For the last two weeks, the Portland Trail Blazers have employed a flurry of trades, signings, and draft picks to rebuild their roster in preparation for the 2022-23 NBA season. If you haven’t been paying careful attention you could be forgiven for missing out on some of the details. Even if you have, it’s time to take a deep breath, recap, and reset.
Over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, we’re going to break down Portland’s moves so far this summer, examining each in detail, bringing you up to date and teasing out the significance of each transaction.
In this article, we’re looking at a couple of semi-surprising pick-ups, draftees Shaedon Sharpe and Jabari Walker from the 2022 NBA Draft.
The Transaction: Blazers draft high-school graduate and Kentucky roster-orbiter Shaedon Sharpe with the 7th overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, then select Colorado Buffaloes forward Jabari Walker with the 57th overall pick.
What it Cost: Those two draft picks. Portland owned each heading into the draft.
NBA Reaction: All over the board on Sharpe, depending on preexisting opinions of him. Some wonder if he’s the next incarnation of the superstar shooting guard, a callback to the 1990’s and 2000’s. Others think the hype is overstated.
Nobody reacted too much to drafting Walker, although Blazer’s Edge staff insiders tab it as a good pick.
The Stats: None evident yet.
What Portland Gained
Sharpe’s potential lies in the eye of the beholder. We know he’s athletic and might become an offensive powerhouse. He’s not played against NBA competition, or anything close. He is, in essence, a high school draftee. Where will he fall on the Jermaine O’Neal—Travis Outlaw—Kwame Brown scale? Portland may have gained a future All-Star. They may also have signed up for a long, frustrating learning curve with a nebulous end.
Sharpe will have a couple advantages with the Blazers. They just did something similar with Anfernee Simons. He’s developed quite nicely. Simons, and to a lesser extend Damian Lillard, provide as good a template for a scoring guard as could be wished. Their talent also gives Sharpe time to develop. It’s not like he has to save the franchise, at least not right now.
Keep in mind also that 7th picks are, by nature, speculative. You expect a contributing player when selecting at that level, but there’s no guarantee at what juncture—or in what capacity—it will happen. It’s not unheard of for 7th picks to melt into obscurity. If the Blazers believe Sharpe has a solid chance at stardom, they actually used a fairly reasonable asset to pick him up.
The question at hand isn’t whether the 7th pick could have been used to get a player from the 2022 Draft Class better than Sharpe, it’s whether the pick could have netted the Blazers more in trade, given the NBA economy and their current needs. Take away the potential trade implications, and few people would argue with selecting Sharpe, even if it’s a reach.
The Blazers made a bit of a swerve with the Sharpe pick. Most analysts were expecting them to use that asset to follow up on their summer commitment to get veteran help for Lillard, expressed via other acquisitions.
They weren’t going to give up that opportunity for just any player. One gets the feeling they had Sharpe targeted if he was still available at the 7th spot. Evidently, in their assessment, his future potential outweighs any help they reasonably could have gotten with that pick in trade. Since speculative names included OG Anunoby (with another player going to Toronto from Portland) and John Collins, we can infer that the Blazers think highly of Sharpe.
All teams selecting 7th in the draft think highly of the players they select, though. That does not ensure Sharpe will pan out.
Sharpe is slated to play a position that’s occupied by Simons and Josh Hart ahead of him, with Keon Johnson alongside. Shooting guard is the most crowded post on the roster. The story’s not better if he slides to small forward. First of all, can he defend that position? Second, can he defend it better than Hart, Nassir Little, and newly-acquired Gary Payton II?
There’s more to this story than meets the eye. The Blazers have not given any indication that they’re looking to trade anyone around or ahead of Sharpe in the rotation. That may mean that they anticipate him taking a couple of years to develop. That’s fine...expected, even. But it also qualifies this as a move for the future more than the present.
The Blazers are smart to keep their talent pipeline flowing. It’s one of the aspects that stalled under former President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey. The danger is, they spend a couple years developing Sharpe, then figure out that he’s not all that, and they’re left where they started, just two years on. Another danger: Sharpe IS all that, but can’t develop due to the lack of minutes and shots in front of him as Portland’s priorities are fixed on winning now rather than building the next iteration.
If Sharpe is as good as his advocates hope, he may be able to turn the franchise around the corner whether they want to go or not. It’s not impossible to envision his star rising as Lillard’s sets, and the two working in tandem to become the Next Big Duo. Where that leaves Simons, Hart, and Johnson is anybody’s guess, but if the Blazers believe Sharpe can do it, they absolutely did the right thing in executing and keeping this pick.
Sharpe could also become part of the Next Generation with Simons and company if Lillard eventually moves on. In that way, he provides a temporal flexibility that a veteran acquisition couldn’t. That he does it on a rookie-scale contract should also free up financial maneuvering room that wouldn’t be present with Collins, Anunoby, or their ilk.
For those reasons, this was a sound move IF Sharpe pans out. If not, the Blazers will look back on this as a potentially wasted opportunity, especially if they get stuck in the first- or second-round of the playoffs as has been typical during most of Lillard’s tenure.
P.S. Selected 57th, Jabari Walker would not normally be considered a rotation player. If he makes the team and sees the floor, that’s plenty of justification for taking him. If not, there’s no harm.
Keeping a veteran for lots of reasons...but which apply?