The Grizzlies are smack in the middle of full rebuilding mode, and contrary to the prevailing opinion from about 16 months ago, things actually seem to be moving forward pretty nicely. Three years ago, in the middle of a lottery that showcased such heavy hitters as Shelden Williams (#5), Patrick O’Bryant (#9), Mouhamed Sene (#10) and JJ Redick (#11), the Grizzlies landed Rudy Gay as a steal at #8.
In the 2007 draft, the Grizzlies took a flyer on a talented, young left-handed point guard named Mike Conley. In his two years in the NBA, the 21-year old Conley has shown little improvement. In his rookie campaign, Conley showed promise, averaging 9.4 points and 4.2 assists in 53 games, 46 of which were starts. In his sophomore season, however, Conley’s mild statistical improvements (up 1.5 points and .1 assist) were more due to a slight increase in minutes (from 26.1 to 30.6) than any breakthroughs in his game.
The following February, the Grizzlies dealt away Pau Gasol and found themselves on the wrong end of one of the most lopsided trades in recent memory. In return for the two-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year, the Grizzlies received the rights to Pau’s brother Marc, as well as two future first-round picks (The first was #28 in 2008.), and a couple of throw-ins.
Things were looking pretty down for the Grizzlies. With no Gasol, the Grizzlies were left with no identity, no go-to-scorer, and no leadership. Those roles were left to the then 21-year-old Gay. Gay, who averaged 10.8 points on 42.2% shooting as a rookie, exploded in his second season, averaging over 20 points per, along with 46% shooting and over a steal and a block per game. Gay had a disappointing third season this past year, but still put up very respectable numbers on a bad team.
Memphis took on a couple of terrible contracts (Marko Jaric, Greg Buckner) last draft day, but they were able to obtain a very promising perimeter scorer in OJ Mayo. ’08-’09 was also a promising rookie season for Marc Gasol, who Memphis hopes can fill the void left by his older brother.
With a core of young players, led by Gay, Mayo, Gasol, and Conley, the Grizzlies have some pieces in place. Also, due largely to the Pau trade, the Grizzlies find themselves easily under the salary cap and in position to be a serious player in free agency this summer.
With the number two pick in the upcoming draft, Memphis has several options. Ricky Rubio is undeniably the second best player in the class behind Blake Griffin, but he doesn’t fill much of a need unless Memphis is willing to give up on Conley. The Grizzlies are also reportedly enamored with Hasheem Thabeet of Connecticut, but he doesn’t have much value at #2. The best-case scenario for Memphis would be to find a trading partner who would allow them to obtain another asset along with a top ten pick.
The three trade scenarios that make sense are with Sacramento, Minnesota, and New York. The potential deal with Sacramento would presumably net Memphis the fourth and twenty-third picks, in exchange for the rights to Rubio at #2. Dealing with Minnesota would likely entail giving up the second pick for picks number six and 18. A trade with New York, however, would be the most intriguing. Assuming New York can re-sign power forward David Lee before the draft, a sign-and-trade between Memphis and New York centering on Lee and a swap of top ten picks seems like a fantastic fit for both sides.
THE PICK: Ricky Rubio; Hasheem Thabeet; Trade Down
THE GRADE: B; C-; A
THE OUTLOOK: D- (23-59); D+ (29-53); C- (31-51)