thing. Every season, we as fans hope that our team will take that next step. That step might be from the lottery to the edge of the playoffs. Or, it could be from the 8th seed to the 4th seed. Possibly, you’re wishing for your team to make it to the conference finals or maybe, just maybe, to the NBA Finals.
For most teams, that hope comes in the form of a new player. For the really bad teams, it’s almost always a matter of a high-profile draft pick. However, the good teams manage to find help through the draft, as well. The Spurs trading away George Hill for the rights to Kawhi Leonard are the most obvious example of this, but what about the Rockets nabbing Montrezl Harrell in the second round two years ago? Or the Thunder acquiring Andre Roberson (#26 pick) to shore up their perimeter defense with Thabo Sefalosha headed elsewhere? Those are the moves that keep good teams at the same level, while occasionally propelling them into greatness.
In contrast to that, I present you with the Memphis Grizzlies’ draft selections over the past ten years.
Mike Conley, Jr.
Wade Baldwin IV
Over the past ten decade, those are the names of the players that have been “drafted” by the Memphis Grizzlies. I use the quotation marks so that the pedantic self-proclaimed scholars who will insist that the Grizzlies drafted Kevin Love instead of Ovinton J’Anthony Mayo prior to their draft-night trade can choke on their own tongues rather than attempting to correct me. Because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s the Los Angeles Clippers. But if there’s two things, it’s the Clippers and guys who “Well actually” others. So, save it.
Look at that list. I mean, really look at it.
See many difference makers on it? I know that I don’t, other than the one that starts it off. And even Mike Conley wasn’t supposed to be this good. He was an afterthought in that draft, the point guard who had had the good fortune to be Greg Oden’s teammate for most of his career and was able to ride it all the way to a national championship game. That draft was about two guys, and only two guys.
Greg Oden and Kevin Durant.
It’s funny that we get to look back on that draft with half of a generation’s worth of hindsight now. Kevin Durant is well on his way to becoming a Top 20 all-time player, while Oden is yet another sad “What if?” scenario for all of us to ponder.
Back then, though…back then, there was real debate about who should go #1 overall. It was that franchise-altering decision that was the topic of the very first blog post of 3 Shades of Blue ten years ago today. You can check that out here: An Ode to Oden
Oh, those were heady days. The notion of actually winning the lottery (something that has never happened to the Grizzlies as a franchise, despite having a bottom three record 7 times in their existence) was still a notion worth having at the end of the 2006-07 season. After all, drafting either Oden or Durant was a guaranteed game-changer for a franchise in desperate need of an overhaul. In the same way, if the ping pong balls had fallen a little differently two years later, the Grizzlies would have had Blake Griffin manning the power forward spot next to Marc Gasol instead of Zach Randolph. (Or they could have listened to me and taken James Harden. But let’s not dwell on that. No Thabeet = No ZBo. We’ve covered that butterfly effect multiple times before.)
However, the Grizzlies didn’t get one of those prized top two picks. They didn’t even get the 3rd pick and a shot at a skilled big man in Al Horford whose game would have complemented Pau Gasol’s. Instead, they got the 4th pick and used it on Mike Conley, instead of Joakim Noah, Brandan Wright, Corey Brewer, or Yi Jianlian (all names bandied about by fans and media before the draft). They also didn’t use it on Acie Law IV or Rodney Stuckey, two players that many Grizz fans yearned for in the following years as Conley slowly grew into the player we now all know and love. (Seriously. People wanted Acie F’n Law over Captain Clutch. *facepalm*)
Nostalgia-driven detour over.
The following year, nabbing Darrell Arthur in exchange for Donte Greene in a bid to keep Nicolas Batum away from the Spurs turned into solid gold when DA was crucial to the Grizzlies’ stunning upset of San Antonio in the 2011 postseason. Greivis Vasquez had some big moments during that playoff run as well, although some people *coughLionelcough* only remember him allowing James Harden to hit a big shot in a game that may or may not have gone to triple-overtime.
Since then…the cupboard has largely been bare in terms of the Grizzlies turning draft picks into dependable role players. Either they gave up on them too soon (Vasquez and Carroll) or they simply wasted a pick altogether (most of the rest of the list prior to two years ago). They have been the anti-Spurs when it comes to mining nuggets of gold from the mineral-rich waterways of the draft process.
The other night at the watch party, the illustrious Anthony Sain of BLU3WorldOrder.com made several proclamations and predictions in his assumed role as Negrodamus. One of those was that Wade Baldwin is, in fact, trash. While Jason Smith and I attempted to convince him otherwise, it now occurs to me that he might very well be right. After all, what have we seen from previous Grizzlies draft picks that should give us tremendous hope for this latest crop or youngsters? If Baldwin isn’t good enough to beat out Andrew Harrison (a player who most recently lost his backup job to Toney Douglass before they sent TD the Lesser packing once again last week), then how good could Wade possibly be?
Still…I want to believe in Wade Baldwin, just like I once believed in Conley, even though he wasn’t the prize we were hoping for as we wound down a dismal season a decade ago. I do believe in the delightful Deyonta Davis, he of the defensive dynamo of destruction potential. And I have high hopes for Rade Zagorac, as well, when he comes over next season. Of course, that might just be the optimist in me — the same optimist that saw Greg Oden as the second coming of Bill Russell ten years ago, instead of the cautionary tale he is today.
With no picks and no lottery to worry over this year, the next hope for Grizz fans is that they won’t have to wait another ten years for a difference-maker to be drafted. Right now, they’re long overdue for one.