I'm working on catching up on the mailbag questions, which is an enormous task. Hopefully I'll have something up tomorrow. However I'll tackle one question that's been repeated a few times: what I think the Blazers should do in the draft.
I need to do some more research and talk to a few people before I'm ready to come out with a list of specific names, so I'll hold off on that. But I can tell you that the overriding concern when drafting at #22 is to get the best player available. While this is generally the case I think you can make an argument that enough good (or at least comparable) players are around in the low single-digits and higher teens that you worry about position and skills. By the 20's you're just hoping a guy can play, either right away at a modest level or someday at a high one. Sure thing or project, you take the best one you can find and call it good.
This fits in pretty well with Portland's situation at the moment. You can really make a case for any position being important. We have no idea which Blazers will get moved in the next couple of years but it's a sure bet that some of them will. Even not knowing specifics certain situations are clear:
- If Greg Oden can't play the 22nd pick won't make much difference. But even if he can, Joel Przybilla might not be more than a year with this team and Marcus Camby won't be more than two. A project center slated to be an eventual back-up would fit in well.
- Camby is probably the main reserve power forward as well. After him you have Jeff Pendergraph and Dante Cunningham, neither of whom are sure things at the position or even in the league. Power forwards are also among the easier players to pick up late in the first round.
- The Blazers appear to have solid rotations at small forward and shooting guard with Batum/Webster and Roy/Fernandez/Bayless. How many of those players will be around, though? Reserve shooting guard is particularly in question. An athletic wing scorer with some height could help the Blazers down the road.
- As much as it turns my stomach to suggest drafting another point guard, this is the least secure position of all. Andre Miller is a short-term solution. Jerryd Bayless is an open question at point. Even if he is the eventual answer, who backs him up?
I believe the Blazers will explore moving up, as the draft has been at the heart of their philosophy for Kevin Pritchard's entire tenure. This is what they do best. But the statute of limitations on how much rookies can help this team is starting to run out. I don't see a pressing need for another young guy to rely on. Moving way up implies just that. However you also have to consider that Portland has movable pieces to do just that: young, inexpensive, talented players. As we mentioned on last week's podcast, Portland's financial situation may preclude them from keeping those players as they exit their rookie contracts. Resetting a couple of them for a promising young draftee may make sense. In the end, I don't believe this will happen though.
Moving out of the first round is a possibility for those same financial reasons. The Blazers had success in the second round last year. But Portland has historically been a buyer of picks, not a seller.
Drafting and stashing another European player is also an option. This technique is starting to make me nervous, however. At a certain point you do need productive players coming into your system, even if they are lower-tier players. Nicolas Batum has been the great success story. Is there another like him out there? But then you have to look at Sergio Rodriguez...gone. Rudy Fernandez...discontented. Joel Freeland, Petteri Koponen, and Victor Claver...not over here yet. Maybe you say that in two years when some of the current Blazers are ready to move on these guys will be ready to fill in. But that's still a big "if". Do they have the talent? Will they sign the contract? How long will it take them to assimilate?
The most likely route is also the most practical: just take a guy you can get at 22 and develop him in your system, in this league from the start. Maybe he doesn't set the world on fire. But maybe you don't need that. If he fills a spot eventually, good enough.