The NBA Draft is just two days away and the Trail Blazers are positioned to add two new players in the process. Prior to Portland hitting the clock, Blazer’s Edge editor Steve Dewald reached out to Babcock Hoops founder Matt Babcock to cover a handful of topics prior to draft night.
Babock worked as a NBA agent prior to founding Babcock Hoops. He stands out as one of the most well-connected analysts and he has an eye for incoming talent.
Matt: The Blazers’ most obvious need is on the wing, as Trevor Ariza is getting older and is on a relatively expensive non-guaranteed contract. It’s also still unclear if Nassir Little is going to develop into a starting caliber player on a decent team. In our latest mock draft Saddiq Bey was the best wing available. However, I’m not certain he will be available come draft night, but I would expect for him to be considered if he is still on the board.
Steve: Let’s say Bey and the other forwards in the late-lottery range are off the board at No. 16. In that scenario, which prospect offers the most upside at that draft slot?
Matt: R.J. Hampton is among the several players with significant upside that could be available at that point. Hampton is a super athletic combo-guard from Texas who played for the New Zealand Breakers this past season. Outside of Hampton, Jaden McDaniels is a long, lanky uber-talented small forward from Washington, and Aleksej Pokusevski is an extremely skilled, 7-foot Serbian-born prospect who’s been playing Greece.
Steve: RJ Hampton is a name Blazers’ fans keep seeing in mock drafts. He is billed as a high-ceiling player that is poised to outperform his draft position. Are you as bullish on his upside as other draft experts?
Matt: There is no doubt that Hampton has star potential. At 6’5”, well, maybe 6’5”, he possesses extreme athleticism and speed, traits you just can’t teach. He needs to add strength, improve his outside shooting, and become more consistent. If he’s able to do those things, watch out!
Steve: Switching gears slightly, is there a player currently projected to land in the late lottery that the Blazers should avoid?
Matt: Unless the Blazers look to do a total overhaul of their roster, which I doubt, I don’t think it would make much sense to add another guard such as Tyrese Haliburton, Kira Lewis, Jr., Killian Hayes, or even Hampton. They have a lot of money committed to Lillard and McCollum, as they should. Also considering the emergence of Trent Jr. in the bubble and the promise that Simons has shown at such a young age should have the Blazers’ feeling confident with their backcourt moving forward.
Steve: In regards to the Blazers’ second-round pick, one name that keeps getting mentioned is Jay Scrubb. As someone who has had a chance to see Scrubb up close on a few occasions, can you give fans in Portland the elevator pitch on his NBA upside?
Matt: I’ve gotten to know Scrubb very well on and off the court. On the court, he simply has a boat load of raw talent. He’s a 6’6” lefty that can play the two or three. He shoots the ball well from all over the court, puts in on the floor, he’s a natural passer, and he is such a smooth athlete that can finish well above the rim. Off the court, I think he’s a great kid. He has a great personality and is very likable. Like most young players, he certainly needs to get stronger and needs to increase his basketball IQ. He simply just needs time and nurturing to develop properly. I doubt he’ll be there for Portland at No. 46, but if he is, that would be a terrific pick, as he’s the type of player we could look back in a few years and say, “wow, I can’t believe he slipped that far.”
Steve: Like you just mentioned, Scrubb could be off the board long before the Blazers selection at No. 46. If that is the case, can you give us a couple of sleeper prospects that you like in that range?
Matt: I don’t know if all of these players are necessarily good fits for Portland specifically, but a few guys that come to mind in regards to being likely second round picks that I’m high on would be Isaiah Joe from Arkansas, who did not have a great year but is an exceptional shooter and just knows how to play, Naji Marshall from Xavier who has great size and versatility as a small forward and is extremely tough, and Jalen Harris, a tough, killer instinct scoring combo guard from Nevada, who recently recorded a 42.5 inch max vert at his combine.