Ziaire Williams was thought by many to be an NBA lottery pick at the beginning of the most recent college basketball season. At season’s end he averaged 10.7 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists for Stanford, causing some to wonder about the pre-season hype.
The Memphis Grizzlies clearly were not in the skeptical group, selecting Williams with the No. 10 pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday after making moves to make sure the team was in a position to land the 6-foot-8 forward.
“We were after Ziaire,” said Zach Kleiman, the Grizzlies’ general manager. “We had a great amount of confidence that he would not be there at (pick number) 17 (Memphis’ original draft spot). We are happy where we are as a team.”
Taking the long view, Kleiman spoke of patience and time to develop. And while some Memphis fans on social media didn’t share his outlook, Grizzlies star point guard made it known he solidly was with the selection of Williams.
Many had projected the Grizzlies would select a wing player that could score and defend, with the team needing to improve on perimeter defense. Williams fits that mode, and he has a higher upside than some of the players that some mock drafts had projected going to the Grizzlies.
“To my new organization, you will get a player that is a team-first player,” Williams said in response to a question. “I will be willing to sacrifice my body and time. This is an unbelievable experience. I am so grateful. All glory goes to God. I am super excited to be in this position.”
Memphis was one of his favorites from the start, said Williams.
“I had a workout with them and I love them, and they loved me. It was super fun. I feel like this is the perfect organization for me. I am going to give it my all. I am going to come in with a learning mentality.”
Assessing his game, Williams talked about versatility.
“I feel I can be a threat in all spaces on the offensive end coming off screens, shooting the mid-range. On defense, the same thing guarding guys on my position, smaller or bigger players. I am willing to be an impact for the organization.”
Memphis also maneuvered to get the 30th pick from the Utah Jazz, selecting Santi Aldama from Loyola Maryland. From Spain, the 6-foot-11 Aldama was named the most valuable player of the 2019 FIBA under 18 European Championship. At Loyola, he earned first-team All-Patriot League honors, averaging 21.2 points and 10.1 rebounds in what was his sophomore year.
“What’s up Memphis,” Aldama said on his Twitter post. “Can’t wait to join the team, see the city, meet the fans. Go Grizzlies!”
After the draft was completed, the Grizzlies signed Romeo Weems from DePaul and Tennessee’s Yves Pons, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, with both slated to play on Memphis’ summer league team.
The players that Memphis selected will not be available for the Utah summer games but will be available for the Las Vegas summer league, which will be held August 10-18 at the MGM Center.
Ahead of Thursday’s NBA draft, the Grizzlies already had signaled that the 2021-22 team that clawed its way into the Western Conference Playoffs would have a decidedly different look.
Jonas Valanciunas, who graded out as a double-double machine in points and rebounds, will no longer be patrolling the boards for the Grizzlies. He now works for the New Orleans Pelicans by way of a trade announced before draft day.
In return for trading fan-favorite Valanciunas, the Grizzlies got Eric Bledsoe, Steven Adams and draft picks valued by the team’s front office.
Adams is likely to be in the starting lineup when the season begins. When word of the trade made its way to Twitter, many fans had flashbacks of Adams’ role in derailing an earlier Memphis bid to the Western Conference Finals. That storyline featured Adams engaging with former Grizzlies’ big man Zach Randolph in such a manner that led to Randolph’s ejection and a suspension that kept him out of a decisive game seven in Oklahoma City.
In the season just completed, Valanciunas was a critical piece in the team making the playoffs for the first time in four years. He averaged 17.1 points and was third in the league in rebounds with 12.5 a game. Adams averaged 7.6 points and graded 8.9 rebounds a game.
Yes, letting go of Valanciunas stings, but growth often does.