In the first installment of my 2013 NBA Draft Primer series I gave Blazer fans a "Watch List". The premise was simple: it was a group of college players for Blazers fans to keep an eye on as the individual conference, NCAA, NIT and CBI (College Basketball Invitational, the tournament that takes the teams the NIT doesn't even want) tournaments take place. The idea behind it was that not all NBA fans are college basketball fanatics and may not be familiar with the top players in the college game this year, so I wanted to give Blazer fans some specific teams and players to watch as more games are going to be nationally televised in the coming weeks.
The players I focused on for the first watch list were players that the Blazers could conceivably draft with their first round pick. Some of them (Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore) would require the Blazers to win the lottery and draft in the top 3. The rest (Otto Porter, Michael Carter-Williams) could possibly fall to the Blazers depending on where they ended up in the lottery. This list is not that list.
This year the Blazers have two second-round picks, so even if the Bobcats get the Blazers' first round pick the Blazers will still have a few opportunities to get something out of the draft. Players drafted in the second round are pretty much a crap shoot if they turn into legitimate NBA players. Some teams, like the Rockets, get excellent value out of those second-round picks (Chandler Parsons, Chase Budinger). In the event Portland does have to surrender its first rounder, it would greatly help the franchise to get some decent role players out of those two picks. That's what the focus of this list is: second-round prospects who could help the Blazers next year.
I had a few criteria in order to keep the list under 50 players: 1) they had to be legitimate second-round picks. You will notice the absence of names like Kelly Olynyk, Patric Young, Gorgui Dieng, CJ Leslie, LeBryan Nash, etc. Those players are too likely to be first-rounders to qualify as a second rounder. 2) They have to have one elite skill that could help an NBA team next year from day one. This is not to say these players do not have well-rounded games. Many of them have good all-around skill sets, but it is their one elite skill that will get them off an NBA bench. 3) They would have a clearly defined role on the Blazers' bench. For instance, if the Blazers needed rebounding or some instant offense off the bench they could bring in one of these players for that.
All but two of them are on "Power 6" conference teams, so you should have plenty of opportunity to catch a look at them at least once in the next month. As in the first list, this isn't a scouting report per se, but rather a look at how these players might fit onto the Blazers' roster next year. (Players listed alphabetically.)
Chane Behanan, F, Louisville. Elite skill: Rebounding. Behanan has a pretty interesting game. He's huge (6'7", 250 lbs) but a little undersized for the PF position. However, what he can do is rebound. I could see him as a player who, if he slims down a bit, could come in off the bench and play both forward positions in big or small lineups. He's not quite as explosive as the Manimal due to his girth, but he does have very good athleticism and a nice inside-outside game he could put to use as a backup to both Batum and Aldridge.
Laurence Bowers, F, Mizzou. Elite skill: Defense. Bowers is an athletic, high-energy guy who is a terror in transition and has a nice midrange game. He's not a great 3PT shooter (he only takes 2 a game), and is another tweener who isn't quite big enough to play PF but doesn't have the three point shot to play SF. However, what he can do is play defense. He can guard multiple positions (2-4) and is long and disruptive. He could be a defensive stopper off the bench for the Blazers.
Aaron Craft, PG, Ohio St. Elite skill: Defense. If Craft were more athletic he'd be a mid first-round pick. He's not explosive, but he does everything well. He has great court vision, is physical, has a great motor and basketball IQ, and is a pass-first PG. But he is probably the best on-ball defender in the college game. He has elite lateral quickness (remember that fun phrase from last year's draft?), great hands and creates tons of steals and turnovers. He could come off the bench to guard the other team's best guard (or PG if Lillard is getting torched), and Lillard's size would allow them to play together. He could be an excellent backup PG, especially if Neil Olshey decides to not extend a qualifying offer to Eric Maynor. His biggest weakness is he is not a great outside shooter.
Trevor Mbakwe, PF, Minnesota. Elite skill: Rebounding. Mbakwe's virtues have been extolled on BE before. His closest NBA comp is probably the Manimal: he's long, athletic, an elite rebounder and a bit raw on the offensive end. However, his elite skill replicates Hickson's one elite skill and Mbakwe would do it for much cheaper behind Aldridge. He's old (a 24-year-old 6th year senior), but very physical and could find a role from day one with the Blazers.
Tony Mitchell, F, North Texas. Elite skill: Transition play. Mitchell is the one player on this list that is probably a first rounder. However, his season at North Texas has been one long nightmare he can't wake up from. His numbers are down, his team is struggling, and he has failed miserably to live up to his lofty expectations. He's long, can leap out of the building, is incredibly athletic, has a great motor and is a very good rebounder. The reason he might slide to the second round would be the questions about his mental make-up. Why has he struggled to put it all together? How much does he really want to be an NBA player? He has all the tools, and players often times respond very positively to being selected much lower than they thought they should be. If he slides he would be a great low-risk, high-reward pick in the second round.
Mike Muscala, C, Bucknell. Elite skill: Rebounding/size. Muscala might end up in the late first round because big men tend to rise up draft boards the closer the draft gets. Like Jay Bilas says, "you can teach size". He has an NBA body (6'11", 234 lbs.), can score inside and outside with nice range on his jumper, and is an elite rebounder and solid shot-blocker (11 rbd/g and 2.5 blk/g). He isn't just a case of a skilled player playing against inferior competition, either. He absolutely destroyed Mizzou this year to the tune of 25 pts, 14 rbd, 4 ast, and 2 blk. He's not an elite athlete and that hinders him some on both ends of the floor, and he needs to add strength, but he could compete for the starting center job from day one. (That, by the way, is more a commentary on the state of the Blazers' center position than his own skill. Ideally he would be the first big off the bench on a contender.)
Russ Smith, PG, Louisville. Elite skill: Penetrating. Smith is a poor man's Russell Westbrook. He has all of the same skills: freak athleticism, electric speed, great hands and on-ball defense (2.2 stl/g), but he's a better shooter than Westbrook (career 32% from three at Louisville). He has the same drawbacks as Westbrook: he is a streaky shooter and he makes a lot of Westbrook-y mistakes (turnovers, bad shots, etc.). He has improved his shot selection this year, and his elite athleticism and quickness allow him to get into the lane at will. He could come off the bench as a lightning bolt for the Blazers. His size (6-foot even) limits him from playing shooting guard.
Rasheed Sulaimon, SG, Duke. Elite skill: Scoring. Sulaimon is a slightly undersized but long two-guard who is a sometimes streaky shooter and can disappear in games. But when he's locked in he's a lights-out shooter (.441/.415/.821) and can get to the basket and finish thanks to a quick first step. He would be a "just add water" scorer off the bench for the Blazers.
Deshaun Thomas, G/F, Ohio St. Elite skill: Scoring. Thomas may be a more valuable player than Sulaimon, because he has the size and skill to play both wing positions and power forward in small lineups. He's a player Terry Stotts could look at on the bench and tell, "Go put the ball in the hole." He's a scorer, and an elite one. He has great range on his jump shot and is a good 3pt shooter, is very dangerous driving and penetrating, and can post up smaller defenders. He's also a good rebounder. However, he can get lazy on the floor. He is sometimes indifferent on defense, and will settle for jump shots. If he improves his shot selection some he could be a great 6th man off the bench for the Blazers.
Feel free to throw out your own suggestions in the comments. I probably missed some players, and I'm sure there are other guys worth a 2nd round look.
In other news, I watch too much basketball.