During the second round of Thursday's NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers acquired Notre Dame's Pat Connaughton. Now that the dust has settled, let's take a look at how he might fit with the team.
A huge part of Portland's roster is up in the air for the time being. Because of this, it's necessary to look at Connaughton with some conditions applied. Projecting where he'll end up on the depth chart or how many minutes he'll play without knowing if Wesley Matthews is returning, or what other wings the Blazers may be adding, is completely futile. As a 2nd round pick with a non-guaranteed contract, it's conceivable that Connaughton isn't even on the roster come October.
But we do know his strengths and weaknesses, and have a good understanding of the way that Blazers Coach Terry Stotts likes to run his offense.
Firstly, as a legitimate deep threat, Connaughton will be right at home in the Blazers' offense. While he performed decently off the dribble against the college power forwards that were often guarding him all season, it is doubtful that Connaughton has the handles or footwork to create his own jump shot against NBA level defenders. As a spot up catch-and-shoot guy however, Connaughton should be able to contribute immediately, shooting 42% from 3, and 50% from NBA range last season. He specialized running off of perimeter screens, similar to how Wesley Matthews would often free himself on the wing.
Stotts has looked for a mix of abilities from his wing players, with Matthews and Dorell Wright being spot up shooters, and CJ McCollum and (the now departed) Nic Batum being expected to create. Connaughton, at least early in his career, will fall firmly in the first category.
However, Connaughton's expected struggles to create his own shot should not be confused with a lack of athleticism. To the contrary, he measured an insanely high (and dubious, according to some) 44" vertical leap at this year's combine, a freakish number. In college, he proved adept at identifying back cut opportunities when his man fell asleep on defense and racked up a number of highlight reel worthy dunks.
On the defensive end, Connaughton did an adequate job as an undersized power forward. He's more adept at guarding wing players, but showed an ability to play physical defense when necessary. This in no way suggests that Connaughton should be mixing it up with PF's at the pro level, but if forced into a switch on an opponent's stretch 4 in a single pick and pop situation, Connaughton has the tools to perform adequately.
Unfortunately, Connaughton has difficulties keeping his man in front of him, and the NBA is a whole different animal than the ACC. At 6'5", he will be too undersized to guard most small forwards at the pro level, and not quick enough to keep slashing shooting guards in front of him. The aforementioned season spent guarding power forwards has essentially set him back a year in his development as a perimeter defender. Because of his pure athleticism, he has the physical tools, but needs time to learn proper defensive footwork. Otherwise, you have a prototypical 3 and D player, minus the D.
Though there is no word yet, Connaughton will surely suit up for the Blazers in the Las Vegas Summer League. If he demonstrates the shooting stroke that we saw all through his college career and even halfway decent footwork, look for him to make the Blazers' roster this fall. He's an intriguing talent, and though he doesn't figure to get much playing time, a cheap, athletic, situational 3 and D player has a spot on this team, whether they are reloading or rebuilding.