The 2009 NBA Draft for the Memphis Grizzlies was a time of hope and promise. Entering the draft, Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin was by far and away the best player available and anyone who got the first pick would be drafting a franchise player.
After him, things got a little murky. Was James Harden the best prospect? What about Ricky Rubio? Maybe Steph Curry even? Nobody really knew. After Griffin, most of the teams had different needs and with so many players being graded so closely to each other, it seemed like the 2009 draft would be super deep but maybe without as many future All-Stars as other drafts. In addition, anyone picking from 2-8 would likely be drafting a very good professional player, unless they just happened to screw up.
Well. The Grizzlies had the second pick that year and you’re never going to believe this, but they dropped the ball. The year after seeing a full season of Marc Gasol, they decided to invest their high lottery pick in University of Connecticut center Hasheem Thabeet.
To be fair, Gasol wasn’t the player in 2009 that he has become today. He showed flashes, but nobody thought that he would become arguably the best center in the game in just four short years. There was potential, but no guarantees. However, Thabeet carried many of the same question marks and the Grizzlies desperately needed a shooting guard to score at that time.
Let’s travel back to that night for a second: the Grizzlies had Gasol, Mike Conley Jr., O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Hakim Warrick and a hodgepodge group of other players on their roster. That isn’t a terrible core to build around, aside from the lack of a good, young scorer at the 2. The Grizzlies thought that Mayo would grow into that role, but a good combo guard could have given Memphis a nice rotation of three guys in the backcourt.
On this night, the Grizzlies also traded for Zach Randolph, which is tied with the Pau Gasol/Marc Gasol trade as the greatest trade in franchise history. Now the presence of a good jump shooter is even more prevalent as you have a scrappy team on paper that just needs a shooter and a guy that can handle the ball when Conley goes to the bench.
Using that criteria, then James Harden or Steph Curry would (should?) have been the pick. Admittedly, I wasn’t crazy about Curry entering the draft because I thought he dominated a bunch of smaller schools, but he could shoot from anywhere on the floor and would have given the Grizzlies a dimension that they didn’t previously have. Curry’s 2012-2013 season with the Warriors has been phenomenal and that was before his 50 point game at Madison Square Garden even occured. He is a playoff team’s best player and would have likely been even more effective as another team’s second offensive option.
Harden wasn’t regarded highly at the time either, but as we know today he is probably one of the 7 or 8 best offensive players in the game. He can also handle the ball and was one of the better prospects at the time in that draft. Most mocks had Griffin going first, Rubio second and Harden/Tyreke Evans in some order. If the Grizzlies felt comfortable enough with Conley at the time, and they had enough concerns about Rubio not coming to play in the NBA, then Harden or Evans should have been the pick and Harden was a far better shooter than Evans at the time and even still today.
Picking Harden would have also likely swung the 2011 second round playoff series against Oklahoma City. Now, instead of Harden hitting big shots and getting fouled for the Thunder, he’s doing those things for Memphis. Do the Grizzlies make the Finals in 2011 with Harden? I think they still come up short against Dallas, but Harden makes them far more interesting doesn’t he?
Evans is the other guy that would have made a ton of sense at the time. He was not only a combo guard that was able to get into the paint and shoot a lot of free throws, but he played his only college season for the Memphis Tigers under John Calipari. At a time when the Grizzlies were struggling to attract fans, drafting a former Tiger would have been a good way to get people to fill the Forum. Evans was probably the “safest” pick when you take everything into consideration. He wasn’t regarded as highly at the time as Harden and didn’t have as much range as Curry, but he was a bigger guard that could handle and draw fouls. Adding in his Memphis ties would have made him a more valuable prospect than anyone in the draft outside of Griffin.
Basically, the Grizzlies should have done anything other than what they did. I’m not here to pile on Thabeet because he never asked to be picked second overall, but there’s absolutely pressure on a guy when he goes that early in a loaded draft. Seeing Harden and Curry’s success has only added to the Grizzlies’ blunder.
Oh yeah, the Grizzlies play the Hornets tonight. What do I think is going to happen? Glad you asked!
The Grizzlies follow up their huge win over Oklahoma City on Wednesday with a big road win. I know, it’s just the Hornets, so how is that a big game? Because the Grizzlies are still in the hunt for the 3 seed in the West and Denver may not lose again. Any win that the Grizzlies can stack is a big one as long as the Nuggets keep chugging along.