The Portland Trail Blazers have a big summer ahead of them — yes, I know I say this every week.
And while the Blazers may have opportunities in free agency — discussed last week — the trade table will be the most effective way to dramatically improve this roster thanks to the young assets, draft picks and trade exceptions recently amassed by General Manager Joe Cronin.
Ogugua “OG” Anunoby was selected by the Toronto Raptors with the 23rd pick in 2017. You remember that night? The evening former Blazers executive Neil Olshey dealt the 15th and 20th picks to the Sacramento Kings for the 10th pick and the rights to Zach Collins, who now plays for the San Antonio Spurs. Sigh.
It was also the last time the Blazers had a chance to grab lottery-level talent, however passed on Donovan Mitchell, Bam Adebayo, John Collins, Jarrett Allen, Anunoby, Kyle Kuzma and Dillon Brooks.
Fast-forward five years and Portland is back in the lottery. With the seventh pick, they can pick a high upside talent. They can also use the pick to trade for a young, but known quantity, able to fast-track the team’s climb back up the standings.
Last week Bleacher Report’s Jake Fischer confirmed reports of Portland’s interest in the British-born wing.
The Trail Blazers remain widely expected to pursue trade scenarios with the No. 7 pick in order to add a complementary veteran alongside All-NBA guard Damian Lillard, and Anunoby is believed to be one of their primary targets along with Jerami Grant.
We later heard on Fischer’s Please Don’t Aggregate This podcast that the Blazers are reportedly the most active in pursuing Anunoby. The scuttlebutt is that Anunoby might be dissatisfied with his role in the Toronto pecking order following the arrival of Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes, who just so happens to play the same position.
“Regardless of whether the Raptors have been interested in moving him or what have you, Portland has been repeatedly characterized to me as the team that is very much trying to go make inroads to add OG Anunoby through their trade exception to go pair him with Damian Lillard.”
But why should Portland consider Anunoby?
Firstly, the 24-year-old is on one of the league’s most team-friendly deals, taking home roughly $18 million a year over the next three seasons, with the final year including a player option. He’s a solid two-way player, with size and length, able to compete on both sides of the ball.
But if you’ll allow me some hyperbole. At 6’7 with a 7’2 wingspan, Anunoby is everything the Blazers have needed at the small forward position since Nicolas Batum was shipped off to the Charlotte Hornets in 2015. Honestly, aside from Batum’s playmaking ability, Anunoby is the superior player when comparing them in their respective primes. And Anunoby's real prime is still arguably a few years off.
The former Hoosier could actually be one of the best defensive wings in the league, able to expertly guard positions one through four. He’s also capable of holding his own against some centers thanks to his natural defensive instincts.
And as for the other side of the ball, Blazers fans only need look at Toronto’s visit to Portland earlier this season. Anunoby hit 60 percent of his threes (six of 10), recording 29 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals.
Throughout the season, he averaged 14.5 shots, 17.1 points on 36 percent three point shooting, 5.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.5 steals and 20.5 percent usage. Battling for touches against Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, Barnes and our old friend Gary Trent Jr.
If he was to hypothetically land in Portland, there’s nothing to say Anunoby wouldn’t be able to enjoy a surge in shots and touches in Chauncey Billups' system.
Anunoby also fits this roster as he doesn’t necessarily need to have the ball in his hand, complementing Lillard and Simons on offense while covering up for their deficiencies on defense.
How does it get done?
If Anunoby is on the table, the Blazers should feel comfortable parting with the seventh pick in the upcoming draft. On the other side, Anunoby’s $17.3 contract fits nicely into Portland’s $20 million trade exception, helping Raptors President of Basketball Operations Masai Ujiri clear space while potentially improving his roster by adding a lottery-level talent at a position of need, namely, center.
But it’s likely the Raptors are going to want more and they’re probably entitled to it. So let’s say the Blazers throw in this year’s relatively attractive second round pick (36th) as well as sophomore guard Keon Johnson to sweeten the deal. Toronto may also ask for Nassir Little, but that may be a bridge too far.
The seventh pick, the 36th pick and Keon Johnson for Anunoby is fair for both sides. Conveniently, the deal can be done on draft night with all players contracted next year, removing any complications related to sign and trades post July 1.
We have no idea whether Anunoby is available. But Fischer is clearly hearing multiple whispers that Cronin is, at the very least, asking questions about Anunoby.
For the past five years this team has fielded two undersized, offensively-minded guards, a big man with the “theoretical” tools to be impactful on both sides of the ball, and, insert limited small and power forwards here.
I’m not trying to downplay the contributions of Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, Carmelo Anthony, Robert Covington, Norman Powell, but they were either limited, one-dimensional or not physically able to play the role they were asked to.
OG Anunoby is a young but established small forward who is able to contribute at an above average level on both sides of the ball. He’s not getting in Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons’ way by wanting the ball in his hands and provides a serious defensive weapon for a team that has been dismal, at best, in recent seasons.
Obviously, it would have been easier if Olshey had just picked him five years ago but we can’t live in the past. Give the Raptors the seventh pick, Keon Johnson and that high second round pick too. Just get it done.