Thanks to the Portland Trail Blazers’ preseason game against Israeli club Maccabi Ra’anana, the world finally has updated footage of Shaedon Sharpe playing basketball. There was a lot to enjoy about the rookie’s performance. The 19-year-old came off the bench, scoring 27 points in 23 minutes to lead the Blazers to a 138-85 victory.
Sharpe also had help from friends, with Keon Johnson, Olivier Sarr, Brandon Williams, Jabari Walker and an ejected Greg Brown III, contributing to the monster win,
With Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons, Josh Hart, Justise Winslow and Jusuf Nurkic resting, Coach Chauncey started Brandon Williams, Johnson, Nassir Little, Trendon Watford and Drew Eubanks. That was a pretty inexperienced cohort going up against a Maccabi team carrying former NBA talent in Briante Weber, Norris Cole, Terence Jones and Sindarius Thornwell.
The Blazers edged out to an early lead before Sharpe entered the contest with 3 minutes and 56 seconds remaining in the first quarter. It didn’t take him long to get going, making eye-opening defensive plays and hitting an early three, intertwined with effortless slashes to the rim and honestly looking like he was travelling at half speed. The second quarter continued in the same fashion despite the Israeli club mounting a couple of offensive pushes. The third quarter was highlighted by consecutive Johnson three pointers, which seemed to kickstart the routing that continued for the rest game, marred only by Brown’s ejection after being handed two technical fouls.
Before I start waxing lyrical about Sharpe, I’ll plant my “the competition wasn’t much to deal with” disclaimer. Having said that, when it comes to innate ability and feel for the game, it’s rare to see so much of it in a 19-year-old who already has the physical tools. Yes, he does need to tighten that dribble, but that two-way ability and athleticism is special. You just hope it translates to NBA competition sooner than later. The young Canadian looked unafraid, holding the demeanor of veteran who knows every nook and cranny on a basketball court.
Johnson continues to impress with his improved ballhandling, defense and shooting. He initiated a delightful alley oop to Sharpe late in the game, defining the impact the pair had on the game. The 20-year-old is going to get minutes in that busy guard rotation and it may not be at the expense of an injured teammate. Billups might have to just get him on the court.
This writer’s prediction has consistently been that Olivier Sarr will get that second two-way spot and tonight proved why. He was imposing on defense, swatting four shots, making plays and in a couple of spots putting the ball on the floor. While he didn’t land a three this evening, Sarr has the ability to do so and with the lack of big men on the roster, Sarr is clearly the Blazers’ big athletic French seven footer, though sadly he’s not named Wembenyama.
Williams was better tonight after struggling through the first couple of preseason outings, making smart plays and hitting shots when he was open. Despite an early three and an impressive finish over two Ra’ananas in the first, it was an alright night for Little who played just 18 minutes.
Watford made his first appearance for the preseason, executing his trademark floaters and smart heady play, while Walker rarely putting a foot wrong.
The final quarter saw the remaining training camp invitees, outside Sarr and Jared Rhoden who got decent burn through the encounter, get their chance to play. This was the best chance for Devontae Cacock, Isaiah Miller and NBA veteran Wes Iwundu to prove themselves before General Manager Joe Cronin makes his final roster decisions before opening night.
The Blazers head south to northern California to take on the Sacramento Kings on Sunday.