An interesting draft-related Mailbag question came across my desk today. Let's have at it!
How did the Blazers do in the 2006 draft? With 8 years of hindsight, could they have done better with their picks? My feeling is no.
This is an interesting question from a couple perspectives. First, 2006 marked the huge Turning Point from the (post-) JailBlazer era to a new beginning. Decisions made that year and in the couple years following still reverberate through this franchise to the point you could say its joys and tribulations still play against the decade-old backdrop. Second, looking at Portland's draft progression helps us understand how critical the lack of a selection in this year's draft might prove. So let's tackle it.
Four All-Stars came out of the 2006 NBA Draft, three of whom also made All-NBA teams. Those names: LaMarcus Aldridge, Brandon Roy, Rajon Rondo, Paul Millsap. Considering the Blazers ended up with 2 of the 3 All-NBA players, 2 of 4 available All-Stars, you have to say they did pretty well. (Read that in the same way you read "Revlon did pretty well in the makeup business.) Just as impressive, they avoided names like Adam Morrison, Randy Foye, and Shelden Williams that littered the landscape around the 2nd and 6th selections.
Hindsight being perfect, you might have preferred Rondo to Roy for the sake of longevity. But Roy was everything the Blazers could have dreamed while his knees held up, so it's hard to argue against his selection. Plus Rondo was selected 21st overall, hardly in the same Zip Code as Portland's upper picks.
The Blazers also ended up with the 27th and 30th selections in the draft, Sergio Rodriguez and Joel Freeland respectively. With Millsap and Daniel Gibson going in the second round, the Blazers came up short. But most other teams did as well.
Answering Tom's specific question about 2006, the Blazers couldn't have done better with their high picks. Their low picks left something to be desired.
The Blazers had the #1 overall pick in 2007, famously selecting Greg Oden over Kevin Durant. You don't have to look any further than Oklahoma City's deep playoff runs and Durant's MVP trophy to see the significance of that move. Even if the Blazers are rebuilding and even if their current ceiling reaches higher than the second round of the playoffs, they're perpetually 2-3 years behind what their growth curve would have been and at least a quarter of the conference below their potential had Durant been in the fold all these years. They've built over the crater, but the hole remains and every move--failed or successful--is a subtle reminder that they wouldn't be faced with such difficult decisions had this selection gone right.
Once again the Blazers had multiple late opportunities in the draft. 2007 gave Portland Rudy Fernandez, Petteri Koponen, Josh McRoberts, and Taurean Green. We're dipping into the second round because of the array of talented players available at those positions, including Arron Afflalo, Tiago Splitter, Carl Landry, Glen Davis, Marc Gasol, and Ramon Sessions.
The Blazers had to settle for the 13th selection in 2008, which they traded for Indiana's 11th pick, Jerryd Bayless. He didn't stick with the team but their 25th selection, Nicolas Batum, paid huge dividends. Players available to Portland with their 13th pick: Robin Lopez, Roy Hibbert, JaVale McGee, Ryan Anderson, Kosta Koufos, and Serge Ibaka.
Assuming Batum was the best pick at 25, the Blazers also had access to Mario Chalmers, Goran Dragic. DeAndre Jordan, and had their hands on Omer Asik in this draft before trading him away.
Portland's main selection in 2009 was Victor Claver, the 22nd overall pick and at the time an obvious Euro-stash move. The Blazers also traded for Jeff Pendergraph (now Ayers) and Dante Cunningham in the second round, moved the 38th overall pick, Jon Brockman, to Sacramento, and selected Patty Mills 55th overall. Mills, Ayers, and Cunningham are still playing in the league, but not for Portland.
2010 brought the famous "9-11" draft, netting Portland Luke Babbitt with the 16th pick, Elliot Williams at 22, and Armon Johnson 34th overall. None proved anything more than hyper-marginal players.
Available between Babbitt's selection and Johnson's were Kevin Seraphin, Eric Bledsoe, Avery Bradley, and Greivis Vasquez. Lance Stephenson was available with Portland's second-round selection, for better or worse.
Portland again whiffed in 2011, selecting Nolan Smith with the 21st pick and Jon Diebler 55th. The Smith selection came one spot before Denver took Kenneth Faried, a bone of contention among Blazer fans to this day. Also on the board at that point: Reggie Jackson, Jimmy Butler, Chandler Parsons, and 60th overall pick Isaiah Thomas.
The Blazers returned to the lottery, and draft glory, in 2012, selecting Damian Lillard with the 6th overall pick followed by Meyers Leonard with the 11th. The 40th selection netted them Will Barton.
(At this point since the players are so unproven we're going to cease listing potential alternate picks.)
C.J. McCollum headed Portland's draft in 2013, selected 10th overall. The Blazers also executed several second-round picks which they promptly traded away for established players.
Judging draft performance through hindsight alone is effective, but ultimately unfair. History alone allows perfection. Even with a single pick in each round and no other moving parts, few teams can lay claim to having executed the best possible draft available to them. (Though Portland came as close as humanly possible in '06.)
Even without calling the Blazers to task for missed opportunities, we can make the following generalizations regarding their drafts in the current era:
1. They made three brilliant picks in the #2-#6 range with Aldridge, Roy, and Lillard. With Roy and Aldridge in particular they avoided a minefield of potentially-botched picks.
2. All of that brilliance put together doesn't make up for their single, crucial mistake with the #1 pick in 2007...a selection which changed the course of the franchise. Everyone at the time knew it would. Few expected it would be so dramatic a downward change.
3. With the exception of Nicolas Batum, the Blazers have fared poorly with their mid- and low-level first round picks. Perfection may be impossible, but it's hard to overlook missed opportunities when even one more talented big man on the roster, even one more skilled bench player, even one more asset to trade would make a huge difference. That the team is so impoverished in these areas can be traced, in part, to sustained draft futility.
4. The Blazers have hit on a few second-round selections--no easy task--but they haven't been able to retain those players long enough to benefit.
What might this mean for this year's draft? Obviously any potential asset is better than no asset. The Blazers would be better off with a pick than they are currently with none. But the exhaustive list of players missed in previous drafts doesn't just speak to Portland's lack of insight. It shows how hard snagging talent can be even in a "deep" year.
Unless the Blazers could somehow net a prime pick, expectations would remain low to moderate for draft-day help. They'd face the twin problems of identifying talent--historically a problem for them outside of high-lottery situations--and waiting for that talent to make an impact...an issue even when they've made decent selections. If recent history is any guide, the Blazers would be better off going all-out in this draft or just leaving it alone.
Thanks for the question! We've got plenty more in the hopper but you can add yours by writing to the e-mail address below and putting "Mailbag" in the subject line.
If that's not enough Blazer talk for you this morning, you can always check out the Phil Naessens show with discussion about trading starters, sportswriting, and more: