By this time last year, Memphis was in a dilemma. With the inevitable termination of the GNG era, the front office sought a complete rebuild. However, the Grizzlies were not closely as bad as the Knicks or the Suns that a chance at the top draft pick seemed scarce.
The draft lottery changed all that.
The Memphis Grizzlies fans were ecstatic to get Murray State’s generational talent Ja Morant, who would lead the franchise to the 8th spot in a competitive Western Conference. Currently, the team is in great spirit, and the conversion of the first-rounder to the Celtics will take place this year, potentially a none-lottery pick.
Although not having a first-rounder isn’t thrilling, the blessing in disguise is, this is the best possible year to convert, and the Grizzlies have a second-rounder that they robbed from the Suns via trade. That pick currently lands as the 40th. I reviewed mock drafts of different sites and came up with these 3 prospects that the Grizzlies can consider at the 40th pick.
Cassius Stanley, SG, Duke
Anyone that watched Cassius Stanley play will feel the energy that he brings to ignite the court, the 6’6” freshman out of Duke produced countless highlights in his only college season and put up a decent 12.6 points and 4.9 rebounds stat line in the 27 minutes he got. Stanley is long, fast, and athletic.
He fits right into the Grizzlies second unit with Tyus Jones, Deanthony Melton, and Brandon Clarke. His ability to catch Alley-Oops and run the floor makes him especially suitable for Jenkins’ system, which focuses on transition offense and fast-break points.
However, Stanley is not an exceptional 3 point shooter, his turnover rate must be repressed, and he is one of the older freshmen in his class, being one month older than Jaren Jackson Jr. and 2 years older than freshmen like James Wiseman.
Jalen Smith, PF, Maryland
The 20-year-old sophomore from Baltimore has been under the radar from a very young age. His skill set is comprehensive. Smith’s 6’10” height and 7’2” wingspan combined with his impressive vertical make him a good rebounder. In his second year in college, he averaged 10.3 rebounds and 3.2 offensive rebounds. This along with his size can be a good compliment to Jaren Jackson Jr.
Jalen Smith is a typical rim runner in modern basketball, his transition offense can be difficult to neutralize, and he offers terrific rim protection (Averaging 2.4 blocks per game). A tender touch from beyond the arc is also a part of his contribution.
However, Smith’s slender build and lack of strength can inhibit his performance. Weighing 225 pounds, this facet of his game can be exposed by NBA caliber big men.
Udoka Azubuike, C, Kansas, Nigeria
Never underestimate senior leaders in college teams; just look at Jimmy Butler, Damian Lillard, or Draymond Green. Yes, not entering the NBA at a young age may hinder development, but the improvement players gain from 4 years at a traditional college that specializes in player development (like Kansas) may be better than scrambling for minutes in a losing franchise in NBA. If these players are dominant in college, it’s quite possible that they can survive NBA pressure. With that being said, Kansas 7-footer Udoka Azubuike was a star this past season, averaging a double-double and taking the prize of Big 12 Player of the Year. Very few can match his brute strength, his power, and toughness. Bill Self described: “Nobody else in America has a guy like that, nobody.” With the best field goal percentage in NCAA history (.746), Azubuike finishes around the rim with ease. His defensive presence is also significant. Along with his improved rim protection skills, switching out to guard smaller players hasn’t been a novelty for him this past season either. This kind of mobility is precious for anyone, and especially for someone of his size.
Injury may be a concern. He suffered notable injuries in 2 of his 4 seasons in college, playing only 20 games in his freshman and junior year. Azubuike’s basketball skills need progress too, but considering this is his 8th year playing basketball, some professional training and sincere work can fill the gap.
Photo: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports