The Trail Blazers are returning home to the Moda Center in an 0-2 hole in the Western Conference Finals. While Portland’s focus is firmly on advancing past Golden State to earn a trip to the NBA Finals, that shouldn’t detract from the intriguing crop of incoming prospects that are currently participating in the NBA Combine this week. Regardless of how this postseason finishes, the Blazers will face several hurdles when it comes to re-tooling their roster for the 2019-20 regular season.
In a brief pause from the playoff action currently underway, here is a look at three incoming prospects that align with the Blazers’ draft position and competitive arc.
Stephen Curry’s impressive start to the Western Conference Finals has placed the Blazers’ perimeter defense under the microscope. Portland’s best wing defenders come in the form of Al-Farouq Aminu and Maurice Harkless. Given Aminu’s contract situation, Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey could easily look to the 2019 NBA Draft to add a lock-down defender.
When it comes to perimeter defense, it is tough to find a better prospect than Washington’s Matisse Thybulle. The 6-foot-5 wing dominated the Pac-12 with his ball-hawking defense and his 7-foot wingspan paints a pretty picture for his versatility in the NBA. Thybulle averaged 3.5 steals per game in his final year with the Huskies—earning him Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year honors.
Given Thybulle’s age (22) and experience (four-year starter), it is easy to project him as a ready-made role player. He will need time to transition back to playing inside a traditional defense after thriving in Washington’s zone scheme, but his instincts on the perimeter are tough to deny.
If he is on the board when the Blazers’ select at No. 25, Olshey would be wise to invest in Thybulle’s defensive acumen.
Highlight Worthy: Thybulle can generate offense quickly by forcing turnovers. Here are two excellent examples (via Pac-12 Networks).
Blue Collar Floor Spacing
Both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have dealt with increased pressure caused by the lack of shooting that surrounds them. Perimeter players who shoot at a high level are hard to come by, but North Carolina’s Cameron Johnson could slip to the Blazers on draft night.
At 23 years old, Johnson will be one of the oldest players selected in the 2019 NBA Draft. Regardless of his potentially-limited upside, the former Tar Heels standout has shown he can convert three-point attempts at a high rate. Last season, Johnson recorded a 45.7 three-point percentage on 5.8 attempts per game.
Johnson still has to prove himself on the defensive end, but his ability to space the floor could alleviate pressure for the Blazers as early as next season.
Highlight Worthy: Johnson had his catch-and-shoot game rolling in a 22-point outburst against the Hurricanes earlier this year (via Frankie Vision).
Reliable Post Play
The Blazers already have promising youngster Zach Collins in the fold, but adding a versatile offensive threat on draft night could be a direction the Blazers explore. Tennessee’s Grant Williams possesses the experience (three-year starter) and upside to garner interest from teams selecting outside of the lottery. Williams has a soft touch on his jumper for a big man and he can score out of the post. Along with his own shot, he has proven he can generate points for others with his court vision.
In his final year with the Volunteers, Williams produced 18.8 points and 3.2 assists per game. He has yet to expand his shooting range to the three-point line, but his form provides a foundation for his future. Even without an outside game, Williams’ decision making could bolster the Blazers’ frontline as Jusuf Nurkic recovers from injury.
Williams stands at 6’7”, which could chase away suitors that are selecting before the Blazers. Don’t let his lack of height deter you, he has the motor to make up for it.
Highlight Worthy: Williams put on a show in Tennessee’s run to the Sweet 16. During the NCAA Tournament, Williams proved he can defend in space and find open teammates on offense (via NCAA March Madness).