Grizzlies’ lottery selection Xavier Henry intriguing
With the twelve pick in the 2010 draft, the Memphis Grizzlies selected Kansas swingman Xavier Henry. The pick is certainly intriguing, in that it engenders further questions about the length of restricted free agent Rudy Gay’s stay in Memphis. The common perception is that Henry was selected solely because of the Rudy Gay situation. Is it a prelude to a potential trade of the explosive 6’8″ small forward?
Despite the rumors that have flailed about for several months now, Memphis owner Michael Heisley has remained steadfast in his commitment to retaining the budding forward. At least his comments have been. His actions, however, would suggest otherwise.
Heisley said his team was going to make a big move in the draft. They did. Only this time they again moved to the ATM machine to make a deposit. The Grizzlies’ 25th overall pick, Dominique Jones, was dealt to the Mavericks for cash considerations. Instead of getting an experienced junior ready to contribute right away, a player who can score, rebound and pass (the only player in college to average 21 ppg, 6 rpg and 4 apg last season), the Grizzlies got three-million dollars to put in Michael’s back pocket.
You can read into this in one of two ways. You can say that Heisley would rather deflect the loss-making enterprise that is the Grizzlies organization than spend big dollars to build a winner. The folks in Tennessee sure feel slighted, particularly when you consider the team has a solid core in place that is not too far away from being legitimately competitive in a difficult Western Conference. Or, perhaps Heisley is stashing the cash in order to offset the impact of the hugely overvalued contract his highly sought after free agent is certain to command.
The first seems more likely, but consider the second.
The Grizzlies produced a starting rotation of Mike Conley, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol last season – certainly a potent core, lacking only in superior point guard play, an ability to stretch the floor and defense.
Xavier figures to fit in quite well in this regard. The swingman joins a youthful team, with four of their five starters 25 years of age or younger. Henry brings with him a silky-smooth perimeter stroke, a skill they sorely need. Last season, the Grizzlies posted one of the league’s worst three-point shooting percentages. The 33.7% mark was good for 26th of the association’s 30 teams. He also brings defensive intensity. Head coach Lionel Hollins will count on him to help shore up the league’s 7th-worst field goal percentage defense last season.
But unless the Grizzlies trade one of their young players, Henry figures to come off the bench and contribute in an auxiliary fashion. Or does he?
Throughout his entire well-publicized high school career (one he shared with Bill Walker), O.J. Mayo played the point guard position. But when Mayo arrived at USC, his coaches slotted him at shooting guard. When the Grizzlies traded up to get Mayo, many assumed he would replace the slumping Mike Conley at the point.
It was not to be. Mayo remained a shooting guard for his rookie and sophomore seasons, pouring in points with his outside shot and rarely running the offense. The problem, however, is that Mayo is often considered too small for the shooting guard position, unable to guard taller counterparts such as Brandon Roy, Joe Johnson, or Kobe Bryant.
Apparently Mayo might be making the switch this summer.
The Grizzlies have invited O.J. to play summer league ball this year, which is uncommon for an accomplished third year player. Their rationale is that Mayo can use the low-pressure environment to better learn how to run an offense from the point and give the man some confidence heading into the season.
So what in fact may seem like a fortuitous draft pick may in fact be a prelude to an eventual position in the team’s starting rotation at shooting guard. A swap of Conley and Henry would transform one of the shortest backcourts in the game today – a combined 12’4″ – into one of the tallest – a combined 12’9.5″ – with no corresponding loss in athleticism. And the shooting strokes of Henry (who splashed 3-pointers last season at a rate of 41.8%) and Mayo (who is a career 38.3% shooter from beyond the arc) could complement the penetration game of Gay quite well.
But experiments like these tend to be difficult to implement. So difficult, in fact, that Mr. Riley was unwilling to take such a gamble on Eric Bledsoe or Avery Bradley. And while Mayo dribbles the ball like a point guard, the sentiment to put him at the point seems misguided – he can’t beat shooting guards off the dribble and has no hope of penetrating defenses from the point. He doesn’t see the floor particularly well either, posting a rather dreadful 1.16 assist-to-turnover ratio on the year. Running the point is an instinctual gift, one which is nearly impossible to teach. Of course, Memphis, Tennessee would seem like an ideal place to try.
It comes as no surprise, in that regard, that Memphis selected Terrapin point guard Greivis Vasquez in the second round as added insurance. There may not be a more experienced player in this year’s draft than Vasquez. He was a full-time starter three of his four years at Maryland, and he made significant improvements each season. Moving forward, he has a chance to be a rare player in the league. The 6’6″ guard has tremendous feel for the game and he could end up being a quick starter if the Mayo project fails (which, ironically, could make Conley the more available Grizzly – ahead of the more coveted Gay and Thabeet).
Still, you’d have to wonder whether Heisley would truly be open to offering up the 5 years and $76 million that matching a maximum offer sheet would demand. For that matter, you’d have to wonder whether anyone would be willing to make such a bid.
If teams shy away from offering up a contract to the restricted free agent, unwilling to lock up more than $13 million in cap space for the better part of a week while Mr. Heisley sits back in his rocking chair and decides whether or not to match, Michael could get exactly what he wants. He’d have no incentive to trade him. And, particularly with a new and far more restrictive collective bargaining agreement to come, he’d have no incentive to pay him anything more than his true worth.
A similar concurrence of events transpired the season prior with another highly-regarded restricted free agent to limit his own potential for a lucrative, long-term contract. That time David Lee was the victim. Such is the difficulty that is the “restricted” tag.
It would appear that Heisley has all the pieces he wants, at least for now. A trade, unless it involves a true point guard, may not be necessary. But Rudy is still a free agent. So nothing is assured.
How much cash would you be willing to lock up for a week? Is it a large enough amount for Heisley to shy away from matching? Is it small enough to allow for flexibility in rounding out your ideal roster?
Add these to the list of questions which will begin to be answered in five days.