When I first started calling for the Pau Gasol to traded, it was because I truly thought that the Memphis Grizzlies needed to establish a new identity. With Gasol as the best player on the team, the Grizz were always going to play and be seen as a finesse team in the NBA that did not defend very well. Heck, he went to the Lakers and that is now their identity minus Kobe. Tonight is the 2008 NBA Draft. This means that this is truly the beginning of the post-Pau Gasol era. Chris Wallace is the first GM in Grizzlies history with an ability to take the franchise in a different direction. For me, that direction should begin and end with toughness.
With Rudy Gay establishing himself as a legit top 3 option in the NBA, the Grizzlies do not have any more room for players that need to develop either physical or mental toughness. Every player they add to the roster has to be either physically imposing, mentally tough, or both. There is no room for mentally fragile or physically immature players at this time. Similar to Utah, which is not a good defensive team, establishing your physicality can lead to improvement in the win/loss column. Toughness is mental. Some players have it and some do not. That is why Chris Wallace will establish our identity by the roster moves he makes this offseason...starting tonight with the 2008 NBA Draft.
So which players are in this draft do I think can help the Grizzlies establish an identity of toughness on the court:
1. Micheal Beasley - You can question his off the court antics if you want but when he laces up his shoes he is a beast. Wants contact on the inside. Might not be the defender people want him to be but neither is Carlos Boozer. Will be a double digit rebounder as a rookie. He just gets it done.
2. O. J. Mayo - He would totally transform the mentality of the Grizzlies. Mentally and physically tough and gets after it on defense. Very driven player. For better or for worse, he would be the dominant personality on the Grizzlies and he and Conley would form a dynamic backcourt for the next decade.
3. Kevin Love - Another guy who does not shy away from contact. Like the two players above him, Love brings a high level of skill along with his toughness. He just knows how to play. Not the greatest athlete but like ex-Grizz Battier, he will make up for it by knowing where to be on the court.
4. Danilo Gallinari - A tough Euro? Yes. Gallinari is unlike a lot of recent imports into the NBA. At 19, he was the number option on his Euroleague team and excelled in that role. Like Mayo and Love, he might not be the best athlete for his position but his mental toughness is at the top of the charts. Highly skilled for his position. Supposedly measured 6'10 in socks.
5. Joe Alexander - This late bloomer might be the best athlete in the draft. His awareness has not caught up with his physical gifts but he was highly productive in a major conference. Probably not an All Star but he his work ethic and mental make up is unreal.
6. Roy Hibbert - Shocked? If you watched his college career, you shouldn't be. Hibbert is an imposing player at 7'2 and 280 lbs. Unlike a lot of other more athletic bigs in this draft, Hibbert knows how to play basketball. He is slow of foot but can score enough that teams will have to account for him on offense. Plus he is a winner.
7. Courtney Lee - I had the pleasure of watching him workout and he is as athletic as anyone in this draft. I am not talking combine athlete. I am talking game time athlete. Gets tough rebounds in traffic and shows himself to be mentally tough as well. Very productive player in college. I think he could come in and give 20 minutes a game to any team in the league from day 1.
8. J.J. Hickson - He is young and physically imposing plus he has good hands. Not as skilled as some others on this list but he knows where his game is located...in the paint. He will be knocking people around in this league for the next 15 years.
9. D.J. White - Another player that understands his limitations. He will also earn his money in the paint. Good shotblocker for his size and has a very mature game. Only thing keeping him from a lock in the 1st round is injury concerns.
10. Jamont Gordon - I know the Grizzlies do not have a need at PG at this time but if Lowry, Conley or both are traded, Gordon could become an option at the end of the 1st round. He is the size of Eric Gordon but plays point guard at 6'3 and 230lbs. Very athletic and skilled. He is just a tough nose, get after it kind of player. He will be in some teams rotation next year and I would not be shocked to see him taken at the end of the 1st round.
Now obviously there are some other players that could add some toughness to the Grizzlies roster but these are the 10 I would not mind seeing in a Grizzlies uniform. The draft is just part of the equation of adding toughness. If Marc Gasol is not traded then he also will add some much needed toughness and skill to our front line. The whole mental makeup of the roster has to change. We need to go from a soft running team that does not defend well to a physical running team that plays hard at all times. This mentality must come from the coaching staff (iffy) and flow through the entire roster.