Memphis Grizzlies GM gives ultra-rare insight on his draft process

Zach Kleiman, Memphis Grizzlies. (Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports)
Zach Kleiman, Memphis Grizzlies. (Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports) /

General Manager Zach Kleiman and Head Coach Taylor Jenkins said the Memphis Grizzlies got the guys they wanted all along in the 2022 NBA Draft.

That’s a pretty standard reaction for any team to make hours after selecting and introducing young prospects to the organization. What was a little surprising was the position and order in which the newest Grizzlies were drafted.

The first selection, Jake LaRavia (6’7″), a combo forward out of Wake Forest had been rising in multiple mock drafts leading up to the big night. It seemed like he was going to be drafted somewhere in the twenties. In fact, CBS Sports, in a late mock draft, had him going No. 25 overall. The Grizzlies traded up to 19 in order to land him before anyone else could select him.

Perhaps more surprising was the selection of David Roddy, an undersized combo forward (6’5″) that seemed like a safe bet to go in the second round. The Memphis Grizzlies landed him at No. 23 via trade with Philadelphia, much to the chagrin of many members of the national media.

How Zach Kleiman and the Memphis Grizzlies decide who to draft each year

Grizzlies GM Zach Kleiman has done a really great job since taking over in 2019 and has built a reputation as getting the players he wants in the draft— regardless of where mock drafts and insiders project certain players.

At a press conference introducing the four new prospects acquired by Kleiman, he made some remarks about his philosophy in evaluating and drafting talent.

Geoff Calkins, a columnist with the Daily Memphian, asked Kleiman what everyone has wondered— how is he able to pull off such creative draft hauls.

“In terms of secrecy,” Calkins asked, “how many people know the grand plan and does [the player] not even know—are they totally unaware of how much you are interested in them? I mean this is all by design I take it, right? How does that work,” Calkins asked Kleiman.

“The draft process is an interesting one,” the 2022 NBA Executive of the Year said, shrewdly.

“We are, in many cases, protective of how we try to operate. We do things in the dark, as Ja might say. We have our way of doing things and we would rather kind of try to show our work at the end of the day rather than just be overtly talking about everything that we might be up to,” Kleiman said.

All the moves Kleiman has made in the draft have been moves no one really saw coming (save for selecting Ja Morant at No. 2 in 2019).

“We had a plan going into the [2022 NBA Draft]. We felt like all the individuals who are seated up here would be very significant additions to the group and we were more than excited that we were able to go out and acquire them along the way,” Kleiman said.

Remember, this is a man who oversaw the trade-ups to get: Brandon Clarke, Desmond Bane, and Ziaire Williams (just to name a few). All were players passed over by other teams seemingly because they didn’t fit a prototypical NBA player mold, or didn’t have a standout season in college.

“Body type’s a really interesting part of the draft evaluation process,” Kleiman said. “It’s certainly one of a lot of things you look at. You weigh it to the extent that you think it’s meaningful.”

Kleiman then gave us a little more insight and it’s surprisingly a lot more simplistic than you probably imagined.

“What we really care about is: who is the person and are they good at basketball,” Kleiman said point-blank.

“I think sometimes you can get lost in: is their wingspan short, do they not look like a basketball player, and this and that,” he said.

“At the end of the day, if they are a fit with the type of people we prioritize bringing in here— are they competitive, is that ‘care factor’ there, are they good at basketball—that’s something that we really fall back on and make sure we don’t lose sight of in that process,” Kleiman said.

So there you have it. The Memphis Grizzlies want players who have that competitive edge that’s sometimes lost on a really gifted player. They want someone who’s going to work hard and put their heart and soul into being part of a really special organization. They put stock into whether or not the person is a genuine human being. If they’re good at basketball, that seems like a really nice plus, too.

You can watch the entire introductory press conference and see Kleiman’s comments in full here.

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