Imagine what the Memphis Grizzlies could have been. Every team swings and misses at the NBA Draft every once in a while, but the Grizzlies found themselves on the other end of the spectrum. The rapper Eminem said it best when you get “one shot, one opportunity.” The problem is that the Grizzlies were always just one pick away from having that opportunity.
The Grizzlies have never made the NBA Finals and their closest attempt was making the Western Conference Finals in 2013. Had some of these picks just dropped one more selection, we could be talking about a dynasty as good as the Golden State Warriors.
PG - 2008 NBA Draft
Russell Westbrook was taken at No. 4; Grizzlies pick Kevin Love at No. 5
The Grizzlies just missed out on their potential point guard of the future. Westbrook was taken by the formerly known Seattle SuperSonics just one pick ahead of the Grizzlies. With the No. 5 selection, the Grizzlies picked Kevin Love, who eventually became an All-Star, but never played a single game for Memphis. After the draft, Love was traded with Mike Miller, Brian Cardinal, and Jason Collins to the Minnesota Timberwolves in exchange for OJ Mayo (taken No. 3 in this draft), Antoine Walker, Marko Jaric, and Greg Buckner.
The trade never panned out for the Grizzlies. Love became a multi-All-Star selection and a rebounding champion with the Timberwolves, while Mayo never made an All-Star appearance. Both Westbrook and Love are in the league, while Mayo has been out of the league since 2015. As for Westbrook, he eventually won an MVP in 2017 and has averaged four triple-double seasons.
SG - 2018 NBA Draft
Luka Doncic was taken at No. 3; Grizzlies pick Jaren Jackson Jr. at No. 4
Doncic is so versatile that he can play point guard or shooting guard. With Westbrook on this hypothetical team, Doncic would have the free range to shoot all he wants. Plus, it would have given the Grizzlies two players that would have the potential to average a triple-double in a season.
Jackson has never played more than 58 games in a season and has battled injuries. However, there is the belief the 21-year old can still produce at a high level. That level is still nowhere near what Doncic has done in his first two seasons. Doncic is coming off a season where he averaged 27.7 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 8.6 assists, while Jackson played just 11 games.
SF - 2019 NBA Draft
Zion Williamson was taken at No. 1; Grizzlies pick Ja Morant at No. 2
There was no possible way that the Grizzlies were going to land Williamson in the 2019 NBA Draft. It just goes to show that the Grizzlies were that close to getting him. While Williamson became the fourth-youngest All-Star to start in the game, the No. 2 overall pick was the 2020 Rookie of the Year Award recipient.
Morant averaged 17.3 points and 7.3 assists during his rookie season. That total increased to 19.1 points and 7.4 assists last year. At 21 years old, Morant could grow into the face of the league with Williamson. Morant’s development has sparked a conversation about who the better No. 1 overall pick is today.
PF - 2009 NBA Draft
Blake Griffin was taken at No. 1; Grizzlies pick Hasheem Thabeet at No. 2
When looking back at how close the Grizzlies were to get a true superstar, we can assess that it was just bad luck. This pick was a true bust and ranks as one of the biggest busts of all time. Thabeet lasted five years, played a combined 224 games, averaged 2.4 points, and 2.7 rebounds.
Griffin was a star coming out of Oklahoma and would have been a great fit with the Grizzlies. Then again, so would James Harden (No. 3), Tyreke Evans (No. 4), Ricky Rubio (No. 5), Steph Curry (No. 7), or DeMar DeRozan (No. 9). The Grizzlies were so close to Griffin but so bad at drafting their backup plan.
C - 2007 NBA Draft
Al Horford was taken at No. 3; Grizzlies pick Mike Conley Jr. at No. 4
For the sake of making the new Grizzlies team, having Horford man the center position is essential. Horford is a five-time All-Star and a respected veteran NBA player. By the year 2021, he would have been the longest-tenured Grizzlie on the team. With that said, we can’t fault the Grizzlies for their pick at No. 4 either, especially with Marc Gasol eventually becoming the team’s center anyways.
Conley is one of the greatest players to ever wear a jersey in Memphis. Conley is the all-time leader in games played, points, three-point field goals, assists, and steals. However, the 2007 draft provided the domino effect. With no Conley, there would be no point guard. With the 2008 NBA Draft and Russell Westbrook at the top, maybe a trade would have been in the works.
In the end, we will never know. All we know is that the Grizzlies were close but no cigar.
Credit for the idea: NBA Debates 1