Don’t expect to see Rayan Rupert playing big minutes for the Portland Trail Blazers any time soon. The 19-year-old wing arrives in the NBA sporting a famous French surname and acres of raw, unrefined talent.
It’s going to take time people. I’m talking a couple of years of him oscillating between the Blazers and the Rip City Remix before he graduates as a rotation mainstay.
Fortunately, the Blazers G League affiliate couldn’t have been founded at a better time for Rupert whose development would have stagnated sitting at the end of the Blazers bench.
As a member of the Remix, the European athlete will develop in real time against players fighting for NBA minutes on either side of the court. This experience will only enhance, fast-track and ferment his potential into tangible NBA production.
On NBA Draft night in June, Rupert was the last of 24 Green Room invitees and the only one taken in the second round at pick 43.
It appears his rawness, and a resolved wrist injury, played a part in his omission from the first round. Even after 28 games played with the New Zealand Breakers playing against grown men in the Australian National Basketball League.
The mock drafts and scouting reports all said the same thing. Great length and defensive opportunity with signs of passing, ballhandling and shooting potential.
The first thing that struck me was the way he glided across the basketball court. The familiarity jogged memories of watching his countryman Nicolas Batum.
It’s not just because they’re both French, they’re are some genuine similarities there, from their physical attributes and measurements to the way they move and shoot the ball.
The similarities were close enough to prompt me to go to deep in the YouTube archives to find baby Batum footage in order to compare the pair.
More than anything, it was a joy re-living Batum’s early NBA years. The composure, decision making, defensive prowess and shot making were legitimate tools for the Blazers, particularly once Damian Lillard was drafted in 2012.
The son of former French national team captain Thierry and brother to Atlanta Dream center Iliana, Rupert already owns basketball pedigree. He stands roughly 6’8, with a ridiculous 7’3 wingspan, however needs to put a little more meat on the bone if he’s going to match it with NBA small forwards.
The 19-year-old was the rawest of this season’s Blazer newcomers, including Toumani Camara who was taken nine spots after him.
At the draft, Rupert was described as a versatile defender, with potential at the point of attack as well as shot blocking nous, thanks to those long arms. His team defense still needs work but there should be no concerns about this not developing.
See below the ground his length allows him to cover to stay in front of lead guards.
On offense, he’s a little further ahead than what many first thought. For those watching Remix games, the shot-making is there. Through 11 outings this season, Rupert has averaged 14.2 points on 46.2 percent three point shooting on 4.1 attempts a game, which is fantastic.
The mechanics look sound, as far as back in his Breaker days, even if the above numbers are on a small sample size.
A quick look at Batum’s stroke for comparative purposes.
Rupert has also put up 6.7 boards, 1.9 assists and 1.2 steals with the Remix this season. His knack for finding teammates with accuracy has been evident both this season and last in Australia.
Rupert’s ability to dribble through traffic and finish strongly at the rim is evident with his efficiency likely to rise if he can improve his shot from outside and stretch defenses.
His Blazers numbers aren’t particular outstanding or indicative of his play given the lack of time he’s actually spent on the court. Through 7 games, Rupert has put up a total of 5 points on 16.7 percent from three, 1 board, 2 assists and 2 steals. Let’s not take too much of them just yet.
In 2008, the Blazers made a draft night trade to secure another 19-year-old French wing named Nicolas Batum. Batum arrived in Portland after two years playing in the French national league. He also took time acclimating to the NBA game.
By his third season, Batum figured the upper echelon in effective field goal percentage, mid range and three point percentage and blocks for his position. During his seven Blazers years he also served as a handy secondary facilitator supporting the likes of Andre Miller, Steve Blake, and later Damian Lillard.
Batum was and is versatile defender, pairing with Wes Matthews Jr to make up one of the better defensive wing duos in the league between 2012 and 2015. As seen above, Batum’s shooting mechanics were smooth, simple and effective delivering him a career 36.6 three point percentage on 4.4 attempts through 15 years.
His graceful gallop masked the speed at which he moved over the court, deceiving opponents in a similar way to what Rupert has shown in a much smaller sample. While some of Batum’s athleticism has gone with age, his decision making, shooting and passing are still very much there.
It’s also poignant to note that Rupert’s first year in the NBA is Batum’s last with the elder stating his last walk on the professional stage will be for France at next year’s Olympics.
If Rupert puts it all together, he might even be a better prospect than Batum. But a lot has to go right for that to happen and the Remix is key to this.
Rupert reaching his ceiling means he’s an All-Star, All Defensive-level small forward who can be elite on both sides of the ball. Someone who can defend positions one-through-four competitively and can score at all three levels while operating as a secondary or tertiary facilitator. Don’t get too excited, this is the very pinnacle and not something we should expect.
His floor, and probably where our expectations should be right now, is probably an athletic wing somewhere in the rotation who stays in the league at least through his second contract. Think of a slightly better Derrick Jones Jr.
For me, watching the development of players like Rupert will be the most rewarding part of the next few seasons. It also makes Rip City Remix games all that more interesting, given the court time and touches that players like Rupert will get.
Seeing him, Shaedon Sharpe, Scoot Henderson, Toumani Camara, Kris Murray and Jabari Walker develop chemistry and cohesion will probably excite me more than wins and losses.
The jury will be out for a while on where Rupert ends up. But his upside is incredibly tantalizing, perhaps even more that what Batum’s ever was. Let’s just hope the Blazers take their time developing good habits as the Frenchman finds his place in the NBA.