Whether you’re looking forward to the 2017 NBA Playoffs or the Draft Lottery, the Portland Trail Blazers will have three first-round draft picks to use on June 22, pending any future trades. Currently, the Blazers own the No. 11, No. 21, and No. 27 picks in the draft. That means they have to be prepared for the early, mid, and late lottery, as well as the middle and late first round. That’s an awful lot of research and game tape to be breaking down over the next few months, and especially with the 2017 NCAA Tournament right around the corner.
Fortunately, there are numerous resources that allow us to make a better-than-random guess at a player’s projection and expected output. Of course, before we get to Draft Night, the biggest showcase of them all, March Madness, is nearly upon us. With that in mind, we give you the Trail Blazers March Madness prospect guide!
Projections over the last week have Portland finishing anywhere from 30-37 wins. Ultimately, that means they could be picking somewhere between No. 5 and No. 15. That’s probably the biggest dispersal of talent in the draft as far as anticipated drop-off is concerned (commence arguing over tanking vs. not tanking now).
This guide isn’t meant to be comprehensive, but to give an idea of players Portland has been linked or associated with in mock drafts, podcasts, or articles around the web. As of March 7, here’s who DraftExpress, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS Sports, Bleacher Report and Tankathon.com have Portland selecting with those three picks:
These aren’t exactly consensus-building mock drafts here, but they’re also taken at various times, so that’s to be expected. Over the course of the week these mocks were loaded up, Portland was picking between No. 8 and No. 12 (first pick), between 21 and 23 (second pick), and at 27 or 28 (third pick). That range covers 10 different selections, or a third of the first round. That scale slides with the Blazers winning or losing games. Essentially, the Blazers’ scouting staff has to cover the entirety of the first round, just to cover their own selections.
So to help everyone get familiar with the draft board, let’s take a look at Part One of who to watch heading into the NCAA tournament.
Teams To Watch
Joe Lunardi of ESPN.com Bracketology has Kansas as a No. 1 seed heading into the tournament. The Jayhawks possess a potential sleeper top pick in Josh Jackson, who shouldn’t slip past third overall. Jackson has all the tools to be a legit two-way force in the NBA. Some have likened him to Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler, while others have gone as far as Scottie Pippen not only because of his two-way ability, but his sublime passing skills, as well.
Bottom line, Jackson can put the ball on the floor, pass at an elite level, knock down shots and guard positions 2-4. He’s a prototype point forward, with the only knock on him being lack of elite wingspan and a textbook jumper.
Kansas also features two second-round prospects in Frank Mason and Devontae’ Graham. You’ll want to watch Kansas solely for Jackson, but you will find yourself marveling at the floor general demeanor both these young men exude.
In the Midwest Bracket with Kansas is Pac-12 powerhouse, UCLA. Point guard Lonzo Ball is the straw that stirs the Bruins’ drink, while has father, LaVar Ball, is the mouth that never ceases. He’s got plenty of opinions, like stating his son is better than Steph Curry, and telling Charles Barkley he would’ve had a title if Barkley had the elder Ball’s attitude. So, yeah, there’s a lot to take in there. Watching UCLA games in the tournament will probably have 40+ cutaways to LaVar Ball, but even then it’s worth it to take in Lonzo Ball’s game.
Blessed with size, athleticism, the purest of pin-point precision passing, and an incredibly awkward (but effective) release on his jumper, Ball is bringing back comparisons of another former Pac-12 point guard—Jason Kidd. Ball is easily the most discussed player in the draft, and while he’s not seen as boom or bust, there are certainly people unconvinced that he’s a generational talent.
While Ball is almost certain to be gone before the Blazers make their first selection, his teammate T.J. Leaf makes for an interesting watch as well.
UCLA is a team that plays zero defense, moves the ball with purpose, and embraces the new pass-first style favored by NBA teams (sound familiar?). Ball sets the table but Leaf knocks them down. Leaf doesn’t possess all-world athleticism, nor does he look inclined to play defense, but the dude can flat out score. With “in the gym range,” a post game, and the ability to create off the bounce, Leaf is one of the top three scorers in this year’s draft.
The bracket that may interest Blazer’s fans the most though, is the South. North Carolina, Arizona, Creighton, Michigan State AND Kentucky are all projected to land here and each team has at least one player linked to Portland early on.
Let’s start with the big dogs here: the Kentucky Wildcats. They have two players projected in the Top 10 in Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox, with two more expected to go in the draft in Bam Adebayo and Isaiah Briscoe. For Portland, they’ve been linked with Monk and Adebayo, both for completely different reasons. Monk is hands-down the most explosive scorer in this draft. He has that innate ability to absolutely take over a game and get buckets. Whether it’s creating off the bounce, attacking the rim, or pulling up, he has it all. The knocks? As with most freshmen, inconsistency plagues his game. Per ESPN.com:
He has frustrated John Calipari this season with the up-and-down nature of his play. He's also strikingly one-dimensional for a player ranked this high. But some scouts feel that Monk is still developing as a player and that we might see more dimensions to his game (creating off the dribble, floor vision) in the NBA than we see from him in college.
If Portland were considering moving away one of their premier scoring guards in Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum, this is one of the guys they could consider replacing them with. The hypothetical here would be that one of the McLillard duo would be moved in order to facilitate a trade that brings in a two-way player at either the off-guard or forward position. Otherwise, you’re just adding more firepower to the team—and really, that can be fun too.
Bam Adebayo is a big man without a home. Not really a center by size and lacking the perimeter offensive game to be a stretch-4, Adebayo is a tweener. He’s strong, physical, and incredibly bouncy, possessing a motor that never ceases and a desire to play defense.
In a perfect world, he develops like Serge Ibaka and a 15-foot jumper emerges to go along with the perfect skillset to pair wit Jusuf Nurkic. Otherwise, it’s a really clogged lane with Bam and Nurk’.
Now let’s take a look at Creighton big man, Justin Patton. Patton is really the first guy that’s populated a lot of mock drafts over the last few months. The two most common observations around Patton are efficiency and upside. Those are fantastic traits to have in any player, let alone a big man, and particularly if Portland can snag him with their second pick. Patton is close to a legit 7-foot, but he lacks the size and strength necessary to play in the paint with NBA bigs right away. However, his efficiency is so ludicrous (over 72 percent shooting in the paint) that teams will certainly overlook that for now.
Patton has shown a willingness to run the floor, has what could be a workable jumper out to 15 feet, and many scouts believe he’s still scratching the surface of his potential. While he hasn’t shown a penchant for rebounding or blocking shots, he does demonstrate the raw skillset and acumen necessary to better himself in those areas.
One player that has been linked with Portland for quite some time now is Lauri Markkanen, the Finnish sharp-shooter from Arizona. Back in January, Ricky O’Donnell of SBNation wrote an article titled “Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen is the best shooting 7-footer college basketball has ever seen” That’s a pretty bold statement to say the least.
Markkanen’s freshman season at Arizona has justified the hype. Through the first 19 games of his college career, Markkanen has drained 45 threes in 92 attempts, good for a 48.9 percent clip.
College basketball has never seen a freshman 7-footer shoot the ball like this before. Consider that Markkanen has already hit more three-pointers than Frank Kaminsky did during his Wooden Award-winning senior season at Wisconsin. The only historical comparison is former West Virginia cult hero Kevin Pittsnogle, who hit 91 threes at a 40 percent clip in 2006. The difference is Pittsnogle was a senior while Markkanen is doing this as a freshman with a three-point percentage nine points higher.
When you’re beating Pittsnogle, you know you’ve made it (c’mon, brush up on your cult-heroes!).
The (insert your favorite enormous animal here) in the room is that Markkanen’s defense is, well...suspect, to say the least. Most will probably reach for the Dirk Nowitzki comparison as he’s a tall, 3-point shooting, European-born big. When in reality, Markkanen is really more like Ryan Anderson of the Houston Rockets than anyone else. That’s not a bad pickup in the draft certainly, but that’s probably the wrong fit for a Portland team whose biggest weakness is defense.
...Although, the Rockets seem to be doing pretty well by just bombing from 3-point range all night long...
The Tar Heels—NCAA Tournament grey-beards—always have at least one NBA-ready player to ship off to the league every draft. This season it’s forward Justin Jackson. Jackson hasn’t been linked with Portland in any mocks I’ve seen, so I’m taking some liberty here, but considering he fits a lot of their needs and he’s projected in their range(s), he’s certainly worth taking a look at.
At Blazer’s Edge, we’ve discussed how Portland has gone from having the market cornered on 3-point shooting for years, to having it less so over the past few seasons. Jackson is a player who could potentially alleviate some of those concerns. Mike Schmitz of DraftExpress.com did a very deep dive into Jackson’s growing draft stock, most of which is due to Jackson’s development of an absolutely lethal jumper. Whether it’s off the bounce, catch-and-shoot, or spot-ups, Jackson has been a true sniper this year for the Heels. Of course you also have to take a look at the other side of the ball, and well, it’s not bad. Not great either, but it’s a start:
Defensively, Jackson has the length but lacks the strength to be a consistent defender. He’s also not the most explosive athlete, but a solid BBIQ and anticipatory instincts allow him to be in position more often than not. If you’re looking for a comparable player in the NBA, it’s Allen Crabbe. If the Blazers do end up parting with their best pure shooter leading up to the draft, Jackson is basically the round peg for that round hole.
Tom Izzo has done pretty well over the years—a couple of NCAA Tournament Championships, and plenty of NBA Draft picks with bountiful careers. The most recent Spartan to find success in the NBA, Draymond Green, is a lot like the next guy on our list: Miles Bridges. While they’re nothing alike in terms of play style, it’s the perception that stands out. Bridges is an explosive and powerful athlete. In fact, he’s so capable physically that he actually stands out in a field of explosive and powerful athletes. While in college that’s usually enough to make you successful, it’s a different story in the Association.
Bridges is currently a 3/4 hybrid for Coach Izzo, but he only measured 6-foot-6 inches at USA Basketball this past year, with a sub-standard 6-foot-6-inch wingspan. That’s an NBA two-guard, not a power forward. The problem here is that Bridges’ game resembles that of a face-up four. If you’re looking for a reason to tune in, here’s the best I can offer: NBADraft.net lists Jerome Kersey as his NBA comparison. If that’s even remotely true, you know you don’t want to miss out.
The next installments of the Blazer’s Edge March Madness Draft Guide will cover the remaining teams in the tournament (the other two brackets) as well as taking a look at the long list of international prospects with whom the Blazers have been linked.
Got a favorite player you want to see broken down here? Who do you think the Blazers should be watching during the tournament? Let us know below in the comments section and we’ll work them into future breakdowns!