The Trail Blazers have had a busy past week. On Sunday, the team announced guard Arron Afflalo would not be picking up the player option on the last year of his deal, making him an unrestricted free agent. Three days later, Portland GM Neil Olshey sent forward Nicolas Batum to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for guard Gerald Henderson and young big man Noah Vonleh. Finally, forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson fell to the Blazers at pick No. 23 in Thursday's NBA Draft, shortly before the team flipped him to the Brooklyn Nets, along with veteran guard Steve Blake, for center Mason Plumlee , guard.
Lost amid the shuffle on Thursday night, however, was the acquisition of the rights to Spanish forward Daniel Diez. After Portland's night had seemingly been capped with the Plumlee trade, the Jazz selected Diez with the No. 54 pick in the second round of the draft and swapped his rights with the Blazers in exchange for cash considerations.
Diez, who turned 22 in April, has been with the Spanish National Team for seven years. At 6-foot-8, he played much of his young career at the power forward position, where he competed in the FIBA Europe Tournament in 2009 for the Under-16 team, in 2010 for the Under-17 team, in 2011 for the Under-18 team and in 2012 and 2013 for the Under-20 team. While with the Spanish National Team, Diez helped bring home the gold medal in 2009 and 2011 and bronze medals in 2012 and 2013.
Partially due to a short wingspan -- Diez has a 6-foot-5 reach, a bit of an oddity for a player his height -- the young Spanish product switched from power forward to small forward a few seasons ago.
Real Madrid, the most decorated team in the top-tier Spanish ACB League, has had Diez in its system since 2010. The 22-year-old played a bit role on the reserve squad until 2012, when he was loaned to San Sebastian, a less competitive team in the ACB League. In Diez' first year on loan with San Sebastian, he played sparingly before returning to Real Madrid for the 2013-14 season. After a mostly unproductive stint there, he was re-loaned to San Sebastian for the 2014-15 season and had a breakout year, averaging 12.1 points per game on 48 percent shooting from the field and 41.4 percent shooting from deep in 29.6 minutes a night.
Diez spent most of his time in San Sebastian playing off the ball last season, as 41.8 percent of his touches came in spot-up situations, according to Synergy Sports Data via DraftExpress.com. Though he doesn't create many shot opportunities for himself, Matt Kamalsky of Draft Express had this to say about Diez' role as a catch-and-shoot offensive weapon:
Diez was one of the most improved jump shooters in all of Europe this season. Making 34.3% of his catch and shoot jump shots a year ago for Real Madrid, the 22-year old forward knocked down an impressive 46% this season. Making up roughly half of his attempts in the half court, his development as a set shooter has played a key role in his emergence as a high level contributor in the ACB, and as an NBA prospect. Diez doesn't have the prettiest mechanics and tends to short arm some shots and shoot off balance at times, but his increased confidence as a shot maker and 43% shooting from beyond the arc are a very promising development for a player who has shot only 27% from deep over the previous two seasons, and wasn't even a factor from the perimeter early in his career.
He's not considered an explosive athlete and may lack the lateral quickness to become a force on the defensive end of the floor in the NBA, but Diez has been noted for his work ethic, basketball IQ and for his effort on the boards.
So where does Diez potentially fit in with the Blazers? His ability to play off the ball and hit catch-and-shoot three-pointers makes him an attractive piece for coach Terry Stotts to use off the bench, who lost his starting small forward last week in Batum and currently has just Henderson, guard CJ McCollum, Connaughton and swingman Allen Crabbe in his stable of wings until free agency plays out for guard Wesley Matthews, forward Dorell Wright, wing Alonzo Gee and Afflalo. If Portland needs depth around the perimeter, Diez' skillset and size makes him, at the least, an intriguing asset.
Of course, the Blazers are still playing the waiting game with free agent forward LaMarcus Aldridge as he explores free agency for the first time this summer. If the four-time All-Star is brought back to Portland in the coming weeks, Olshey will likely fill open roster spots with proven players who can contribute to a playoff team right now. Because Diez is just 22, has only one solid season of ACB League play under his belt at this point and has questions about his wingspan and athleticism, the Blazers' would likely keep him stashed overseas for the foreseeable future if they enter win-now mode; Diez' potential roster spot would be better filled with a known quantity under those circumstances.
But if Portland sees Aldridge and any combination of Matthews, Afflalo, Wright and Gee leave town this July, the re-build -- or as the front office is likely to bill it, the "re-tooling" -- around guard Damian Lillard, McCollum and big man Meyers Leonard may be fast-tracked. Joining young, affordable players like Plumlee and Vonleh on the Blazers' bench could be someone like Diez, who has proven he can compete at the highest levels overseas as a rotation player and as a reliable jump-shooter. If nothing else, his work ethic and improvement from year-to-year as a youngster in Spain should pique the interest of Blazers fans and members of the organization's front office.
Diez was clearly grateful on Draft Night when he was informed that Portland had acquired his rights, and may end with the team sooner than later. Many experts think he could use another season or two of marinating with Real Madrid or another Spanish ACB League team, however, and believe he could still expand his game as a small forward, a position he's played for only a few years. That said, Olshey left open the possibility that Diez could be brought over to the Blazers this offseason in a press conference Thursday night.
Portland saw its roster shaken up last week with the departures of Batum and Blake, and depending on what happens with Aldridge, Matthews and center Robin Lopez in free agency, Lillard could conceivably be the only starter from 2013-2015 left standing when the dust settles. And with McCollum and Leonard as the only virtually guaranteed holdovers from last year's bench, Stotts might like to get an up-close look at Diez as soon as possible, whose acquisition largely felt like an afterthought Thursday night as it was overshadowed by a handful of splashier moves.
-- Chris Lucia | firstname.lastname@example.org | Twitter