When the Portland Trail Blazers opted to move center Mason Plumlee to the Denver Nuggets for Jusuf Nurkić, the fanbase was mostly reserved but appreciative of the decision. Plumlee was due to be a restricted free agent in a few months and with Portland’s cap space in a precarious position, re-signing him was nearly impossible for salary reasons alone. Throw in that he wasn’t a perfect fit, and well, moving him for something was seen as a win.
Little did we know that Nurkić was the real gem in the deal. Most looked bright-eyed and bushy tailed at the shiny first-round pick that was also included in the deal. While not the best position in the draft, another pick in the late first round for Plumlee alone was considered a haul; throw in Nurkić and the deal looks staggering slanted in Portland’s favor.
Today we’re taking a look at a few ways Portland could go with that pick. The good news for Blazers fans comes on two fronts. First, the pick owed to them in the trade belongs to the Memphis Grizzlies, who’ve struggled as of late. In the month of March they’ve gone 4-9 and are within four games of Portland as of this writing. There’s a realistic chance Portland could have back-to-back or near back-to-back picks in the draft, so there are multiple directions Portland could go with these picks.
A quick side note on the players we’re looking at today: the mock drafts are all over the place from positions 12-28, so I’ve taken a group of players that have been rumored to be available between 18-25 and have been associated with the Blazers in the past few weeks.
Jarrett Allen, C, Texas Longhorns
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. A long, rangy, athletic, near 7-footer from the University of Texas who has a ton of potential but coaches and scouts alike are worried that his lack of motor and inconsistent energy may hold him back in the NBA. While far from the same players, a lot of the same notes and quotes about Allen are very reminiscent of a young LaMarcus Aldridge.
Allen’s skill set is based mostly on potential. He’s got absurd length with a near 7’6” wingspan on a 6’11” body that most scouts expect to fill out to around 250 pounds. He has massive hands and plays above the rim incredibly well. His rebounding, while decent on a per-40 minutes basis (10.5), is not spectacular. Still, he has the potential to be a top-flight rebounder if he applies himself.
Offensively, Allen is limited to production around the rim. His jumper has a pretty serious hitch that also manifests itself at the free throw line. While far from the worst thing ever created, some serious time with a shooting coach will be necessary to become a more consistent and better all-around shooter. To be honest, if you remove the hitch when he pulls the ball above his head, it’s actually very similar to Aldridge’s high-release, wrist-flicking jumper.
Defensively, Allen is athletic enough for a near 7-footer, but he’s not great in space. While it would behoove the Blazers to find someone long and athletic to play alongside Nurkić, there isn’t a ton of guys who fit that billing, particularly in this portion of the Draft.
Allen however does project as a player with solid defensive upside. Like Aldridge coming out of college, there are questions about his dedication to that side of the floor. Ironically, Aldridge was the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. This year, Allen is third in total rebounds per game and fourth in blocks per game for the Big 12. Among his peers, he’s certainly holding his own.
With his height, length, and above-average lateral mobility, it’s easy to project that with time Allen could be a better-than-average defender above the free throw line. When I look at him, I see Tyson Chandler. That’s pretty high praise and a lofty bar to reach, but remember that it took Chandler quite some time to round into that form.
Overall, if Allen falls to the Blazers here, they have to pick him up. He’s a player many expect to go higher, but because he’s a bit of a project there’s also a large number of scouts and NBA personnel who feel he’ll fall a bit. Landing a player like this in the 18-25 range is basically as good as striking the proverbial gold. With the Blazers’ frontcourt still in flux, they should be looking to upgrade and plan for the future at every turn.
Ivan Rabb, F, California Golden Bears
Rabb came to Berkley last season as one of the top recruits in the nation and then drove his stock down from day one. Even after the sub-par production of his freshman season, he was slated as at least a lottery selection. In the rare time that a player opts to return to school for another year to help their NBA stock rise, Rabb saw his stock again fall as he didn’t really grow as much as experts hoped and expected he would.
That’s the story on how he got to this range—but what kind of player is he? The first thing about Rabb: he can rebound. That’s an absolute, NBA-ready, bankable skill. That alone will allow him to get drafted and at least last through his rookie contract.
He has very good length and wingspan to go with average athleticism, and while lacking the total body strength of most NBA centers, Rabb’s not rail-thin. Projecting him in the pros, he’s more of a small ball center than a true five.
Offensively, he’s limited to shooting mostly around the rim, as his perimeter game is suspect at best. Rabb’s jumper is inconsistent on many levels. First of all, it’s a line drive with very little lift. The rotation is inconsistent, he releases the ball across his face, and sometimes lets the shot go on the way down. There are lots of things going on with his jumper, and none of them are good.
Rabb does, however, run the floor very well. This was never utilized at Cal, where they play one of the slowest paces in all the power conferences. Some scouts believe that pace inhibited Rabb greatly and he still has more to show once placed in a modern NBA offense. That seems like a stretch, but something worth considering at this point in the draft.
Defensively, Rabb is a bit awkward. He’s slow to close out, and while he has good length, his timing on blocks isn’t really there. He does get his body on a man nearly every time the ball goes up, though, and he secures the ball on the glass better than just about anyone.
If Portland ends up drafting Rabb, they’re most likely looking for another young big to come off the bench and do one or two things well on a cheap contract.
OG Anunoby, F, Indiana Hoosiers
Yes, the flashing signs of “BLOWN KNEE-DO NOT ENTER” are brightly flickering to any and all Portland fans who have taken an interest in the young forward from Indiana. His sophomore campaign—which was filled with promise—was cut short when the dreaded “non-contact knee injury” resulted in a blown ACL and the end of his season.
If you’re unsure or unfamiliar with Anunoby’s exploits, it started last year in the NCAA Tournament when his defensive acumen was put on display as he locked down future lottery pick and former Kentucky Wildcat Jamaal Murray.
Annoy, for all intents and purposes, is built like a truck and wired with fast twitch muscles designed for someone much smaller. He has an incredible wingspan, and great basketball instincts on the defensive side of the ball. He can guard positions 1-through-4, and on occasion some smaller centers.
Defensively, Anunoby is the most versatile player in the draft and his skills project very well in that area. He can get down in a stance and cut off the quickest of guards and he’s got the base to battle in the post with the strongest of post presences. Not only does he have the frame, length, and athleticism, he has the instincts and awareness to put it all together. Averaging over 2 blocks and 2 steals per 40 minutes, his defensive impact is felt both intrinsically and in the box score.
Offensively, Anunoby is a bit more limited. If you’re looking for a comparison currently on the Blazers’ roster, think a combination of Maurice Harkless and Al-Farouq Aminu. He can straight line drive but be afraid—be very afraid—the second he puts the ball on the hardwood.
His jump shot is most definitely a work in progress, but he has already shown the capacity and the willingness to work on it and improve it. Anunoby’s shown that he can, with time, knock down shots from distance. However, it’s not yet a part of a consistent offensive repertoire. Sound familiar at all?
Anunoby is, if healthy, probably one of the best possible outcomes for the Blazers outside of the premier wings in this draft. He’s easily a player who could help them the most immediately as he could be paired with Nurkić seamlessly on defense, and if he’s able to improve at all offensively, would be seen as a near perfect fit alongside the Bosnian Beast while also playing centerfield behind Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
Who Should the Blazers Draft Late in the First?
The late first round is looking more and more like a crapshoot with no consensus outside the mid-lottery. With that in mind, there are certainly players who will rise and fall, and the Blazers—with multiple picks—stand ready to either select where they are or package a deal together to move up and grab someone they really like.
If they don’t move and someone like Anunoby is available in this range, this is a young man I could see sliding in and helping the team almost immediately. He’s not a savior, but he answers a lot more questions for this team than he asks. That’s something you can’t say about a lot of acquisitions.
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.