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Who We're Looking At

Or, for you grammarians, "At Whom We Are Looking".

After a couple weeks of digesting expert opinions, mock draft opinions, your opinions, and even my cats’ opinions (“Meow-meow we wike Westbwook meow meow. Now feed us!”), then after a couple more conversations with people who should know (don’t worry…nobody from the team), I feel prepared to give a preliminary assessment of the likeliest candidates to be selected should we choose to use the 13th pick.  I’m not even tackling the possibilities of trading up or out yet, that’s another conversation.  The issue here is how we might use our pick as-is and the rationale behind that use.

If you were listening to the always-excellent Overtime show with Gavin Dawson on 95.5 The Game last week you heard me say that I don’t believe the Blazers will go after a point guard at 13.  There are two reasons.  First, we’ve burned a first-round selection on a point guard four years straight:  Koponen in 2007, Sergio in 2006, Jack in 2005, Sebastian Telfair in 2004.  The jury is still out on the three recent picks but judging by the results so far we still have not found our starting quarterback.  At some point you have to try a different approach.  Second, any point guard you’re going to get at 13 is going to be a compromise.  In a sense we already have three compromise candidates at that position, which is the argument for looking for another point guard in the first place.  This will be a position where the team doesn’t want to compromise anymore…or at least doesn’t want to compromise young.  We may not get the perfect guy in a trade or free agency but at least a veteran knows how to cover for his weaknesses and still make the team run.  Not so a rookie, who likely doesn’t even realize the magnitude of his flaws, let alone how to play through them.  Unless you’re completely blown away by a guy left on the board or you’re firmly committed to taking the most talented player available and a point guard is head and shoulders above the rest, it just doesn’t make sense for the Blazers to go this route again.

Slightly more probable, but still against conventional wisdom, would be a center pick.  Part of this is team need.  Greg Oden will obviously be your future starter.  Right now we have Joel Przybilla, Lamarcus Aldridge, and Channing Frye as candidates to play backup five.  You’ll probably move at least one of those guys, but not all of them.  That means there won’t be much room to play.  This slights the argument for picking a big guy, developing him, then trading him later for value.  How much value will he have if he never sees the court?  Plus a 7-footer, rare in this draft, will be an even bigger project at 13 than a point guard would be.  The Blazers are starting to shift out of waiting mode and into winning mode.  It just doesn’t feel like our (hopefully) last lottery pick for the next decade would be a coin-flip project.

That leaves the wing slots--shooting guard and small forward--plus power forward.  Not coincidentally, these are also the positions likely to have enough talent left at 13 to appeal to us.  Some good players will be selected before we get our turn, but they can’t take them all.  The best players left will almost certainly range from 6’6” to 6’10” and play one of these positions.

Casey Holdahl’s posting of the Blazer workout schedule pretty much confirms this impression.  Of the first-round names in there all but a couple point guards are in this range.

So who are the specific guys who could show up on stage wearing our cap?  Here are seven names for you.  Keep in mind that we’re not going to find the perfect, all-around guy at 13.  If they were that obviously good and had no weaknesses they’d go earlier.  These guys are either talented, potentially great, or have enough good points that we’d take a flyer on them but not so obvious that someone else will automatically grab them before us.  Also keep in mind that I’m not necessarily saying we should pick these guys or trying to make this list all-encompassing.  There will be players left out.  I’m just guessing you’ll hear these names connected with the Blazers before it’s all said and done.

The Top Two So Far:

Brandon Rush  Kansas   6’7” (?), 211 lbs (?)  SG

It’s obvious, but this just feels like a KP pick (and sometimes obvious is right).  He’s a shooter, has some athleticism, is tall, has long arms, and plays defense…uncommon among most of the scorers we’re looking at.  Plus he has the dual attraction of being from Kansas (wink!) and being a champion.  Ball-handling reportedly could be a drawback, plus he’s already had ACL surgery.  Both of these would be concerns as injuries and dribbling are repeated concerns for the Blazers.

Joe Alexander West Virginia 6’7”+, 220 SF

The guys sounds almost like a second coming of Travis Outlaw.  He can jump out of the gym and dunk with authority and grace.  He’s supposedly an extremely hard worker and would probably fit with the team culture.  He’s raw and would take a while to develop though.  Also his individual scoring skills may not be up to NBA standards.

Three Other Players We Could Likely Get:

After those two you’ll probably hear a lot of forward and tweener-forward names, such as:

Donte Green   Syracuse 6’8”+, 221 lbs  F

He can score and he’ll probably develop an NBA body but he’s a tweener and a project.

Darrell Arthur  Kansas   6’7.5”, 216 lbs  F 

Another Kansas guy who can run and score, but he’s small for a forward and his desire and toughness have been questioned.

Nicolas Batum   France  6’8” (?), 214 lbs (?)  SG/SF

He’s reportedly a big, athletic slasher who can defend a little.  His intensity, consistency, rebounding, and ball-handling are in question as well as his overall scoring ability.  If he turns out to have stellar workouts he could go above us because his physical tools should dazzle.  Otherwise we might be able to work on him.

Two Guys We’ll Look At But Who Could Well Go Before 13:

D.J. Augustin  Texas   5’10”, 172 lbs  PG

He’s an offensive powerhouse:  scoring, shooting, running, passing.  But he’s small, will likely have trouble defending in the NBA, and as we said above…ANOTHER point guard???

Russell Westbrook  UCLA  6’2”+ , 192 lbs  PG/SG

You’ve already heard his name.  He’s explosive.  He can defend and run.  He could be a combo guard.  Several sites have reported his relative awkwardness in the halfcourt.  He may not turn out to be a natural point guard and he won’t be able to play shooting guard exclusively.  This is another one of those cases where if he’s really that impressive he’ll probably go earlier than 13.

You have to figure six guys as locks to go off the board before we pick:  Rose, Beasley, Mayo, Lopez, Bayless, and Gallinari.  That means even if these seven were the most attractive players left (and they’re almost certainly not) we would be able to pick one of them.  Most likely we’ll be able to choose from at least three.

Naturally this list could (and probably will) change as the weeks and the workouts progress.

--Dave (