Here’s a question: Why on Earth did the Grizzlies draft Thabeet when they had Gasol?

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Hasheem Thabeet is probably the worst draft pick of the 2000’s. I know you’re going to want to say Kwame Brown. I get that. Bear in mind that Kwame Brown ended up an average center, ten years later. Sure, Thabeet could wind up in a similar boat, it just looks remarkably unlikely. Brown couldn’t put it together. Thabeet has nothing to put together. Also, was Michael Jordan going to take Pau Gasol? Come on. Tyson Chandler took several years to become who he is, nobody saw Tony Parker becoming Tony Parker except R.C. Buford, and Joe Johnson wasn’t a fit either. But Memphis? Memphis could have had Tyreke Evans, Stephen Curry, really any player except Thabeet.

But that’s not why the pick was so terrible. Let’s say that under the tutelage of the Houston Rockets’ fine developmental structure, Thabeet becomes a solid defensive center capable of making an impact. Let’s say he becomes the very best he can be, which is a B-level Dikembe Mutumbo (and that was his ceiling at draft). It would still be a terrible pick. And if you want the proof, just take a look at what’s gotten the Grizzlies here: Marc Gasol.

Consider this excerpt from an excellent piece from Tom Ziller of SBNation.com today:

Marc Gasol was a treasure, the most Thunder-y player on the roster, and without him, this crazy escapade doesn’t work. He’s the pre-existing make-up call for Thabeet, who was pawned off for a rental of Shane Battier, another Thunderish roleplayer.

via Memphis Grizzlies, The Anti-Thunder, Cheat Death Again – SBNation.com.

The term “pre-existing” there is crucial. It’s not like Gasol suddenly became good. Yes, he lost a significant amount of weight in 2009 which helped him make a leap. But Gasol was every bit the beast in his rookie season. The pattern was there. The potential, production the works. You could make the argument that Gasol’s been more important to the Grizzlies’ playoff run than any other player. Zach Randolph has been magnificent, the best he could be, but you could count on that. You saw that coming. Teams did not expect Gasol to hit them with tough putbacks, crisp passing, and solid mid-range shooting. (All things Thabeet cannot do, by the way.)

And if that was already not only on their roster, but starting for them, why on Earth would they have drafted Gasol? You might theorize that the Grizzlies had plans to play Thabeet and Gasol together, with the younger Gasol at power forward. But then, why would they turn around and trade for Zach Randolph? The short answer is because they’re the Grizzlies.

The point of this post is not to try and bury the Grizzlies as so many, including myself, have done for the past four years when they’re one hot shooting night away from the Western Conference Finals. The Grizzlies have actually done a pretty splendid job in roster creation ever since… the second after they drafted Thabeet. Barring the Ronnie Brewer “let’s trade a first round pick for a player in restricted free agency, then renounce his rights, literally surrendering a draft pick for absolutely nothing” play they made last summer, they’ve put together players that go together, and even managed to turn Thabeet into Shane Battier, without whom their playoff run would have been impossible.

But the point is simply to recognize that Marc Gasol is an incredible young player who they need to re-sign once the CBA is settled. More so than Rudy Gay, Mike Conley, or Zach Randolph, all of whom have received huge extensions, Gasol needs to stay in Memphis. He’s the building block they didn’t know they had. Instead of pouting or flipping out at the selection of Thabeet, he worked harder. He hedges the screen, recovers on the pick and pop, defended Tim Duncan, has a reliable hook shot, can hit the mid-range and managed to find chemistry next to Zach Randolph.

The lesson is: before you go chasing the next big thing, make sure you don’t already have it.