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Blazers Land a High-Upside Prospect on a Quiet Draft Night

The Trail Blazers sat out of major trades and the first round on Thursday, but they did land two interesting frontcourt prospects before the night concluded.

NBA: NBA:Combine David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Trail Blazers landed two interesting frontcourt prospects on Thursday after entering the 2021 NBA Draft without a selection. In the second round, the Blazers reached a deal with the Pelicans in order to select Texas forward Greg Brown with the No. 43 pick. LSU forward Trendon Watford was added after the draft concluded via a two-way contract.

Brown’s Elite Athleticism

Brown, who was listed as the No. 9 recruit in the 2020 class, fits the mold of a high-upside selection that comes with considerable risk. For his strengths, Brown possesses several skills that cannot be taught. He boasts a 7-foot wingspan and his hands are some of the biggest in the entire class. That combination is at the center of his next-level finishing ability at the rim.

During his one-year run at Texas, Brown completed several highlight-worthy dunks. He can launch off either leg and his hand width allows him to maintain control for one-handed finishes. Brown supplements his flashy dunks with his nose for the ball on both ends of the floor. His rebounding and weakside shot blocking form a decent foundation for his potential moving forward.

Where the Work Begins

The areas that Brown must improve in come down to his decision making. In the grand scheme of things, those are fixable problems if he connects with the Blazers’ coaching staff.

Inside the arc, Brown routinely dribbled into trouble and doubled down on those decisions by failing to pass to open teammates. Brown’s lack of discretion with the ball is on full display in his per 40 assist and turnover averages. Last season, his per 40 average for assists was 0.7. His per 40 turnover average clocked in at 4.5. Brown’s overall totals are an eyesore. Brown logged 60 turnovers and just 10 assists with the Longhorns.

When it comes to his own offense, Brown has to eliminate contested shots and low-percentage midrange looks. His shooting form is far from textbook, but it is functional in catch-and-shoot situations. Brown attempted 3.5 three-pointers per game and connected on 33 percent of those looks.

Brown must avoid the Whiteside threshold on defense. He has excellent instincts when hunting for the ball, but opponents can exploit his willingness to abandon his defensive assignment. On both offense and defense, Brown had a tendency to lose track of the action when he didn’t have the ball. Those concerns eventually led to Brown falling out of the starting lineup for the final three games of last season. In three contests that spanned the Big 12 and NCAA tournaments, Brown logged a combined 25 minutes.

Eye on the Future

There was plenty of handwringing when the Blazers selection came in. Initially, it was tough to watch Joe Wieskamp and Isaiah Livers come off the board right before Brown. Kessler Edwards going to the Nets at No. 44 also stung. But the relationship between Brown and those three prospects will serve as an interesting measuring stick moving forward. Brown has arguably the best physical upside of any of those selections. He is also the least polished of that quartet.

The flaws in Brown’s game are correctable. Second round picks, even under the Blazers’ successful development pipeline, take time. Brown is a fine pick if you can isolate it from the other issues that the Blazers are navigating this summer.

Thursday was another fork in the road where the Blazers again decided to hold off on a roster-altering trade. The frustration from that decision, in my opinion, is a separate discussion from Brown’s fit as a prospect. Brown is a big swing worth taking. That said, he was the third Texas frontcourt player on my pre-draft board.

Using the Two-Way Slot

The Blazers’ immediate use of their two-way contract slot is encouraging. Watford is a jack of all trades and he has noteworthy upside on the offensive end. This is a situation where the Blazers, once again, are at a disadvantage due to their lack of a G League affiliate. Watford is an ideal candidate to develop in the G League. If the Blazers had their own squad, they could introduce Watford to coach Chauncey Billups’ scheme in a lower-stakes arena. The Blazers now have to gamble on a random assignment to another organization’s affiliate if Watford is sent down.