Can a random number generator draft better than the Grizzlies front office?
We all know that the Grizzlies’ have not drafted well. But is it so bad that drawing names at random would be as effective?
This offseason, the Grizzlies bid farewell to two of their draft picks from the most recent drafts in Wade Baldwin (17th overall in 2016) and Rade Zagorac (35th overall in 2016). Naturally, this brought the conversation back to the Grizzlies draft history and how abysmal it’s been over the course of… well, forever.
Drafting players isn’t easy. Once you’re past the top ten picks, there’s often a steep drop in talent, and even teams inside the top five sometimes miss on what are seen as “sure-fire” superstars. So the question then becomes, how do we go about evaluating the Grizzlies draft?
There’s plenty of ways to do this, but I think the best (read: most fun) way to evaluate their selection of talent is to compare their selections to a draft picks selected completely at random.
For this exercise, I went back and reviewed the Grizzlies drafts starting with 2008, the first draft during which current GM Chris Wallace was in charge. I took every first round pick the Grizzlies had. If they didn’t have a first round pick that year (e.g. 2011), I used their earliest second round pick.
For each pick, I assigned a random number from one to ten using the random number generator over at random.org. I then went that number of spots down from the Grizzlies pick and compared that player to the player the Grizzlies selected, and then compared the careers of the two players.
I used this method to ensure the Grizzlies were at least given a fair shot. If you simply chose a random number and compared picks, there’s a chance that you could end up selecting someone who wouldn’t have even been available when the Grizzlies picked. By going down a random number of spots, this ensures that the player selected would’ve been available to be picked with the Grizzlies on the board.
So, now that I’ve explained the procedure, let’s see how well the Grizzlies have drafted.
The first of these two selections is hard to grade. Technically, the Grizzlies drafted the player with the best career, but they then traded him to Minnesota for OJ Mayo, who was a legitimate Rookie of the Year candidate that eventually fell out of favor with the Grizzlies and was eventually banned by the NBA. Bayless, on the other hand, has been in the league for 9 seasons (including 1.5 in Memphis) as a below-starter level replacement player.
The question here is whether or not you take OJ Mayo’s brilliant short-term to the long-term meh-ness of Bayless. I think you have to give a nod to Mayo there.
The second picks are much more clear cut. D.J. White spent 6 seasons in the league compared to Green’s 4. White’s career PER (14.5) and Win Share (3.8) also crush Green’s numbers of 10.0 and 1.5
Result: Split 1-1
Let’s be honest: We all knew the Machine was going to win the first one. The Grizzlies likely could’ve drawn a name out of a hat and had a pick that was more successful than Thabeet, who played just 113 games with the Grizzlies before being shipped off to Houston along with a first round pick.
As for the second of the two picks, the Grizzlies certainly drafted the better player. Carroll was a key contributor in Atlanta and Toronto (before injuries) and is currently playing well for an over-achieving (but still bad) Brooklyn team. Unfortunately, most of his production came well after he was shipped out of Memphis (along with Thabeet).
Douglas, on the other hand, is a mediocre player who cost Memphis Troy Williams, a fact that I will never forgive him for. (He also seems like a nice guy and a hard worker, so please know that I don’t actually hate him.)
Result: Split 1-1
The first of these picks isn’t even close. The Machine wins in a knockout. Xavier Henry spent all of a season in Memphis before being dealt in a three-team deal. He spent five seasons in the league, averaging 10 points per game just once. Bradley, on the other hand, developed into a legitimate two-way player for the Celtics. This season, with Detroit, he’s currently averaging 16.3 points with a true shooting percentage of 53.2.
The Vasquez decision goes just as firmly in the Grizzlies direction, though. Pleiss played all of 12 career games, in which he scored a whopping 12 points. Vasquez never managed to thrive until he was away from Lionel Hollins, but he was certainly an effective NBA player during his seven year career.
(Note: In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a pretty strong theme of “player X got better after leaving Memphis.)
The Grizz front office has a slight edge in the Dominque Jones v. Armon Johnson debate. Jones played more games, had a better win-shares and slightly better PER. But both players were marginal enough that we’re calling this one a draw.
Result: 1-1-1 (Dominque Jones and Armon Johnson scored a tie)
Grizzlies Selections: Josh Selby (49th overall)
New Selections: Jon Diebler (51st overall)
Josh Selby played in 38 more games than Jon Diebler (who played in zero) and was also Summer League co-MVP with Damian Lillard.
Result: The Grizzlies clear a very low bar here.
Grizzlies Selections: Tony Wroten (25th overall)
New Selections: Arnett Moultrie (27th overall)
Both of these players were terrible! Both were negatives by most advanced metrics, and neither made any sort of lasting impact. Wroten gets the nod here because he played twice as many seasons in the NBA as Moultrie, more than double the games, and managed to average double digits in scoring.
Result: Grizzlies clear another low bar! This is getting depressing!
Grizzlies Selections: Jamaal Franklin (41st overall)
New Selections: Ryan Kelly (48th overall)
Jamaal Franklin, aka the Grindson, actually put together a decent few seasons in China, but his career was nothing to write home about: 24 games over two seasons; 1.8 points per game; a PER below 5.
The White Raven (not kidding, this is actually what Basketball Reference lists as Kelly’s nickname) actually lasted four seasons, three of them in LA with the Lakers where he saw over 20 minutes per game for two seasons. His PER was a respectable 10.5, and his true shooting percentage was 49.8, which isn’t great, but could’ve been worse.
Result: Randomness wins this one
Grizzlies Selections: Jordan Adams (22nd overall)
New Selections: Bogdan Bogdanovic (27th overall)
RIP Jordan Adams. After waiting a couple of seasons to come over, Bogdanovic has impressed in his rookie campaign on a Kings team that is a flaming pile of garbage. Having watched one of his games, I consider myself an expert on Bogdan, and he looks to be a capable NBA player. He makes smart passes, and is a capable shooter.
Also, it’s cool that his first name is just part of his last name.
Result: The Random Number Generator
Grizzlies Selections: Jarell Martin (25th overall)
New Selections: Anthony Brown (34th overall)
At one point prior to training camp, it looked as if this matchup might be a wash. But Jarell managed to save his job by balling out in the preseason, and, even if he hasn’t played up to his increased role in JaMychal’s absence, he’s at least managed to stick around for his third—and presumably fourth—season, while Brown hasn’t seen an NBA game since January. He’s currently playing in the G League for the Iowa Wolves.
Grizzlies Selections: Wade Baldwin (17th overall)
New Selections: Malik Beasley (19th overall)
We all know the story. Baldwin was cut before the start of the regular season after showing no NBA-level skill. It was a fast fall from grace considering in his NBA debut last year Baldwin flirted with a 5×5.
It’s not a high bar to clear, but Beasley beats out Baldwin simply by still being on the same team that drafted him. In fact, Beasley has played in all of the Nuggets‘ first ten games this season, even if it’s less than nine minutes per game and he’s averaging only 2.2 points.
Result: Random Number Generator
Random Number Generator: 6
As it turns out, randomly generating numbers actually is just as effective at drafting as the Grizzlies front office. If you factor in the fact that some of the “wins” that the Grizzlies got came on players didn’t flourish until they went somewhere else, that really just makes things look worse.
All things considered, though, this is a better result for the Grizzlies front office than I expected. They did still manage to make the better pick half the time. And that’s something, I guess? I don’t know.
Well, at least they were smart enough to draft Dillon Brooks.