Blazer's Edge Mailbag: Draft Depth, LMA Treys, Atlanta Frontcourt

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We take a break from draft prospects, though not draft discussion, as Blazer's Edge readers ask about draft depth, LaMarcus Aldridge's range, and acquiring some athletic frontcourt players from Atlanta in this edition of the Mailbag.

Time to take a temporary break from examining the draft class in order to dip into the Mailbag!

Dave,

I like your rundown of draft prospects. You're encouraging me that there are guys worth taking in this draft! That's my question. Every year somebody says the current draft is weak. Every year good players emerge anyway. Many of them are drafted late in the first round or even in the second. Can we stop with this "weak draft" stuff now?

Gary

Dave,

National writers are suggesting that everybody wants to sell their picks this year because of the supposedly weak draft. The Blazers should buy those picks then. History shows there's talent in every draft. If the Blazers get a few picks and play it right they can be set. It's a cheaper road to success than free agency.

NathanB

The point about there being some talent in every draft--maybe even a couple players approaching star level--is essentially correct. It's modified by a couple of factors though.

1. Some drafts really are weaker than others. Many of the players we've been discussing wouldn't be considered great options for the Blazers. We're forced to discuss them because there's not that much differentiating the best from the worst of them. I've already profiled 7 centers: Steven Adams, Cody Zeller, Alex Len, Kelly Olynyk, Mason Plumlee, Gorgui Dieng, and Rudy Gobert. There's no way that many guys would be in consideration at #10 or a modest trade up/down move in a normal year. One way to look at it: "This draft is deep in centers!" The more accurate assessment: "All of these guys have pronounced weaknesses and nobody's been able to put himself head and shoulders above the crowd." It's not going to come down to finding a sure-fire hit. There aren't any. It'll be a matter of deciding whose strengths you like, whose weaknesses you can live with, and how much risk you can tolerate while waiting to see if these guys develop. Lather, rinse, repeat for players at other positions. Taking two or three risks instead of one isn't necessarily a sound strategy for the future.

2. There's talent in every draft, but your ability to mine it is limited by your analysis capability. Everybody drafts perfectly in hindsight. Nobody can anticipate perfectly though. I'm not arguing that drafting well is pure luck. Some people are better at it than others. But "better" only means a percentage increase of getting it right, not a guarantee. Even the good guys miss. The chances of missing increase the farther back in the draft you go and the shallower the talent pool becomes.

It's easy to go through each year's draft, list all the adequate players drafted after the 15th pick in the first round, and say, "See? There's talent in every draft!" But the assertion only makes a functional difference if you can show a team's ability to correctly identify and obtain that late-draft talent over a long period of time. When you make that list of adequate late-draft players you're pretty much going to find that they went to a bunch of different teams. A couple franchises--OKC and San Antonio come to mind--may have prospered more than others but even they're not optimal with every deep pick. Nor have the Blazers shown the capability to prosper in kind.

In other words, the talent may be there in every draft but your ability to get it isn't, even if you theoretically have the picks to make that possible. Nobody parses prospects that well. Chances are getting more late picks will simply cause you to draft, and pay, more late-round misses. Unless you can target a specific player you like for a specific reason, getting extra picks isn't going to lead you to more success.

Dave,

Do you think that LA should develop a 3 point shot? As much as I am loath to move Aldridge farther from the basket why not have take two steps back for a more efficient shot. Seeing Chris Bosh splashing 3s in playoffs made me think of our "mayor of midrange" and what a poor shot the long 2 is most of the time.

Jesse

It depends on what you're looking for.

Your point about efficiency is spot on. I also believe Aldridge has the capacity to shoot threes. In the new NBA having your four proficient from that distance is an asset, not a sin.

But shots don't happen in a vacuum. One of the keys to understanding the value of stats like efficiency is analyzing how the changes you make to improve efficiency for a player will affect the team.

Right now Aldridge is Portland's only credible scoring threat within 15 feet of the basket. Contrast this to Bosh's situation in Miami where Dwyane Wade and LeBron James both take the ball towards the hoop. Bosh's shots open up the floor more for others. Aldridge shooting from distance would leave a complete vacuum in an already sparse area for the Blazers. Three seasons ago the Blazers were 4th in the league in total offensive rebounds, 3rd in offensive rebounding percentage with Aldridge leading the way (278 O-Rebs). This year the Blazers ranked 23rd in both categories. LMA's offensive rebounds have fallen off by 100 (175 O-Rebs). He played fewer minutes but his per-minute offensive rebounding rate also dropped by a quarter from his 2010-11 pace. Can the Blazers afford to pull him even farther away from the bucket on offense even if his scoring efficiency could rise in the process?

At this point, I don't think that's a move you can make. That could change based on the personnel the Blazers acquire over the next couple years. You might see Aldridge out there eventually, just not right now.

Dave,

OK, here's my stab at Blazers GM: Nic Batum, Meyers Leonard (or Freeland if possible), and the 1st round pick for Al Horford. Atlanta gets a talent infusion to start their rebuild. Blazers get a proven, playoff-tested, defensive-minded center - and keep their two best players. Your thoughts?

Chris in SE

I like Al Horford. He stays within himself on offense and defends well. He's not a shot blocker but his rebounding is good enough to qualify him for Portland's starting job. Even though we could find non-ideal aspects to his game, we'd have reason enough to get excited if he came to Portland.

The problem here is that I don't think this deal looks attractive to either side.

The Hawks are swimming in cap space and aren't projected to retain Josh Smith. As up-and-down as Smith's tenure has been in Atlanta, he's still a significant talent. They'll need a major signing to replace him. Trading away Horford as well, they'd need two major signings just to get ahead of where they were. Batum is a nice enough complementary piece but he's an addition to, not a replacement for, those signings. Neither Leonard nor Freeland would qualify, nor would anybody Atlanta could snag with the 10th pick. Plus now the Hawks are looking at bringing along Leonard plus rookies acquired with the 10th, 17th, and 18th picks in a relatively weak draft. Absent those huge signings, Batum now anchors the roster, a role for which he's ill-suited. In short, the Hawks are potentially hanging themselves out to dry with this deal.

From Portland's point of view, they've filled one hole by creating another. They do save cap space under your proposed deal and they get a starting center, which is great. But now they have to get a starting small forward and a 6th man both. Splitting the middle, they're probably looking at two $8 million offers. I believe the Blazers could snag one good wing at that level this summer. Having it happen twice would be a reach. Plus they have no reserve center, no draft pick to bolster the front line, just Horford and Aldridge with Joel Freeland to back up both positions. That's not going to work. Maybe you get Jermaine O'Neal to come in?

It'd be easier for Portland to work their way out of the situation than it would be for Atlanta, but there are too many problems on both ends to make this deal work.

Dave,

Would Josh Smith, even though he doesn't exactly fit a need, be the best FA for the Blazers to target first?

Shwa

There's a lot to like about Smith. He's athletic, produces nice numbers, and those numbers get even nicer if you project him as a small forward, the position he'd probably have to play in Portland. He'd be part of a big front line, assuming Portland could find a reasonably-sized center.

The problems with Smith:

--He'd be expensive, sucking up nearly all of Portland's cap space. You say "target him first" but in reality it would be "sign him and nobody else".

--He'd bump Nicolas Batum down to shooting guard or the bench. You've either got two players outside of the natural positions in the starting lineup or you have Batum grumpy. In the latter scenario you're dumping more than 35-40% of your salary cap into a single position.

--He doesn't shoot the long ball well. That's not a sin as long as he could attack the basket, but I'm not sure he could get a dribble past small forward defenders.

--He's not been known for his consistency nor his amenable attitude. Chemistry could be an issue.

Nevertheless, it's kind of fun to think of the Blazers moving Wesley Matthews, Joel Freeland, and the #10 pick in a three-way with Phoenix and Denver to acquire JaVale McGee then offering an $11.8 million contract to Smith. McGee, Aldridge, Smith, Batum, and Lillard would be an odd starting lineup but it'd be crazy fun watching them trying to make it work. New team motto: "You Can't Deal With This". That might apply to both sides though.

Dave,

We as a blazers community can't seem to collectively put together our realistic, dream scenario for this summer, even after all the fanposts and fanshots and mailbag questions about what we should do. Be the cult leader, what are we GOING to do this summer? and What is your dream scenario for this summer? Include players/picks/trades/signings.

Casey

I have approximately 14 versions of this question in my box. I just wanted to assure folks that this post is coming. We just need to get through all of our draft possibilities first. I've never been that impressed by sites where someone comes out with a preemptive, "This is the course we should take, period! I have spoken!" How? Why? What are the other possibilities? Where's the room for discussion and further analysis if that's the whole point? And, most importantly, who really cares about your pronouncement if you're not actually the real, live GM of your team?

I prefer to lay out all the options, give you access to all the info and thought process that I have, hear your comments and questions, and then at the end of that look over what we've built together to find the most probable and interesting choices. Most years that takes about a week and a half. The Blazers are in a state of flux right now. They have many critical cap space choices, multiple free agency needs, a wide and flat draft pool to draw from, and every choice affects how the others will play out. Between all that stuff this year's decision-analysis process is taking, like, a month. But the end is in sight. We'll put it all together next Tuesday or Wednesday. But by that time it won't just be a pronouncement from me. We'll have a deep pool of analysis and exploration behind us that we can all swim in while waiting for Draft Day.

The Mailbag will take off full-force again after the draft. Make sure to get your questions in early. Send them to the e-mail address below, marked "Mailbag".

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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