The 2017 NBA Draft is just a few weeks away and plenty of Portland Trail Blazers fans have questions about the strategy when trying to flip three picks into players. That’s the subject of today’s Blazer’s Edge Mailbag.
It’s early but what would you do with 3 picks in the draft? Do you use all of them and hit on a player or 2-3 or do you trade them? I want your specific thoughts please. Players and moves are both fine with me. I just don’t know which ones I want most or can be done.
As you said, it’s early. We’re still running down thoughts and profiles on possible draftees on a daily basis. I don’t want to spoil upcoming ones so I’m going to limit myself (mostly) to players already discussed. Fortunately the plan I’d deem best doesn’t take much more than that. Just remember the caveat that names could change over the next few weeks.
The Blazers need to hit with a draft pick this year. They have to restock the cupboard with young, reasonably-priced talent because short of a championship, there’s no way they can keep this roster together long-term. It’s far too expensive and the prospects for improvement are dicey.
It’s hard to dump salary while “winning” deals in the conventional sense. The Blazers may need to take a loss on the talent scale this summer, trading away longer-term contracts for shorter-term veterans and/or inexpensive prospects. Drafting a solid contributor making rookie-scale money is the best way to compensate for that. Who cares if you lose an overpaid lead actor if the understudy is already in the wings?
That said, the chances of the Blazers hitting on all of their picks are small. This isn’t 2012 when the Blazers parlayed #6 and #11 into Damian Lillard and Meyers Leonard. All three of Portland’s selections combined wouldn’t get them to #6 in this draft. Stuck in the mid- to lower-end, they can’t reasonably expect a starter, let alone a roster-transforming player, let alone three. The main advantage of having multiple picks is that they get to try multiple times. They’ll be doing well if one cracks the rotation.
Were I the Blazers, I’d trust that scouting staff prowess and front office instinct would help me go 1 for 1 in this draft instead of 1 for 3. The earliest pick, #15, is clearly the most significant. If I could package it with another pick to move up and reach a guy I coveted, that’d be a no-brainer. Failing that, I’d select at 15. Either way, I’d attempt to use whatever selections remained as leverage to entice teams to take bloated salaries off my roster. It’s not like the Blazers could rock the world with the added picks, but if a team were interested in Meyers Leonard, Moe Harkless, or Evan Turner to begin with, throwing in those sweeteners to get the deal done—or get a more favorable return—wouldn’t hurt that much.
The usual objection to this suggestion is, “Rookie-Scale deals are the most economical way to carry talent”. That’s absolutely true in the aggregate, but the Blazers are in a peculiar position. First-round picks usually replace starters or mid-range bench players, making their salary a total bargain. If nothing changes, the Blazers will have exactly three slots in which to place their new draftees: those of the 13th-15th men on the roster. In those slots, rookie-scale value isn’t as grand. The money isn’t that different but the contracts are guaranteed, not flexible like normal bottom-roster deals. If they simply slot rookies into Tim Quarterman’s and Pat Connaugton’s positions the Blazers will pay more than most teams for their top starters, more than almost any team for their mid-roster players, and eventually more than anybody for their roster ballast as well...every dollar inescapable. Factor in luxury-tax penalties ballooning salaries to 3-4 times their normal cost and the Blazers will end up dishing out mid-level-exception money for players who won’t even dress. Right now the only way “economical” gets anywhere near the Trail Blazers roster is if they dump players. If they have to pass up the crap shoot at #20 and #26 to make that happen, it should be an easy call.
With that 15th pick, I’d lean toward a forward. That’s the position most available at the middle of the draft and it’s an area in which the Blazers could improve. (Plus there are a couple non-forward players at the mid-level of this year’s draft that scare me.) I’d hope that OJ Anunoby or Justin Jackson fall to the Blazers, scoop one of them up, and call it good. I could live with a rookie small forward as a backup, trading away one of the more expensive players in front of them to make room for them to play.
Those are my thoughts. Feel free to add your own strategic thoughts (and/or uses for the 15th pick if you accept my scenario) below and keep those Mailbag questions coming to email@example.com!