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Trail Blazers NBA Draft Primer - Part 2 - Who Might They Target?

Thursday, June 23, 2016

 

On Tuesday, we covered Part 1 of our NBA Draft Primer, where we discussed a few ways that the Portland Trail Blazers, who don’t own a pick themselves, might be able to make a move to get into the tonight’s NBA Draft. Today, we’ll look at what players the Blazers may target if they do wheel and deal their way into the draft.

With Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum holding down the guard spots, the Blazers biggest needs are a playmaker on the wing, or a big-bodied defender down low. Both would fill a need going forward, so, they are likely to target one or the other if they do find themselves selecting tonight.

I would also expect them to swing for the fences a bit with any potential pick. Forgoing a chance to grab a safe, solid player who can contribute right away in favor of someone who offers a bit more upside and potential star power. That’s because, while they do hope to make a return trip to the playoffs next season, the core is still quite young and in need of some additional star power to solidify themselves among the Western Conference elite.

As we discussed on Tuesday, most realistic scenarios see the Blazers acquiring a pick in one of three primary spots: mid-1st round, late-1st round, or a 2nd round pick. So, these are the areas where we will focus, highlighting a couple players the Blazers could be looking to target in each range and what they could potentially bring to the table.

Mid-1st Round

DOMANTAS SABONIS | Gonzaga | PF/C | 6’10” | 231 lbs. | 20 years old

Well, we might as well start here. With a gaping hole inside, and the son of arguably the most popular Blazer ever sitting there ripe for the taking, Sabonis makes a ton of sense for the Blazers. He not only fits a need, but has the name and game to become an instant fan favorite. A tough, hard-nosed rebounder, with high basketball IQ who could develop into a force on both ends, Sabonis is someone who could endear himself to Blazer fans from the get go. While he is not a particularly strong defender at this point, nor the athlete that his dad was (in his younger days, at least), Domantas would be an excellent addition to the Blazer frontcourt, and a homerun in the minds of the fans. 

DENZEL VALENTINE | Michigan State | SG | 6’6” | 210 lbs. | 22 years old

Valentine is an incredibly versatile player who averaged a remarkable 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists per game for the Spartans. It’s that kind of versatility that could be the extra perimeter playmaker/creator that the Blazers are looking for. On top of that, he is a good outside shooter, which should allow him to help spread the floor and open up space for their bigs. What sets Valentine apart, though, is his passing ability and crazy high basketball IQ. There are some question marks, though, which make him one of the most divisive players in the draft Valentine is not an elite athlete, by any stretch, and was demonstrably poor defensively at the collegiate level, which is not a great sign. He also shot a surprisingly low FG% inside the arc, which may limit his chances to use his playmaking ability.

SKAL LABISSIERE | Kentucky | C | 7’0” | 216 lbs. | 20 years old

Once the top prospect in this entire class, Labissiere is most likely going in the lottery, maybe even quite high. He has the kind of shot-blocking length that the Blazers covet, and could really be a difference-maker down the road if he develops like many think he can. That being said, he had a very up and down (and ultimately, disappointing) freshman year, which has seen his stock drop fairly significantly over the past nine months. At the same time, he still has all the tools and upside that made him so highly regarded in the first place. While the odds may be against the Blazers being able to get to a pick high enough to snag Labissiere, this could be the kind of player that the Blazers would be willing to make a real move to go get if he were to slip on draft day.

Late-1st Round

BRICE JOHNSON | North Carolina | PF/C | 6’11” | 209 lbs. | 21 years old

While he’s a bit undersized for a true center at 6’10” with “only” a 7’0” wingspan, he’s a legit “wow” athlete, sporting an awe-inspiring (especially for a center) 38” vertical. Johnson excels at finishing on the break, as well as on the pick and roll, and yet also shows a surprisingly effective post game, despite his lack of bulk (or real post moves). He is also big time playmaker-in-the-making on the defensive end, where he averaged over 2 blocks and 1.5 steals per game as a senior. If he continues to add bulk and strength as he did throughout college, he could be the kind defender the Blazers are looking for in the middle, as he would be able to protect the rim, as well as get out and guard the pick and roll. Of course, as a late-bloomer, who lacks polish and excelled in large part due to his dominating athleticism, he does have some real bust potential heading into the next level.

TIMOTHE LUWAWU | France | SG/SF | 6’7” | 205 lbs. | 21 years old

The first thing that jumps out to you regarding Luwawu, is that he has the prototypical size and athleticism that you are looking for from an NBA wing. He truly has the potential to be a legit defensive stopper on the perimeter, which is a skill the Blazers have sorely lacked in recent years. On top of that, he is quite effective attacking the hoop and drawing fouls, while sporting an improving outside shot, giving him a very high ceiling as a player. He would also serve as a potential safety net if SG Allen Crabbe and/or SF Maurice Harkless were to exit in free agency. Of course, the downside is that, like with a lot of younger European prospects, his game may not translate to the NBA. This is particularly true for Luwawu, who has played primarily in the Serbian league, which is not typically considered a top 10 league in Europe.

THON MAKER | High School | PF| 7’1” | 216 lbs. | 19 years old

Maker is a legit 7-footer who immigrated to Canada in high school from Sudan. Possessing good-to-excellent athleticism and a very high upside as a player, he is the definition of boom or bust in this draft. He was once arguably the top high school prospects in the country, but slipped a bit after a somewhat disappointing senior season that saw him fail to dominate high school competition like some thought he should. Despite the falling draft stock, he decided to come out early as a draft eligible 19-year old, possibly due to eligibility concerns with the NCAA. A very unique player, Maker can play above the rim, as well as step outside and knock down some shots. On top of that, he has been lauded for his motor on the court and work ethic off of it, which could make some team fall in love. Still, this is the ultimate boom-or-bust pick, meaning that whoever selects Maker will likely look like a genius or a fool by the end of his rookie deal.

2nd Round

GARY PAYTON II | Oregon State | PG | 6’3” | 184 lbs. | 23 years old

Another NBA legacy, Payton II is a defensive-minded PG that looks to be a natural fit in a backcourt with defensive-challenged guards like Blazers have. He has the genetics/physical tools you want in a guard, and could one day challenge for All-Defensive Team honors if he manages to stick in the league. What’s more is that despite his name, he has had to work his way up the college basketball ranks, starting out at a junior college before transferring to a Pac-12 also-ran, in Oregon State (sorry, Beaver fans). Impressively, he was not fazed in the slightest by the steep jump in competition, and may have even saw a slight uptick in numbers in the Pac-12. There are question marks of course, though. Namely that he isn’t really a natural point guard and lacks of a consistent outside shot, both things that could be killers at the next level.

AJ HAMMONS | Purdue | C | 7’0” | 278 lbs. | 23 years old

Hammons is another legit 7-footer with a big body that possesses all the tools you look for in a big man. He is an excellent shot blocker and rebounder, while also showing flashes of offensive potential both inside and out. This is a prospect that truly has all the tools. Yet, still, he often struggles to put those skills together for long stretches. Combine that with questions about his motor, and multiple suspensions for violating team rules, and you have a player with lottery talent almost assuredly being selected in the 2nd round. Somebody is going to take a chance with him, and it may pay off handsomely, like it did for the Clippers when they selected DeAndre Jordan in the 2nd round. Or, more likely, he could end up being just another in a long line of players with a million dollar body and a ten cent head. 

ZHOU QI | China | C | 7’2” | 209 lbs. | 20 years old

Qi is the tallest player in draft at 7’2” with an incredible 9’5” reach, which immediately puts him on every GMs draft board. He is also very coordinated and skilled for size, making him even more intriguing, particularly when combined with his excellent shot blocking and rebounding instincts. That being said, he’s skinny. Like, very, very skinny. Barely 200 pounds while soaking wet, skinny. So, clearly, strength a major issue for Qi, particularly when he’s forced to mix it up in the paint in the NBA. And, that’s before we even begin to talk about the level of competition he faced in China. All of this makes him a very risky pick, but, could one that could be a game changer if he adjusts to the big jump in competition and is able to add, some (any!) bulk to his tiny frame. There really doesn’t seem to be much middle-ground with Qi, as he will likely either be a star or laughing-stock.

 

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