While the Portland Trail Blazers chase after the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, their draft position will likely be in flux until the final days of the regular season.
However, we do know the first-round pick they secured from the Cleveland Cavaliers earlier this season will more than likely land somewhere around No. 28. Therefore, we can start taking a look at some of the players mentioned regularly in that range and associated with the Blazers’ needs and shortcomings.
Many in the basketball community find that frontcourt depth and athleticism should be targets for Portland at this point in the draft. With the NCAA Tournament in full swing, now’s the perfect time to take a look at the late-first round.
Bam Adebayo - Center, Kentucky Wildcats
If you caught the Kentucky vs. Wichita State game, you got a glimpse of why scouts are suddenly becoming more interested in Adebayo. The 6-foot-10 center’s 13 points, 11 rebounds, and the block of a potential game-changing, last-second shot were enough to create a buzz. If that’s the only time you ever saw him in his college career, you would probably be certain he’s almost a lottery pick.
Let’s break down his game.
Adebayo is a project player who can also be an early contributor. That sounds strange, but the things he has working in his favor are size, strength, length, and explosive athleticism. This allows him to at least be an end-of-bench big, filling the role of rim-runner and “big body.”
With Festus Ezeli likely never seeing action in a Blazers jersey, Ed Davis’ immediate future up in the air, and Noah Vonleh’s rookie deal coming to an end soon, Portland is going to have to replace frontcourt depth very quickly—and as frugally as possible.
With Adebayo, there are certainly things to like. However, there are also plenty of things that can give you pause. At this point in his career, “Bam” fancies himself a modern-day Serge Ibaka (but he shoots more like modern-day Rajon Rondo). Per Hoop-Math.com, Adebayo takes nearly 37 percent of his shots on two-point jumpers, connecting on 31.3 percent of them.
While not Andre Drummond-bad from the line, Adebayo’s also not Rick Barry from the stripe, either. Shooting just under 65 percent, he’s got decent form, but his mechanics are still, well...mechanical.
Bottom line, Adebayo has plenty of bounce and could have a long career as an end-of-rotation big and energy/hustle guy. He’s shown the ability to rebound the ball at a high level, but has also shown occasional issues with effort. Defensively, he moves his feet well enough to cover interior and perimeter threats effectively, with the added benefit of potential shot-blocking.
He could improve from the field and be a complement to an inside-out center/power forward, but expecting that from him within two years is probably asking too much.
Caleb Swanigan - Center, Purdue Boilermakers
There are lots of things to like about Caleb Swanigan. He’s a player who knows who he is, what he’s capable of doing, and goes about using both of those traits to his advantage nightly.
Much like Adebayo, Swanigan was front and center this past weekend as Purdue and Iowa State went head-to-head in the NCAA Tournament. Swanigan’s stat line might bring out bouts of “Nurk Fever”: 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 7 assists. This, from a 6-foot-9, 250-pound power forward (who also just happened to shoot 3-for-6 from behind the 3-point line).
There’s much more to Swanigan than the gaudy stat-lines he’s put up regularly this season—he’s had four 20-point/20-rebound games so far—but his physical issues could be concerning.
ESPN staff writer Myron Medcalf documented Swanigan’s early struggles with weight gain and the stresses of his childhood, which help frame where Swanigan has come from.
Regardless of what scouts and experts think about Swanigan’s weight and whether or not it’s an issue going forward, there are things he does on the court that are abundantly clear. First and foremost, Swanigan is a rebounding machine. If you’ve ever heard the cliche “rebounding translates to the NBA,” that’s because it’s true; Swanigan ranks second nationally in rebounds per game, and that alone will get him on an NBA roster.
Interesting about this particular stat: the best rebounders with long careers often do it without elite level athleticism. Some of the highest-skilled rebounders to come out of college and into the NBA over the years—Kevin Love, Paul Millsap, Zach Randolph, for example—are all ground-bound, but also heady players who understand where to be and how to get to the ball. This bodes well for Swanigan, who rated No. 92 out of the Top 100 prospects in no-step vertical (26-inches, per draftexpress.com), because he’s not the explosive type.
Offensively, Swanigan already has a game that reminds me of a young Zach Randolph—A deft and very soft touch around the rim, the ability to step out and knock down midrange jumpers, and he’s been more than a capable shooter from distance in college, shooting over 43 percent on over two attempts per game.
The question with Swanigan: where does he play? He’s more of a center in a power forward’s body than anything. In a perfect world, he’s a bench big who absolutely feasts on inferior competition in the NBA—think what Luis Scola, Randolph, and even Al Jefferson have done over the past few years.
Portland could certainly use someone able to plug in immediately and play on the offensive end, but if you’re looking for an elite rim protector or someone who’s going to step away from the paint and play above the pick-and-roll defensively, this isn’t the guy you’re looking for.
Who Should the Blazers Draft in the Late First-Round?
Ultimately, anyone the Blazers draft in this position is someone destined for time on the bench early on, or at least until they show they can perform or their skills become a necessity.
However, Adebayo and Swanigan come from two very different ends of the spectrum. The former is clearly the raw clay, still needing to be molded. He comes with the more spectacular athleticism that’s found and needed in today’s NBA, but he also doesn’t have a defined skill set that’s been demonstrated night-in, night-out.
Swanigan isn’t going to get any more explosive overnight, but he has post footwork, a reliable jumper, and range beyond the 3-point line. He rebounds the heck out of the ball, and even though he lacks athleticism, he does sport a rather impressive wingspan that allows him to alter and block shots at a respectable level. Swanigan is only going to refine his game, though; there’s not going to be a lot of exponential growth.
Adebayo gives you the opportunity to select a player who could turn into the next Serge Ibaka: A shot-blocking, rim-running, rebounding, jump-shooting, new-age power forward. But what position are the Blazers in right now? Are they in a place to take more chances, or should they be looking at the surer thing?
Who do you think the Blazers should target late in the first round of the upcoming 2017 NBA Draft? Let us know in the comments below, and make sure to come back next week, when we evaluate a few players the Blazers could select in the middle of the first round.