Luka Doncic and the Grizzlies are a match made in heaven

The 2018 NBA draft will give the Memphis Grizzlies the fourth overall selection for the fourth time in their 23-year history. They don’t have the best track record in this spot. Of the three players they’ve selected fourth overall, two of them — Antonio Daniels and Drew Gooden — didn’t even make it through their sophomore seasons before being traded.

The other fourth overall selection came in 2007. Memphis struck gold, selecting Ohio State point guard Mike Conley. Conley went on to pair with rookie Marc Gasol for the 2008-09 season, and the duo has meant everything to the franchise ever since.

They helped form the grit ‘n’ grind culture that brought Memphis their first playoff series win in 2011 over the Spurs, the same team they were eliminated by in their first ever conference finals birth in 2013. In the four seasons after, The Grizzlies continued to make the playoffs but only won one more series.

Last season, they finally missed the playoffs. This was because of injuries to key players, like Conley and Chandler Parsons (are we allowed to call him a key player?). As well as a circus of off-the-court issues that lead to the firing of head coach David Fizdale and reports of a poor relationship between Gasol and the organization.

But, this season of turmoil has brought light at the end of the tunnel: the fourth overall pick in a loaded draft class. Maybe, that light will shine brighter than anyone could imagine, and Luka Doncic will fall to them.

If this happens, Doncic will land in the ideal spot out of the teams in the top-five. Doncic and Memphis are a match made in heaven as the Tennessee-based team is similar to an NBA copy of the Real Madrid team he’s spent the past two seasons with.

Gustavo Ayon, for example, has some skills similar to Gasol. In Euroleague, Ayon can score and pass out of the low post with the best of them while also serving as a top-notch pick-and-roll partner thanks to his soft hands, touch around the rim, and ability to distribute out of the short roll. Gasol offers all these skills, at an NBA level, and can also knock down 3s and protect the rim on the other end.

Here’s an example of a Doncic-Ayon pick-and-roll that Doncic and Gasol could emulate with the Grizzlies.

Doncic and Ayon are both so dangerous in their respective role’s that practically all of Real Betis’ defenders are sucked in close to the paint and locked in on the two of them. They’re even helping off of non-shooter Felipe Reyes in the ball-side corner. Doncic reads this and throws the cross-court hook pass to Fabian Causeur who knocks down the open 3. The Grizzlies would draw the same amount of attention from NBA defenses with the Doncic-Gasol pick-and-roll, and create just as many open looks.

Real Madrid and the Grizzlies are also similar because of their point guard play. Madrid has Sergio Llull, the best point guard in Europe, who worked perfectly with Doncic. When Doncic was on, he let him iso, run pick-and-roll’s, and spaced the floor for him. When Llull was on, the roles reversed and Doncic let him run the show while he spaced the floor. It’s easy to see him having the same on-the-court relationship with Conley. Doncic even gives the super-max guard a chance to ease back into his role with the Grizzlies after coming off of season ending heel surgery.

Here’s an example of Doncic and Llull creating for each other. Doncic initiates the offense and finds Llull curling off of a screen. On the catch, Llull draws help from Doncic’s defender. Doncic re-locates to the far wing and with the help of an Anthony Randolph back screen he’s wide open for 3. Llull finds him, and Doncic is money on the open shot.

Again, the Grizzlies could do the exact same thing with Doncic and Conley. Switch between who initiates the offense, have one come off screens, have them both come off screens, etc. The options are limitless when you have two great play makers.

Another similarity Doncic would find with the Grizzlies are the plethora of shooters at his disposal to spread the floor and give him space to operate. Rudy Fernandez, Facundo Campazzo, Jeffery Taylor, Fabian Causeur, Jaycee Carroll, and Trey Thompkins all shot greater than 35 percent from deep for Real Madrid last season. This helped make Doncic so lethal. If you helped off of your man and onto him, odds are Doncic would find the now open three-point shooter. If you don’t help, he’s going to get to the rim and either score or draw a foul. Sounds a lot like that player in Houston who took the Warriors the distance in the Conference Finals, doesn’t it?

Doncic shows off incredible pick-and-roll patience here to find an open shooter. Doncic uses the Othello Hunter screen and starts driving into the lane but the Maccabi defense does a good job of not giving him space to shoot a pull-up jumper or giving him an angle to get the ball to Hunter. Doncic doesn’t give up. He keeps driving and as he gets closer to the rim former Baylor forward Quincy Miller is forced to help off of Randlph in the corner. Doncic gets him the ball quickly and Randolph knocks down the open 3.

The Grizzlies could give Doncic the same set-up. If they went with a starting lineup of Conley, Dillon Brooks, Doncic, JaMychal Green, and Marc Gasol, Doncic would be surrounded by four players who have shot 34 percent or better from deep for their careers. This lineup would put opponents in the same pick-your-poison situation that Real Madrid put their opponents in. Comparatively, when looking at the clip where Randolph knocked down the 3 the Grizzlies would just run a Doncic-Gasol pick-and-roll and have Green in the corner ready to drain the open shot.

Not to mention, the Grizzlies have shooters coming off the bench as well in a scenario where they draft Doncic. Ben McLemore, Jarell Martin, Marshon Brooks, and Wayne Selden — four more players who shot 34 percent or better from beyond the arc last season. Sure, these guys aren’t much more than spot-up spacers. But with Doncic, Conley, and Gasol zipping the ball around and running pick-and-rolls to help create open looks they don’t need to be much else. Nick Young just got a ring because he knocks down open 3s and offers athleticism on the defensive end. Who’s to say these guys can’t do that for Memphis?

There is a big if that looms for Memphis as well. If Chandler Parsons knees consistently work again, then they have a career 38 percent shooter from downtown who can take guys off-the-dribble and pose a threat to defenses around the league.. Doncic also alleviates a lot of the pressure on Parsons. If his knee’s start feeling sore, he can take a night off. He could also just turn into more of a spot-up shooter and leave off-the-dribble moves that put pressure on his knees in his rear view mirror. Parsons will never be worth the $23 million plus a year the Grizzlies are paying him, but Doncic could give him a role to thrive in, and turn owner Robert Pera’s winces into smirks whenever he cuts a check to the former University of Florida wing.

While Doncic’s fit on offense is impeccable, it’s tough to gauge how he’ll fit on defense. This is because trying to gauge the Grizzlies defense in general for next season requires a lot of guessing. Last season, the Grizzlies posted the sixth-worst defensive rating in the league, 108.4. But, the season before they posted the league’s seventh-best defensive rating, 104.5.

If you’re viewing the drop with optimism, it can be explained by the injuries the Grizzlies had, the amount of youngsters they were playing, the early season firing of coach David Fizdale, and the departure of Tony Allen. In fact, Allen’s departure and Conley’s injury probably explains a lot of it. The two of them formed a powerful back-court pairing on the defensive end that made Gasol’s role as a rim protector considerably easier. When Conley and Allen were in front of Gasol, he faced slightly more than five field goal attempts per-game inside of six feet. Without them, he faced slightly less than seven per-game. This explains his drop from forcing opponents to shoot 7.5-percent worse from inside of six feet two seasons ago to only 4.4-percent worse last season.

Now, the Grizz are most likely looking at Conley and Brooks as their back court pairing. They won’t be the same as Conley and Allen, but Conley, Brooks, and Doncic will be considerably better than the Andrew Harrison, Brooks, and Tyreke Evans or any of the other perimeter trios the Grizz regularly trotted out last season. Green at the four will also work well with Doncic since they both offer a healthy level of switchability. So does Brooks, to a lesser degree. Add in Doncic’s feel and IQ on the defensive end alongside Conley and Gasol’s intelligence and a path to a league average defense or better begins to visualize.

Memphis’ roster — just like most of the league — isn’t set in stone for them. They have the ability to add some upgrades this summer with the mid-level exception ($8.6 million). The Grizzlies also have the 32nd overall pick in the draft to go with their fourth pick. If they end up taking a player they like in that spot, they will be spending some of the MLE money on that player. Even if they go that route, the majority of the $8.6 million will go to adding some depth.

They’ll most likely want to add a veteran big to their roster to start with, unless they have faith in one of Jarell Martin or Deyonta Davis. Amir Johnson, Channing Frye, Ersan Illyasova, and Marreese Speights are options. Frye, Illyasova, and Speights would provide spacing alongside their experience.

The Grizzlies may want to add another guard or wing as well. They can try to retain both of Mario Chalmers and Evans, but Evans could potentially get more money elsewhere and probably considerably more if he agrees to a big one-year deal with a team. If that happens, Vince Carter, Ian Clark, Aaron Afflalo, Seth Curry, and Doug McDermott become players they could chase.

Whoever the Grizzlies add via their MLE, they should be looking for players with experience. Because no matter who they end up with in the draft, the goal for this team is to be back in the playoffs. Pera said on June 12 that he expects the team to win 50-games next season, due to Conley’s return and their draft pick. “Assuming Marc (Gasol) and Mike (Conley) come back healthy, I think we have a couple of surrounding pieces that are younger players that are going to make a positive impact,” Pera told Grind City Media. An outlet he employs. “We’ll get another good player in this draft. I see no reason why we can’t return to being a 50-win plus team.”

This is another reason that Doncic and Memphis are a perfect match. Ever since the Slovenian joined Real Madrid’s youth setup in 2012 as a 13 year old he’s known nothing but winning. He’s coming off a season in Europe where he’s won almost every possible title and accolade, and could still win more if Real Madrid is able to reclaim the ACB title by beating Baskonia. The drop from expecting every trophy possible to a 20-win NBA team is a steep one, and could take a mental toll on a player under as much pressure as Doncic. With winning as the Grizzlies goal, and not rebuilding, Doncic can focus on team success and not stress about individual numbers.

This will ease the transition Doncic faces, as well as the one Memphis faces.

The grit ‘n’ grind era is clearly over, and Memphis can’t afford to look back. But their two franchise players remain in Conley and Gasol. And if they’re able to land Doncic with the fourth pick; Then their transition into a new era, the spacing era, will be quick and painless. Before we know it, the Grizzlies could be winning playoff series again, and regain their status as a tough team that no one wants to play in a best-of-seven.