This guy could be a linchpin...maybe for Portland's future, but perhaps for a franchise-changing trade. Photo: Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE
Draft Day is upon us and it's sure to be an exciting one. The Portland Trail Blazers hold the #6 and #11 picks in this deep and tantalizing draft. How should they use their resources?
As we mentioned earlier in the Blazersedge VideoCast, the Blazers are in a tough spot philosophically. Whether they are rebuilding entirely or hoping to put pieces around LaMarcus Aldridge for a reload, they need talent. They don't just need incremental improvement. They need to hit a home run somewhere in this draft. Yet they cannot afford to strike out while doing so. To come up empty with two lottery picks would be devastating not only from a rebuilding standpoint, but for morale.
At the same time the Blazers are drafting from a pool of players who come in two stripes: tantalizing potential stars with serious questions about, or holes in, their games and reliable players who don't have great upside. The only relatively sure franchise-changer in this draft is going to go #1 and the Blazers don't have a shot at him. The Blazers must make a choice between extra bases and surety.
To me, the decision is simple. You cannot hit a home run unless you take a full cut. It does you no good to be sure of what you're getting if it's not really what you need. A 100% guarantee of a single is also a 100% guarantee that you're not hitting a homer. It's going to be better for the Blazers to swing for the fences than play it safe. If they do end up blowing it, their future course is then decided and it involves plenty more lottery trips.
The Blazers should favor high risk-high reward players in this draft. Risking the strikeout is better than not trying. They have to draft the best players available to them regardless of position. More than that, "Best Player Available" should be defined by ultimate ceiling rather than just immediate impact. Owning two picks already helps. Acquiring more wouldn't be a bad idea if the price is reasonable, spreading the risk among multiple players and giving yourself extra chances to succeed. Not every swing has to connect as long as some of them do...or even one.
Five players stand out from between Pick 6 and Pick 15 or so by these criteria: Andre Drummond, Damian Lillard, Dion Waiters, Perry Jones III, and perhaps Meyers Leonard. If the Blazers could get two of these players I'd be happy. If they could finagle a third pick I'd be over the moon, especially if those three included Jones OR Leonard, not both.
Other players are possible, of course. Some would say Austin Rivers fits the bill, while others favor Terrence Jones or Terrence Ross. Maybe the Blazers would agree. Whoever they select, that guy better have a chance at being a star for them. That should be the measure by which these selections are judged.
I also favor the Blazers getting active in acquiring new picks or upgrading from #11. That should be possible, as teams appear to favor a rainbow of players at various levels of the draft class. I can see several scenarios, but I'm especially intrigued by a couple. Assuming the first five picks go according to Hoyle...
1. If the Houston Rockets are interested in Andre Drummond and the Blazers don't believe he's a star center in the making, I'd consider selecting him 6th and making a deal. The Rockets just traded Samuel Delambert and their 14th pick to the Milwaukee Bucks for the 12th selection. The Blazers could offer Drummond for #12 and Kyle Lowry. The Rockets are playing with house money with Lowry, as he's their excess point guard. They'd get Drummond for the #12, impossible without making a deal. The Blazers now have Lowry, #11, and #12.
2. If I could manage that, I'd also look hard at upgrading either the 11th or 12th picks to Golden State's #7, Toronto's #8, or even Detroit's #9 depending on who Toronto and Golden State selected. In this scenario either Damian Lillard, Dion Waiters, or both would be left at 7 or 8 by default. Likely one would be left even at #9. The price for trading up 3-4 spots in this draft shouldn't be exorbitant, as somebody is going to want a big man who'll be available at 11 or 12.
3. This still leaves the pick the Blazers didn't use to trade up in Portland's hands. They can select their own big man here. Obviously a buffet of forwards would still be available if that's more your style. Leonard could be a target here or lower.
4. Speaking of lower, I'd still consider buying yet another pick in the middle of the round if I could. It might be possible to get a lower-round pick and trade up again as well. If you like a Terrence of some stripe, or Perry Jones, you might snatch him here.
In this ideal-ish scenario the Blazers have given up the equivalent of the 6th pick in Andre Drummond plus some players--preferably minor, along the lines of Nolan Smith or Luke Babbitt but possibly up to Wesley Matthews level if draft assets are valued that highly--plus cash and/or agreeing to take on a problematic contract...whatever it took to move up those few spaces. On the other hand they have gained Kyle Lowry, either Damian Lillard or Dion Waiters, a center, and perhaps a forward. Were the picks mine I'd consider Leonard for the center and Jones for the forward, but you can adjust as you desire. That would be a mighty haul for a reasonable price.
Even if the Blazers had to package 11 and 12 to move up to 7 that might be worth it to them. They'd miss out on one of the players above but guarantee the guy they want. You can mix and match permutations as you wish. Obviously it's unlikely that all of this would come together in exactly this way, but you begin to see the possibilities the Blazers could explore.
Speculating that this draft could propel Portland into contention would be unreasonable. The picks aren't high enough, the draftees too questionable. But it will provide opportunities for them to take a hard swing or two...a good first step to working their way back.