Blazer's Edge Mailbag: Draft Day 2013 Edition

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Blazer's Edge welcomes Draft Day 2013 with an all-you-can-eat buffet of draft-related Mailbag questions. Check out trades, picks, strategies, cap considerations, and Dave's List of Players to Avoid!

Our Blazer's Edge Draft Day 2013 coverage begins with a Mailbag covering all the draft questions we haven't dealt with yet. Thanks to everybody who sent these in!

Questions about particular players in this draft class aren't recounted here unless they bring up a new wrinkle. All our assessments of the draftees can be found in our Draft Prospect Profiles.

Let the questions begin!

Dave,

How do you feel about getting the Mavericks #13 pick or really any pick in the middle of the first round? It feels like there are quality players in that range. Would the Blazers benefit from an extra pick?

Bryce

You're right that this is the section of the draft where value equalizes. Using those really high draft picks will be semi-uncomfortable this year because it feels like overspending compared to most drafts.

"Cleveland got LeBron #1. Seattle/OKC got Durant #2. What do I get?"

Well, you have your choice between a couple of injured centers, some mid-level guards who might have offensive potential, an undersized guy, a guy with no defense...

"Who?!? No, seriously. It's a #1 overall pick. Bring out the good stuff!"

Picking between 13-23 will be more comfortable because expectations moderate. You're getting better value for your investment.

But recall what I said yesterday about the difference between relative value and absolute value. Just because those mid-round players are more in line with expectations doesn't mean that they're better players overall. An item going on sale (like these mid-round picks) has nothing to do with whether it would actually benefit you.

Divers have a mantra: "Plan your dive, then dive your plan." They carefully assess the depth, dangers, and features of their dives before they get in the water, make a plan, then act on that plan once they're wet. This takes discipline but it's necessary because it's all too easy to get caught up in the dive, marvel at coral reefs, take a few dozen pictures, then...whoops! You're out of air or you've drifted half a mile downstream from your boat. Making your general assessments before you get lured in, then sticking to them in the midst of distracting stimuli, keeps you safe and sane.

It's the same way with the draft. Everybody knew this was a weak draft going in, back when we were all around a table, planning the outing. That hasn't changed. Now that we're on the dive, though, it's easy to get distracted by all the pretty fish. It's happened to me and I'm fairly objective on most things. You study all these guys, get to know them, and all of a sudden you start thinking, "Why not two of them? Or three? I can find that many to like! McCollum AND Dieng AND Larkin! Easy!" Familiarity breeds attraction whether or not that attraction is warranted.

The Blazers need to dive the plan. Don't get distracted, investing resources sub-optimally just because it's draft day. If they go for an additional first-round pick in this draft, they'd better be darn sure of him. Stepping back, I still don't see that many guys in this draft I'm darn sure of. So I'm not in favor of buying into 13 or any other guaranteed contract unless the price is cheap and the selection is an international player staying overseas who won't count against the cap this year.

Dave,

Got any super-secret draft moves that nobody's thought of yet? If so, can you let them out?

Yolanda

I don't think that's possible in this day and age, especially not on a site this active. You name the move, somebody on Blazer's Edge has probably suggested it.

One of the less-talked-about good ideas would be moving up in the second round. Everybody's talking about mid- to low-level first round picks. Those come with guaranteed contract obligations attached, plus you might have to take on salary or trade away talent to consummate the deal. The Blazers have three picks in the upper half of the second round. They don't really need three second-round swings. Two would do just fine. It'd be nice to package the lower two in order to move up. I'd happily trade all three plus future considerations for Cleveland's 1st and 3rd picks in the second round. Those selections require no contract obligation. You can evaluate risky players without paying them. That's much better than moving up to the 22nd pick in the first round to get one. By position and talent you have some higher risk/reward players in that area to choose from. It'd be a smart move.

Dave,

How do you evaluate college players for the draft? Seems fair since you did all those prospect posts. And specifically how much do stats play into it versus the eye test?

Rick in Tigard

It's never an either-or. I watch film like everybody else plus I sometimes get to see extra. I read. I check the stats. I ask people who should know if I'm curious about a hot prospect. It's not rocket science.

It's not a foolproof system either, but nobody's is, especially this year. It's been crazy. Normally by a couple weeks before the draft I have the list down to 8-9 potential players, further narrowed to 4-5 by draft day. This year between the flat-lined talent pool and Portland's potential to go almost anywhere in the draft, I had to pay semi-serious attention to 25+ guys and all of them are still on the table.

I figured I was safe ignoring Nerlens Noel, Ben McLemore, and Otto Porter as they'd probably go ultra-high. Then Ben posted the rumor about the Blazers trying to trade for the #1 pick.

Sigh.

For the record: I'm not that sure about Noel for a few reasons (weight, position, injury), not more enthralled by McLemore than by other top-rated guards this year, and like Porter well enough but figure the Blazers don't really need him with Batum on board and don't really need a second Batum if the first one gets traded.

As far as stats, they're indicative but less so than NBA numbers. College players amass stats over comparatively few games against wholly different opponents from each other. That limits their usefulness for comparison. College stats still matter but there are more variables than is typical in the pros. More surrounding data helps interpret those stats, accounting for the variables.

I once heard an NFL analyst on the radio talking about evaluating college quarterbacks. He said that most people go gonzo over completion percentages and the like. But 80% of that stuff gets thrown out by scouts because those percentages are earned from passes that wouldn't be attempted, let alone completed, at the professional level. Instead many pro scouts narrow the data down to the plays they know will transfer to the next level then start watching technique and counting stats from there.

Basketball isn't quite the same, but the lesson still holds. How a guy does something can matter more than how much he does it. You can see a gaudy three-point percentage and be totally impressed until you start looking at the tape. Then you realize that the guy is pushing to hit at that range, releasing low, and 90% of his threes in the NBA will be contested as a result. Same with rebounding and post play for the bigs. Or the one that got me this year: "Great in Transition". It's fine to be great in the open court on a straight-line drive but how much of your offense will really come that way in the NBA? If that's your strongest, most noticeable selling point I'd anticipate your percentages and scoring will go down once you hit the pros.

Stats are still the most reliable evaluative measure we have, but they probably shouldn't be used in isolation to judge draft prospects.

Dave,

Rumors are swirling everywhere and you have also talked about trading up in the draft. If opportunity arose would you trade Aldridge, Batum, or Matthews to move up and maybe get other players back?

Kyle

Under normal circumstances the answer would be no, no, and no. Comparing talent to talent the Blazers aren't going to be able to draft anyone to exceed any of those three players, especially not in the short term.

But as I've said repeatedly, you wouldn't make these deals based solely on the players involved. Cap space comes into play this summer because the Blazers will already be under the cap and every dollar you save in a trade is a dollar you can spend on other players later. If you can find a player in the draft whom you project will equal, replace, or transform the position of the player you're trading out plus gain extra cap space, you're ahead.

In other words, instead of having to be better for you than the player you're trading away (the criterion for most trades) the draft pick only has to project out to equal. Your edge comes in the second player you can get with the newly-available space.

There's no way the Blazers would get commensurate value for Aldridge via a 2013 draft pick and/or free agency. Unless the Blazers know something we don't, trading LMA at this point would be a bad move.

The situation gets a little murkier with Batum as his salary is significant and the cap savings would be greater. He's a good small forward but not somebody you'd yoke your future to at this point. If the Blazers believed their next starting center sat at the top of this draft and they could get there by dealing Batum, they'd have to think about it. You could buy another wing with the extra cap space and/or try to draft one another time...SF's being readily available. But you're depending on that drafted center big time. I'm not sure that's the smartest move.

Matthews would be an easier decision. He's a good shooting guard but he's the fourth guy in your four-man core. You could replace him, transform the shooting guard position a little, with some of the players in the upper tier of this draft, leaving the cap space to make the extra difference. Every trade involves risks and the Blazers have to do something to break this "not quite enough talent but not quite enough resources to improve" logjam they're in. If they can make a trade that gives them more room without touching their top three players, that's probably a good deal. The question is whether a Matthews trade would work even in this relatively weak draft.

Dave,

It seems obvious that the kind of player the team could really use is someone who can produce immediately. Every year, there is some player that all the scouts declare is an "NBA-ready" guy, who inexplicably gets pushed down down the draft board by more tantalizing athletic prospects. Brandon Roy was one of these guys. So were Paul Pierce, Damian Lillard, Kenneth Faried, and plenty of others who didn't turn out to be stars, but managed to stick in the league and be valuable players over their careers. The guy in this draft that seems to fit this model is Otto Porter. He's versatile; big enough and skilled enough to play and defend multiple positions, and reliable. Most scouting reports describe him as a guy with little "bust potential". I have read a lot about the Blazers trading up for Oladipo or McLemore, but it seems to me that if we're trading up, then Porter is the best fit. What say you?

David

This would be the move if the Blazers were to move up with Batum and wanted to replicate his general style of play. They'd save cap space aplenty, but do you really want another Batum-type at small forward if you're going to keep Matthews at shooting guard? Now you're in the same situation you were in before, just resetting the small forward experience curve and gaining a bunch more money to spend on a center this summer. Since most of the centers worth spending big money on are restricted free agents, this doesn't seem like a sound risk. If you were to trade Batum you'd want to draft a center, not another small forward. Then the tough position is filled and you throw money at, or trade for, a small forward.

The better move would be trading Matthews at more modest risk. He's more easily replaceable, as shooting guards more plentiful in this draft. That's why you've heard more talk about Oladipo and McLemore than Porter.

Dave,

Just curious on your thoughts concerning Shabazz Muhammad. If we got him at #10 (assuming we don't attempt to move up or down), would you be thrilled? Devastated? Nonplussed? In this draft full of meh-looking players, he seems to me to be one of the better ones and would immediately bolster bench scoring. Even though he's a smallish 2/3, if he can spell some time behind Nic it would mean less stress on his wrist, or whatever other ailment haunts him. Does Shabazz's incredibly low assist rate worry you? IMHO it won't matter as long as he can come off the bench and score, and this kid can score. I advocate taking him at #10 and getting a center in late 1st via trading a couple 2nd rounders to move up (like Jeff Withey), or landing Mike Muscala early 2nd. And of course, picking up Jermaine O'Neal in FA so he can retire as a Blazer.

Russell

Don't like it. Shabazz is on the short list of players I'd avoid in this draft. I understand that he might be able to score but I don't anticipate it being that easy for him to make the transition from college to the pros, I'm not convinced of his athletic ability, and I fear for his defense against NBA small forwards. If he were a shooting guard I could maybe see it but he's not quick enough for that. Potential attitude problems are the cherry on the "Run Away!" sundae.

Dave,

A lot of questions are centered around specific players you would want the Blazers to take in the draft, but my question is who would you want the Blazers to definitely avoid drafting? and why?

Daniel

Funny you asked. Here's Dave's List of Players to Avoid (for various reasons):

Shabazz Muhammad, Sergey Karasev, Lucas Nogueira, Tony Mitchell, Allen Crabbe, Ricky Ledo, Anthony Bennett, Rudy Gobert, Trey Burke, and of course Kelly Olynyk

Some are attitude and pro-transition issues, some style of play or fit with the Blazers, some overrated talent. Not all of these players will be bad. I just don't think they'll be all they're cracked up to be.

Dave,
What is a best player available (BPA)? And how do you know one when you see one? Can you answer the question subjectively, or do you have to be objective? Can the best player available for you be different than the best player available for me, or do they always have to be exactly the same?

BlazingSaddles

As far as I can see, "BPA" has one solid application. If you assess a player as more talented/productive than your other options you should take that player even if he doesn't fit a current need (and even if other players available do fit that need). You can always trade duplicate players with value. You can't get as much from players who aren't as good no matter what position they play. In the draft talent helps you more than position or skill fit.

BPA falls apart, though, when you try to use it to rank players of similar talent levels. Then you have to ask what you mean by "best" in order to differentiate. Best at a given skill? Best athlete? Best immediate impact? Best potential star power down the road? Obviously you're not talking about a true "best" here. It's a matter of opinion.

This draft is fairly flat in terms of talent. It'll be hard to cull out a true "BPA" at #10. The somewhat cynical, but probably accurate, answer would be "None of the Above".

I suspect C.J. McCollum would fit the description of "best" but he might not be available.

The choice between Cody Zeller and Steven Adams is a classic example of the problem. Zeller is clearly the better player right now. He'll make more immediate impact, play more minutes, produce more. But three years down the road Adams could be special. Zeller almost certainly won't be. Then again, there are no guarantees. Adams may never get to the point that Zeller's at right now. So who's the "best" among those two?

You could do the same with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Michael Carter-Williams. Neither one is head and shoulders above the other. KCP would be a safer pick for the Blazers but he wouldn't revolutionize the team. MCW is much more of a risk but he could. On the other hand if MCW doesn't want to play the role Portland would like the Blazers wouldn't get his "best".

I don't believe BPA will apply strongly at #10 this year. It's just not that clear. The Blazers will have to go with the best player for them in terms of skill, fit, and timing in their long-range plan.

Dave,

With all the chatter about the draft and the necessity of high lottery picks, it occurred to me that NBA in particular seems to collect talent at the top and only at the top of the draft. [Insert stats about All-Star appearances vs. draft position in the NBA and NFL here. All-Star appearances in the NBA are far more draft-position dependent.] What is it about the NBA game that separates it from all other sports? Why is it that only the best of the best of the best of the best seem to be able to affect the game? To me, it's counter intuitive. For a game that relies so much on motion and team play, and for a game that millions of people play all across the country, I would have assumed the opposite: that a team could be put together from later rounds that would be perfectly capable of contending for a championship.

Phizbin

Several things come to mind:

1. NBA teams put 5 players on the court at once. NFL teams field 11 on offense, 11 on defense. Each NBA player has a correspondingly bigger impact on the game than any NFL player outside of the quarterback on offense. Put LeBron James on the Cleveland Cavaliers and they go to the Finals. Put Peyton Manning in front of a crappy offensive line and he gets sacked 32 times per game. Stars make a bigger impact in the NBA than in the NFL.

2. This is exacerbated by officiating, i.e. "star calls".

3. The size of the court/field also matters. Stars control a greater area by percentage in the NBA than they do in the NFL or MLB. They draw more attention, bend defenses more.\

4. Don't discount the manner in which the ball is possessed. Baseball and football mandate the ball be delivered from one player to another. In basketball a star can hold the ball for as long as desired without help from anyone.

5. You're citing All-Star appearances as a measure of success. In the NBA starters are decided by popular vote. Players drafted high will have an easier time making inroads with the public than a second-round guy will. Pro Bowl votes are split between fans, coaches, and players. The latter two groups will recognize low-round talent more quickly than the general public. And even the NBA coaches who select All-Star reserves seem to understand that the criteria revolve around offense, scoring. Even if they thought Nicolas Batum were the greatest player since sliced bread he'd never get ASG consideration with those stats. Amazing scorers tend to get drafted early.

6. The stats you're citing reach back into a time when motion and team play (as you put it) were all but dead. We had the isolation era of Jordan and Houston's Big Three. Then the change in hand-checking rules created more backcourt stars. But even then the idea of most offenses was to use your other players to set up your main guy, keeping them aside as outlets. Styles are trending more towards a true team concept again but that doesn't change the decades of stats that have been built up.

Team play is integral to success in the NBA. But successful team play almost always centers around a star player or two. Those stars make the other players look better...a fact often overlooked when the value of late-round picks gets brought up. Take away Tim Duncan or Kevin Durant and all of those great-looking late picks that San Antonio and Oklahoma City have achieved all of a sudden add up to a very ordinary team. Those supporting players don't look so great, and probably don't produce as well, without the star.

Dave

My son and I were wondering what you think is a viable trade for LMA going to Cleveland. Dion Waiters & Anderson Varejao? Dion Waiters & Anderson Varejao & their pick? LMA & our pick for Dion Waiters & Anderson Varejao & their pick? Then resign JJ.

Rich

I don't see any reasonable deal that Cleveland could make right now to make the Blazers trade LaMarcus Aldridge. Not Tristan Thompson. Not Dion Waiters. Not Anderson Varejao. Not the #1 pick. Without Aldridge the engine doesn't run and none of those players can replace him. He's not irreplaceable by any means, but that package doesn't do it. Unless, of course, your goal is to become Cleveland West.

Dave,

We are all getting worked up in anticipation of the Big Day (draft day). Beyond merely the draft there will likely be other action (trades). Why is it that there are absolutely no trades leading up to the big day. There aren't any impediments to doing so, are there?

Bernie

Teams are free to execute trades once their season has ended. That was back in May for Portland, a couple days ago for San Antonio and Miami. There are a couple of technical restrictions:

1. You can't trade with a team whose season is still active, obviously.

2. You can't trade players with contracts that expire in the current year or could expire because of options.

But I suspect the lack of trades is more of a practical matter than a rules issue. Most teams are capped up in their current season. Wait until July and cap flexibility opens up for several trade partners. If there are going to be current-year deals they'll probably revolve around the draft. But GM's don't like to trade draft picks without knowing exactly who they're going to get with those picks. This close to the draft they don't trade for the third pick, they trade for the player they can select with the third pick. They want to make sure their target is actually available when that pick comes around, so they wait instead of consummating the trade a week early.

Also consider that the public face of the league is focused on the playoffs in the weeks leading up to the draft. The league doesn't want a bunch of trades diverting the focus of fans and media when its marquee showcase is supposed to be front and center. Therefore there's likely a loose unwritten rule (complete with Doc Rivers exception) that trades get executed after the other festivities are over.

Dave

If, per chance, Meyers Leonard was able to reenter the NBA draft this year, where would you rank him compared to the other big men available in the draft?

Geoffrey

This is a little bit like asking, "Who has less flaws, your wife or that supermodel on the Cosmo cover?" One you've experienced more of and thus judge by a particular set of criteria. The other you mostly have no clue about except what's on the surface, which seems more dandy in some ways than what you've got. It may well turn out that when you get that Cosmo cover girl home, she's bat-poop crazy and has WAY more problems than your wife ever did.

Moral of the story: Nobody in this draft is a guaranteed success no matter what magazine cover they're on. Nor is Leonard. It's possible the draftees will have flaws that will only be exposed after a year playing in the league.

If I were guessing, I'd put Leonard below Alex Len and Nerlens Noel, above Kelly Olynyk and Mason Plumlee. He'd be tucked in there with Zeller and Adams...more upward mobility potential than Zeller but less polish. Invert that comparing him to Adams. In short, he'd be a mid- to late-lottery pick again.

Dave,

Should the Blazers turn the tenth pick + Wes Matthews into two first round picks to simply get more cap space?

Minnesota have the 9th + 26th, Utah have the 14th + 21st, Atlanta have the 17th + 18th

Who would you try and trade with? Would you ask anything else back?

Ian

Remember the criteria for any trade involving the Core Four:

1. Replace the core player with a younger, but potentially equivalent, guy or a center.

2. Save cap space in the process to fill out the missing position.

None of those packages give me a suitable replacement for Matthews beyond KCP or a better center than I could get at #10. Unless I really like Caldwell-Pope as a starter I have to say no. I need to go up higher if I lose Wes and go for Oladipo or (if it's your cup of tea) McLemore.

Now if Minnesota wants to take #10 and Freeland for #9 and #26 I'm listening.

Dave,

Who does your gut say the Blazers will take at 10?

Ry

They'd want to take McCollum I think, but he might not be there. So I'm guessing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Keep in mind, though, that the Blazers don't necessarily have to select for themselves at that position...

Late Added Extra Bonus Question:

Dave,

Rumors about LaMarcus getting traded are all over the site! Is this a smoke pointing to fire thing? Will LA get moved in the draft?

Brian

I don't believe much has changed in the last 24 hours. It's just the opportune time for stories like this.

Does LaMarcus want out? Maybe. He doesn't have any particular reason to be more loyal to Portland than any other NBA city. But the fact remains he's a valuable player, he's under contract for two years, and the decision to move him is the Blazers' not his. If and when the Blazers do so it has to be at the opportune time and for the opportune reward. I don't believe either of those happens today. The trade deadline or next summer would be better estimates than today unless the offers get a lot better than what we've seen.

So no, I don't think LMA gets traded today despite the rumors. This isn't for lack of desire on his part or the team's, rather that the right deal won't be in place.

And there's your 4500-word post to kick off our draft day coverage, folks! Stay tuned for open threads, trade rumors, deal updates, a blow-by-blow account of the draft as it happens, plus complete analysis of the day's events afterwards.

Enjoy Draft Day 2013!

--Dave (blazersub@gmail.com)

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