The Portland Trail Blazers took a swing in the 2022 NBA Draft. When Adam Silver announced Shaedon Sharpe as the franchise’s man with the seventh pick, some were pleased, some were confused, a few were disappointed while others had no idea what to think.
The mystery surrounding the 19-year-old wasn’t helped when he went down with injury within the first six minutes of Portland’s championship Summer League campaign. But casting all that aside, what if, Sharpe actually is all he is touted to be, perhaps even matching the hype in his first season? That’s right, we’re leaning optimistic at Blazer’s Edge today.
I know there are a lot of skeptics out there and that’s fine. You every right to have your doubts, but I’m giving Joe Cronin and Mike Schmitz the benefit of the doubt.
What we know about Shaedon Sharpe
- He’s a 6’6, 19-year-old athletic wing from London, Ontario, Canada.
- He went to Kentucky for one year but didn’t play.
- There are a couple of You Tube clips showing him compete against subpar competition.
- He was taken by the Portland Trail Blazers with the seventh pick in June.
- He played five minutes of summer league before suffering a left shoulder injury.
That’s pretty much it.
Well then why did the Blazers take him so high?
Well firstly, he worked out twice for the Blazers before the draft. You’d have to imagine that second visit wouldn’t have occurred if the front office wasn’t at least curious about his athletic profile and skillset.
Oh, and there’s also Schmitz. Widely recognized as one of the best talent evaluators in the business, Portland’s new Assistant General Manager was poached from ESPN by the Blazers before the draft. And while he technically didn’t start with Portland until after draft night, you’d have to imagine he communicated his unique knowledge on the prospect to Cronin.
Schmitz’ former ESPN colleague Jonathan Givony spoke of Sharpe earlier this year, before he elected to go up for the draft.
Sharpe is considered a potential top-five pick in the 2022 NBA draft thanks to his combination of prototypical frame with dynamic shot-making and explosive finishing ability, regularly coming up with highlight-reel-caliber dunks, blocks and putbacks.
The Blazers clearly had enough intel and confidence in Sharpe to take a chance, despite a laundry list of questions.
Will he play this season?
On Draft Night, Cronin fronted Portland's media scrum, telling Blazers fandom that Sharpe was ready to play this coming season.
This was obviously before he suffered the Summer League injury but from all reports, Sharpe should still be ready to go by training camp. However, with a logjam of experienced names at the two guard positions, a lean 6’6, 198lb Sharpe will probably have to find time at small forward behind Nassir Little. Camp and the preseason should reflect how ready the young Canadian is, but I’d venture a guess to suggest he gets around 10 minutes a night, at least through October and November.
Ultimately, there’s no way the Blazers would have invested such a valuable asset in Sharpe, if they didn’t at least see if he was up to an NBA level, as soon as possible.
What if he’s not good?
Ok, so we have to briefly trot down this path. But last season’s tank might not have been worth it if Sharpe is out the league by the end of his first contract. I don't care. There’s always a chance this happens and that’s the risk we’ve been pleading for this franchise to take for a decade. If he’s not an NBA player, I’m happy to move on and acknowledge the fact that they, at least, tried to raise the ceiling on a team left stale for far too long.
What if he’s really good?
This is the fun part.
Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting Sharpe is going to be the “Baby Kobe” coined by the Jacked Ramsays’ Brandon Sprague. But if he’s able to relatively quickly show innate ability on both sides of the ball, it raises some exciting possibilities about what this team could be from, say, the beginning of the 2023-24 season. In no way do I see him starting this season, but if he can slot in as Little’s primary back up, working seamlessly next to Josh Hart, Gary Payton II, Trendon Watford and Justise Winslow off the bench, the Blazers might actually have something.
If all goes to plan, you’d hope he’d be playing in the realm of 16 to 17 minutes a night come March and April, averaging at least 10 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists while offering stout, reliable defense.
What does this mean for the future make up of this team?
OK, so big picture. If Sharpe solidifies himself as a starting-level play (not necessarily a starter) by the end of season one, Cronin has options. Hear me out.
Let’s say Sharpe very quickly shows to be in the early stages of becoming the two-way backcourt partner we’ve been wanting to pair with Lillard since Wes Matthews tore his Achilles and left for Dallas.
I love Anfernee Simons and I’m excited to see what he’s able do this season with a bigger role and a lot more touches. But I, like many other basketball watchers, have my doubts about his defensive ceiling. I really hope he proves me wrong.
But if Simons enjoys another rise in production this season, potentially entering All Star selection discussion, he hikes his burgeoning trade value to the point where he return a serious upgrade at small forward.
Now, if they don’t win the NBA Championship this coming season, the Boston Celtics might be willing to part with Jaylen Brown in order to snag a more dominant Simons. Brown might genuinely be sick of hearing his name in trade rumors and by then be openly professing he is in no way returning to New England in 2024. Mikal Bridges is the other name that leaps to mind as the Phoenix Suns decide whether they pay Cam Johnson in restricted free agency next year. Simons may also be a suitable replacement for Chris Paul, who this time next year, will be the ripe old age of 38.
In this situation, the Blazers could trot out a lineup of Lillard, Sharpe, Brown/Bridges, an extended Jerami Grant and Jusuf Nurkic. Assuming Lillard, still has it, this is as balanced and versatile a roster the Blazers have had since Nicolas Batum, Matthews and LaMarcus Aldridge were in town.
It more than makes up for Lillard’s defensive shortcomings while still being incredibly offensively potent. You’d still have Payton II, Jabari Walker, a re-signed Little and Justise Winslow off the bench. We’re assuming Josh Hart is dealt at the deadline as it’s unlikely the Blazers have the room to afford the pay rise he’ll almost certainly earn as his Player Option nears in 2023.
Alternatively, the rise of Sharpe could also be the decider that signals the end of the Damian Lillard era in Portland as the youth movement takes over. Please don’t to hurt me. Bringing back picks and promising young talent for Lillard to play around a Simons, Sharpe backcourt also opens up interesting possibilities. You’d have a starting unit of Simons, Sharpe, Little, perhaps Jabari Walker and a center to be determined. Not to mention the players gained in the haul for Lillard.
I’m not going to speculate on Lillard packages, because at this point it’s almost impossible to establish which teams are in play and what they’d be prepared to give up.
This is all fantasy land stuff. But now that Portland has a General Manager willing to make the tough calls and take the big swings, fantasy is a lot closer to reality than it was under the former regime.
If Sharpe is as good as predicted — I’m talking about someone who is a chance to eventually make an All Star game or two — then the Blazers have so much more to work with. I’ve no doubt the NBA world will have their eyes locked on the 19-year-old from the first second he lines up for the Blazers this season, purely for the fact that he’s been sold as a potential franchise player without playing any real basketball of consequence.
I’ve got my fingers crossed for the teenager because I’ve got nothing else telling me whether he’ll boom or bust. But one things is clear, Chauncey Billups has to get him on the court as soon as possible so that we can decide one way or another.