With the Portland Trail Blazers proud owners of three picks in the lower half of the 2017 NBA draft, they’ll face a number of tantalizing decisions next month. Along with those options will come challenges. Draft picks are the clearest, cheapest road to growth in the league. They’re also easy to mess up, especially as the talent pool thins. This is the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
What are the best ways to make good on the picks [Neil] Olshey has accumulated? What problems do you see besides obviously they’re not lottery picks?
Thanks, Em. We’ll throw this open to our super-smart readers, but first I’ll share the biggest opening and biggest challenge I see.
A Great Opportunity
Drafting is all about scarcity and need. Obviously the scarcest commodities in the league are franchise-transforming superstars. Most of those go high in the draft and those that don’t are, by definition, tricky to identify from the front. Teams hit on them later in the draft, sure, but not the same teams consistently. The Blazers can’t reasonably be expected to target that kind of player with the picks they hold. That mission statement belongs to the Celtics, Lakers, and Sixers.
Outside of superstars, position becomes the next source of definition. In today’s league guards are at a premium, particularly point-producing lead guards and three-point shooters. Talented seven-footers will always be coveted because they’re rare. If you need either of those types of players, you’ll be competing with multiple teams for them. That makes lower picks correspondingly less valuable.
The Blazers already have their high-scoring lead guards twice over. They now have a big man as well. They wouldn’t pass on bolstering those positions; taking the best player available is always the smart move. But Portland’s positions of need are power forward, small forward, and back-up center. With less competition for players at those positions, the Blazers will likely see a better pool of candidates at their draft levels than they would if they needed a point guard. If things fall right, the Blazers have a legitimate chance of drafting someone who could help not just on paper, but producing wins and providing depth.
A While to Develop
The caution is that player development might take a while. This is true every year of all but cream-of-the-crop draftees, but it’s particularly true this season. Of the 30 players projected in the first round of the DraftExpress Mock Draft, 16 are college freshmen and 8 are sophomores. Exactly one junior—UNC’s Justin Jackson—makes the cut. No seniors are projected in the first round at this point. Five international players are forecast as first-round selections. Four of those come after Pick #20 and only one of them is over 20 years of age. This will be the youngest, least experienced draft class in league history. The “ready to play” label will surely be slapped on some selections, but analysts may be grading on a curve instead of in absolutes. The top third of the class will shrug it off and get to work. Teams may have to be patient with the remainder, which would include all three of Portland’s choices.
There’s no challenge inherent in drafting young if the Blazers plan to stay the course. They barely have room on the roster to fit incoming rookies right now, let alone play them. Chances are Portland want to break out of their 41-41 rut instead, which will mean trades and high expectations next season, not years down the road. “Immediate expectations” and “lower-level freshmen prospects” may not go hand in hand.
What say you, Blazer’s Edge Readers? Help out Em with a discussion of the biggest opportunities and pitfalls you see in using an arsenal of lower-level picks. And keep those Mailbag questions coming to email@example.com!