The Trail Blazers’ 50-year anniversary season is temporarily on pause as the NBA goes on hiatus to slow the spread of COVID-19. During that break, Blazer’s Edge is counting down the top 100 Blazers: players, executives, and other influencers who made the franchise what it is today.
No. 68 | Drazen Petrovic
Games Played with Blazers: 95 Regular Season, 20 Postseason
*PTS: 7.0 | AST: 1.4 | FG%: 48.0 | 3PT%: 43.8
*Statistics are pulled from a player’s time in Portland
Joined Club: September 1989, after being drafted 60th overall in the 1986 NBA Draft
Departed Club: January 1991, traded in a multi-team, multi-player-and-pick deal to the New Jersey Nets for Phoenix Suns guard Walter Davis
Place in History: Drazen Petrovic’s place in history doesn’t belong to the Portland Trail Blazers alone. It starts in his native Croatia, and throughout Eastern Europe, where he is still considered THE pioneering inspiration for professional basketball. It took a brief hop to Portland before blossoming in New Jersey, where Petrovic established himself as a 20-PPG scorer and made the All-NBA third team in 1993.
But oh, that stop in between. I’ve shared anecdotal stories of watching Petrovic play before. I once sat directly behind him as he warmed up. Shot after shot from three-point range, the ball never deviated. I’m not talking about not missing. The arc never changed. The ball didn’t drift a single millimeter left or right. This guy honed his craft to a point so sharp you could split atoms with it. He needed no time and almost no space to get off the prettiest shot you’ve ever seen from almost anywhere on the court.
Enthusiasm was the other thing that typified Petrovic’s game. He entered the NBA outmatched physically, having to read and time the court in a different way. He wasn’t always successful. Whatever he tried, though, he did it with enthusiasm. I’ll never forget Steve Jones analyzing the effort on a particular play where Drazen has lost his place in the defensive scheme entirely. Most players would stop dead in their tracks and assess. Petrovic simply followed the ball wherever it went. If he couldn’t figure out who he was going to defend, he was going to defend everybody. It looked like an NBA2K AI glitch. Jones said something to the effect of, “Drazen can’t figure out what he’s supposed to do so he’s just chasing.” You could hear the head shake a mile away, but Petrovic didn’t stop.
Petrovic came onto a roster that had no room for him. Clyde Drexler was not getting displaced. Terry Porter and Danny Ainge both had priority. The team wasn’t looking to develop less-experienced players, or even their next star. They had the stars. They were shooting for the NBA Finals. In that atmosphere, Drazen didn’t have a chance.
One can even forgive Portland for trading Petrovic for veteran Walter Davis. The former superstar was on his last legs, but they hoped he would solidify the deep rotation and maybe provide a spark somewhere in the playoffs. Instead he provided less than Petrovic had while shooting worse (don’t even ask about the defense). Nonetheless, at the time, the move made sense. Petrovic had as much patience with riding the pines as the Blazers had for his learning curve. He wanted out.
Even if it was understandable at the time, the move hurt. Watching Petrovic blossom in New Jersey was bittersweet. It was impossible not to root for him. It was hard to think that the Blazers had that much offensive talent and just gave it away.
Trading Petrovic qualifies as one of the big “take it back” moves in franchise history. Researching this piece, I was all prepared to tell the story of how his Portland days didn’t amount to much. Then again, you look at his Blazers stats and say, “they traded away a guard shooting 48% from the field and 44% from the arc!?!” Dude averaged 21+ points per 36 minutes from the moment he stepped into the league. Even when he was bad, he was good.
Petrovic’s untimely death in 1993 adds profound sadness to his story. His game was so full of life; it’s hard to imagine it ending so soon. But his presence on this list is not a eulogy. Look at his stats, listen to how people talk about him, and watch the video below. See how he moves and shoots. Compare him to offensive powerhouses Kiki Vandeweghe or Geoff Petrie or any of a dozen free-flowing, smaller guards today...even Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Every line of his body, every motion of his feet and hands shouts out that he knows what he’s doing. This remained true from his comparatively raw days in Europe to highlights faking out Hakeem Olajuwon and Michael Jordan. Petrovic was a player, and even on his 100 games in Portland alone, more than worthy of the 68th spot on the Blazers Top 100 list.
Share your memories of Drazen Petrovic below, and stick with us as we continue the countdown to #1!