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Damian Lillard Sees Big Things from Young Blazers

Two of the most athletic young wings in the NBA could see big opportunities ahead with the Portland Trail Blazers.

NBA: Portland Trail Blazers-Media Day Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

As the Portland Trail Blazers prepare for another season, Media Day represents our first opportunity to glance behind the scenes, courtesy of player insight. No one’s thoughts are more highly regarded than team leader Damian Lillard. After working with Portland’s young talent this offseason, Lillard identified a few practice-facility rising stars.

“I think the talent is off the charts,” says Lillard, speaking about rookie Shaedon Sharpe. “When I watch him work out, everything is just easy for him. But I really like his disposition, how calm he is. The types of questions he asks; he listens, he shows up every day.”

Sharpe is perhaps the most mysterious piece on Portland’s roster. The No. 7 overall pick did not play a single game at Kentucky, and was limited to just four minutes of play in NBA Summer League before a labral tear sidelined him for the remainder of the event.

But Sharpe is expected to be a needle-mover for the Trail Blazers if his development pans out long term. It already bodes well that he is an active learner – a sentiment he reflected back when asked about practicing with veteran players.

“When I’m playing with those guys – Dame, Ant (Anfernee Simons) – I try to learn as much as I can, for real,” Sharpe says.

If Sharpe is able to absorb as much as it seems, we could see him get some early run with the team when the regular season begins. He will have the opportunity to come off the bench at both the shooting guard and small forward position and potentially contribute right away.

This is about what we expect to see and hear from Shaedon Sharpe, but he is not the only youngster to catch Lillard’s eye this summer. Returning second-year player Keon Johnson could make some noise as competition for minutes heats up this year.

Johnson, 20, arrived in Portland midway through last season as part of the Norman Powell, Robert Covington trade with the Los Angeles Clippers. Although he is expected to be largely relegated to the deep bench, the 21st overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft appears to be developing nicely.

This is especially interesting given his hot finish to the 2021-22 NBA season. While the Trail Blazers tanked their way to the pick that became Sharpe, Johnson averaged 13 points per game through 10 starts to end the year. A hyper-athletic wing, like Sharpe, he may be in for a sophomore leap.

Neither of these two are expected to be at the forefront of Portland’s depth chart, but contributions from either would go a long way toward bolstering the Trail Blazers’ rotation.