With the 2011 NBA Draft just 10 days away it's high time to start thinking about possibilities for the Portland Trail Blazers. Normally a team with the 21st pick doesn't venture far from the nest but the weak field this year makes motion possible. To ramp up the excitement level let's start with some speculation about upward mobility, looking at UConn Junior point guard Kemba Walker.
Is it possible?
Unlike many proposed trades for name-level draftees, this move is quite possible for the Blazers. Walker is projected in the lower single digits in many mock drafts. Cleveland's second pick at #4, Toronto at #5, Washington at #6, and Sacramento at #7 are all possibilities. Chances are one of those teams will look at this field and fall madly out of love with it.
That said, single-digit picks are still single-digit picks. None of those teams will give away those picks cheaply. You're looking at a Nicolas Batum-level move. None of these teams are contenders so they're not looking for that last veteran piece to put them over the top. Young talent is required. From Portland's perspective Batum and Matthews are likely the only candidates. The only way around that roadblock would be absorbing massive salaries but Portland's not in a position to make that move not only because of a prospective hard cap coming but because all of the Blazers' high-salary players would have to bring commensurate return in order for the team to remain viable. You can't toss away Marcus Camby and Andre Miller (and Nicolas Batum) when Baron Davis is your only veteran coming in return.
What Would Walker Offer?
In a word, speed. At 6'1" he's lightning quick. He also has dazzling hops and a willingness to score. He's the kind of player who would want to make an impact right away...pretty much what you like in a starting point guard. Also did we mention he's quick? That cannot be taught. The Blazers are looking for more speed in the backcourt, so that's a natural fit. The guy also draws fouls like honey draws flies. He can hit foul shots too.
On the other hand defense is an issue, his distance shooting is mediocre, and he shades towards scoring rather that distributing, coupled with occasionally questionable shot selection. He's 42.8% from the field but only 33% from the college arc. His effective field goal percentage is this year was 48%, true shooting 54% (free throws FTW). For a quick guy he's not over-reliant on the fast break. The guy can score in plenty of ways. It'll just cost shots to see his optimal production. A major sticking point: he's not within sniffing distance of a Top 10 performance in assists. He notched a single assist for every four shots attempted this past season. His assist-to-turnover ration was a modest 1.98.
As a college junior Walker brings experience. He's also improved his overall game during each of his years. If his blossoming isn't finished he could turn into a special player. But that's still in the future. Right now you're trading up to draft a guy in a prime spot who looks like a prime player in many ways but doesn't come with the kind of guarantee return that the Blazers need from their next point guard. Make no mistake, this would be a roll of the dice posting some of Portland's only young talent as the stake.
What Would Drafting Walker Mean?
As we've said repeatedly in the last month, this year's draft will be less about the actual players drafted and more about the front office's assessment of the state of the franchise. A move like this would signify that the status quo wasn't working and probably isn't getting better in the near future. The Blazers would be committing to a three-year growth curve minimum at a crucial position. They'd be signalling that they didn't feel they could get enough scoring punch or star power out of the current team...that great complementary, defensive-minded, all-around guys like Batum or Matthews weren't as valuable as the chance at striking gold. It wouldn't be a total reboot but it'd signal that the team was favoring future over present.
Alternately one could interpret such a move as the Blazers just being draft-crazy, willing to do anything to grab at an available draft pick even in a weak year. One might go farther and speculate they were point-guard-draft-crazy.
Presumably the Blazers would also commit to an up-tempo attack bringing Walker on board. That'd be a welcome sight for many fans.
The Bottom Line
If the Blazers drafted Walker fans would have plenty of reasons to be excited. Those would have to carry them through initial cost and growing pains both. Were the franchise on track this move wouldn't be necessary, but it's entirely possible they're not and need to make a move to change course. The question is whether this move would be significant enough to do it. The jury would be out on that for the next few years.