This Tuesday’s draft lottery is almost certain to become the first sentence in the next chapter of the Portland Trail Blazers story. The Oregon franchise has the sixth-best odds, a 9% chance, at the number one pick. They have a 37.2% chance of moving up into the top four. Conversely, they have an 8.6% chance of finishing sixth, 29.8% at seventh, 20.5% at the eighth, and a 3.8% chance of finishing 9th or 10th. Their final position won’t be known until Tuesday evening, but that doesn’t stop us from talking about it.
For the purposes of this piece, I’ve divided the Blazers’ fortunes into four categories. Landing picks one, two or three is what we’re all hoping for. That would open up all types of possibilities. The second tier is just pick four, delivering the Blazers a chance at a franchise-changing player but with less immediate hope of solving existing roster balance issues. The third tier combines the sixth and seventh picks while the fourth level takes in selections eight through ten.
As has been discussed, there are four standout players at the top of this draft; big men Jabari Smith Jr., Chet Holmgren, Paola Banchero and guard Jaden Ivey. But with Portland already set at guard with Damian Lillard and likely Anfernee Simons, Ivey becomes less of prize.
Between six and ten, it’s anyone’s guess who’s still on the board, however still interesting prospects include Keegan Murray, Shaedon Sharpe, Jeremy Sochan, Benedict Mathurin, AJ Griffin, Tari Eason and Australian Dyson Daniels.
Having said that, we all know that owning a high draft pick doesn't necessarily result in the pick being retained. High-level trades are always an option. If the Blazers land a top-four pick, we could be speculating about deals for Jaylen Brown, Jimmy Butler, Anthony Davis or, perhaps, just maybe, Zion Williamson. Conversely, if the Blazers drop to picks six through ten, they’re probably looking at the likes of OG Anunoby and John Collins...players who would no doubt improve the roster but not to the extent of those mentioned above.
For now, we’re going to assume the Blazers are still able to deal with the Detroit Pistons for Jerami Grant this summer — despite missing out on this year’s New Orleans Pelicans pick. In this hypothetical trade, Portland sends out the Milwaukee Bucks first rounder, it’s 2022 second round pick (36) and Keon Johnson.
Let’s also assume the Blazers bring back restricted free agent Simons and unrestricted free agent Jusuf Nurkic this summer.
The Standard Plan
General Manager Joe Cronin has outwardly, and frequently, said this team is still being built around Damian Lillard. For those who were still unconvinced, the fact that Lillard will be in Chicago as Portland’s representative at Tuesday’s lottery should be enough.
When asked about his intentions for the pick at his post-season exit interview, Cronin said:
“The preference is to maximize that pick however we do that,” Cronin said.
In order to deliver on the above, Portland needs players able to contribute as soon as possible. While the top of the draft is filled with talent, there might only be a handful of names that’ll be able to help Cronin and Lillard achieve this goal.
Jabari Smith Jr. and Paolo Banchero are the two names that will probably be able to contribute straight away. Holmgren oozes talent but not sure he’s putting it all together in 2022-23, Ivey, too, may need time to acclimate to the NBA level.
The mid-lottery names may still be able to contribute but nowhere near the level of the respective big men from Auburn and Duke. So let’s play some of this out (this is my vision and in no way based on rumor or any other knowledge).
First tier - Use the pick
Let’s say Portland scores the second pick and for argument’s sake, snags Smith Jr. (after the top team takes Holmgren). I’m not going to lie, Smith Jr. is the guy I want, someone who could help the Blazers straight away while offering ridiculously high upside. He would instantly be the best Portland power forward since LaMarcus Aldridge left and it’s not remotely close.
Trotting out a rotation of Lillard, Simons, Grant, Nurkic, Smith Jr., Nassir Little, Josh Hart and Justise Winslow with more room and assets for improvement, is a great start.
Disclaimer: in some of these lineups, you’ll notice Grant positioned as a small forward. He’s a power forward but there may be nights where the current Piston will be able to guard threes.
Possible starting lineup: Lillard, Simons, Grant, Smith Jr., Nurkic
First tier - Trade the pick
If the Utah Jazz decide to re-start and Donovan Mitchell goes to Danny Ainge demanding a trade to the Miami Heat, options begin to open up for Portland. The Blazers would have the potential to facilitate a move. In this hypothetical scenario, Portland would send the number three pick and Eric Bledsoe to the Jazz, with Mitchell going to Miami and Butler landing in Portland, slotting nicely into that vacant starting small forward spot.
Possible starting lineup: Lillard, Simons, Butler, Grant, Nurkic
Second tier - Trade back
Let’s say Smith, Holmgren and Banchero are off the board with Portland picking fourth. Ivey is there but the Blazers feel they can bring in more talent at positions of need by trading down. Picking up the phone to Monte McNair at the Sacramento Kings, Cronin offers the fourth pick for Harrison Barnes and the seventh pick, where the Blazers can still grab a high-upside prospect, let’s go with AJ Griffin.
While no longer able to keep up with small forwards, Barnes has championship pedigree with ability on both sides of the ball at power forward.
Possible starting lineup: Lillard, Simons, Griffin, Grant, Nurkic (Barnes off the bench)
Second tier - Trade the pick
Brad Stevens calls up Cronin and explains that Jaylen Brown wants a change of scenery after the Boston Celtics were unceremoniously kicked out of the Eastern Conference Semifinals in seven games, courtesy of a Khris Middleton-less Milwaukee Bucks. He says Brown is keen to play with Damian Lillard and if the Blazers are willing to part with the fourth pick, Nassir Little and Eric Bledsoe, it’s a done deal.
Possible starting lineup: Lillard, Simons, Brown, Grant, Nurkic
Third tier - Use the pick
The Blazers decide there’s still value to be had with the seventh pick and, somehow Keegan Murray is still on the board. The Iowa forward is one of Cronin’s favorites and is snapped up, ready to make a difference to a Portland team in need of a young forward with two-way talent.
Possible starting lineup: Lillard, Simons, Murray, Grant, Nurkic
Third tier - Trade the pick
At pick seven the Blazers are at a crossroads. Cronin calls up Masai Ujiri and says the seventh pick is theirs if they’re willing to ship OG Anunoby to Portland, who at $17.3 million, fits nicely into the Blazers $20 million trade exception.
One of the many players the Blazers should have selected on draft night 2017, Anunoby gives Portland an elite defender, a point-of-attack stopper and legitimate offensive threat at the three. This might be more realistic than you might think with the frontcourt getting crowded in Canada, thanks to the stellar play of reigning Rookie of the Year Scotty Barnes Jr.
Possible starting lineup: Lillard, Simons, Anunoby, Grant and Nurkic.
Fourth tier - Use the pick
The Blazers secure the eighth pick, snagging my countryman Dyson Daniels who’s probably big enough to play the small forward position, offering versatility and upside on both ends.
Possible starting lineup: Lillard, Simons, Daniels, Grant and Nurkic.
Fourth tier - Trade the pick
Atlanta Hawks General Manager Travis Schlenk calls Cronin and asks if a deal involving Portland’s ninth pick and John Collins works. Cronin is already filling out the paperwork before the end of the conversation, adding Bledsoe’s name to make sure the money works. While Collins —another name that should have been taken by Portland in 2017 — isn’t the defensively minded power forward you’d hope for, it might still work alongside Grant and Nurkic.
Possible starting lineup: Lillard, Simons Grant, Collins, and Nurkic.
A lot hangs in the balance on Tuesday. Picking at the top will almost certainly secure game-changing talent. But every subsequent pick closes possibilities for a Portland franchise desperate to rebound up the standings following last season’s remarkable mini-tank.
Portland wants the top pick, not only giving them the chance to draft a difference-making talent but to also entice competitors willing to relinquish All Star level talent, able to help the Blazers win now.
I’m simultaneously nervous and excited for Tuesday — it’ll be Wednesday for me — because this really will decide would happens to this franchise over the next few years.
What About You?
Once again, here are the scenarios:
Six or Seventh
Eight Through Tenth
In each scenario you could use or trade the pick. What are your hopes for any or all? Comment below!