CHICAGO — The Grizzlies were one of the losers at Tuesday night’s NBA Draft lotter
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With that reality settling in, the buzz around this week’s predraft combine here is that the Grizzlies are ripe for a move out of the No. 4 spot. The preference would be to move into the top two and take Ayton or Doncic, but it’s a longshot that Phoenix (No. 1) or Sacramento (No. 2) would be willing to deal out of their spots.
That means Memphis will look to move down, likely with a wing — small forwards Mikal Bridges or Miles Bridges, most likely — in mind.
“If you have someone you like in the first few picks, they’re the first call you’d make,” one general manager told Sporting News. “They obviously were the most disappointed with the way the lottery went and the options they have now. It seems like they want to try to turn that pick into something else.
“Everyone’s going to talk before the draft, of course. But Memphis, I think they’re the ones who are going to be more ready to do something than others.”
The Grizzlies are woefully short on depth and would like to add another player, or short of that, add another draft pick for next season. Memphis owes its pick in next year’s draft to Boston, with a protection if the pick lands in the top eight.
While there’s been speculation that Memphis would go into this offseason looking to start a rebuild of the franchise, the team has given indications that it intends to keep its core together — guard Mike Conley and center Marc Gasol — and attempt to return to the postseason under new coach J.B. Bickerstaff. That would mean losing the 2019 first-rounder to the Celtics.
If Memphis does remain at No. 4, its best options are likely to include raw projects who need some work, like big men Mo Bamba or Jaren Jackson Jr., or a gamble like Michael Porter Jr., who had back surgery this winter. There’s a chance, too, that Atlanta could pass on Duke’s Marvin Bagley at No. 3, leaving him for Memphis. Bagley is a potentially elite frontcourt scorer, but his ability to guard the pick-and-roll is questionable.
We are still five weeks out from the draft, but look for Memphis to be prominent in trade discussions before then.
Addressing Ayton concerns at next level
When it comes to Ayton, there were two knocks on his game that worried scouts this season: First, that he was not as engaged as he should have been, and he sometimes lacks passion, focus and intensity; and, second, that he did not dominate defensively the way he should have.
To one NBA front-office executive, that criticism sounded familiar — it was much the same for Detroit center Andre Drummond when he came out of Connecticut in 2012. Drummond, only 24 now, is still developing, but has led the league in rebounding twice and was chosen for two All-Star teams.
“We were told a lot of the same things about Drummond (six) years ago, that he didn’t love basketball and didn’t care enough about improving and that he would disappear for whole sections of a game,” the exec said.
“What happens a lot of times is, if you’re a 7-footer, you go through and play in high school and you dominate just because you are so much bigger than everyone else. You don’t have to work as hard as the guys who are 6-4 to stand out. You get to college and you have to learn to be involved in every play.”
To be clear, the executive said, Ayton has a higher overall ceiling than Drummond. But he said that, at minimum, he’d expect Ayton to be similar to Drummond, except as a better scorer and not as prolific a rebounder.
“The defense that Arizona had, they were playing Deandre out of position at the 4,” according to the executive. “He should have been a 5. Their guards were not great defensively. If he’d been the 5, he’d have been at the rim, he’d have blocked more shots, he’d have been a lot more active in that defense.
“This whole idea that he was not as involved as he should have been, I don’t think anyone is going to buy that.”
Zhaire Smith, sleeper pick?
As typically happens, heading into the workout phase of the predraft period, a handful of players who’d been low on previous draft boards look poised to see their draft stock bounce up, perhaps as high as the lottery.
No player has been more prominent in catching the eyes of late-lottery execs than 6-5 Texas Tech wing Zhaire Smith, who is NBA-ready on the defensive end, has tremendous athleticism and needs considerable work offensively.
Smith’s jump shot is the big question. He made 45.0 percent of his 3-pointers, but shot only 1.1 per game. He made 71.7 percent of his free throws on the year.
Bamba (and his wingspan) make big impression
One guy who most certainly helped his stock in combine testing on Thursday: Texas center Mo Bamba, who had an incredible wingspan of 7-10. No. 2 on the list this season was Udoka Azubuike, at 7-7. Rudy Gobert had set a record in 2012 at 7-9.
Bamba is making his case to be a top-three pick, possibly landing with the Hawks. A realistic destination: Dallas, which has been searching for a defensive-minded center since it lost out on DeAndre Jordan in free agency in 2015.