With the Portland Trail Blazers’ 2022-23 season in the rearview mirror, it’s time to look back on individual player performances. Rookie shooting guard Shaedon Sharpe entered the season as the highest Blazers draft pick since Damian Lillard and was tasked with proving he deserved to play on a team gunning for the playoffs — at least in the beginning. How’d he do? Let’s take a look.
Per Game Stats:
— 9.9 points per game
— 3.0 rebounds per game
— 1.2 assists per game
— 47.2 percent from the field
— 36.0 percent from 3-point range
— 71.4 percent from the free throw line
19.0 usage percentage
40.7 percent on corner 3-point shots
56.8 true shooting percentage
Shaedon Sharpe entered this season as the product of the Blazers’ first trip to the NBA Draft Lottery in almost a decade. After not playing a single college game during his one year at Kentucky, it wasn’t a guarantee Sharpe would be ready for NBA action right away. But from the season opener, Sharpe established a spot as a bench contributor on a Blazers team hoping to compete this season. His role changed a bit over the course of the season, but he showed promise throughout it all.
Sharpe started the season averaging 8.2 points in 20.3 minutes per game through the end of November. During that span, he shot 48.3 percent from the field and 38.5 percent on 3-pointers. However, he took a step back in both percentage and role during December and January. His shooting percentages dipped to 46.3 percent from the field and 30.3 percent on 3-pointers. He averaged 7.2 points for those two months in less minutes than he was receiving at the start of the year. Sharpe’s playing time dropped to a season-low 17.9 minutes per game during December before increasing every month after.
His end to the season was the best glimpse of what could be on the horizon. As it became increasingly obvious the Blazers were poised for a second straight lottery appearance, Sharpe saw his usage skyrocket. He averaged 23.7 points in the final 10 games of the season.
Sharpe’s progression over the year, and his scoring outburst to end it, showed his promise as a valuable contributor moving forward. The 19-year-old rookie proved that the sky is the limit.
Sharpe came into the NBA with limited play against high-level competition. He didn’t play in college, and played just a few minutes of Summer League before getting injured. However, if there was one thing that was never in doubt, it was his ability to jump. Sharpe was touted for his insane athleticism and gravity-defying finishes around the basket.
The numbers reflect his tendency to attack the rack. He shot 36 percent of his shots at the rim, good for 71st percentile among wings. He also finished in the 80th percentile in offensive rebounding percentage among wings at 3.9 percent, which contributed to some of his shots around the basket. More than a few Blazers possessions were ended in an electric, momentum-shifting Shaedon Sharpe dunk off a missed shot.
Sharpe also had 40 percent of his shots come from behind the 3-point arc where he shot 36 percent for the season. His 3-pointers attempted per game increased at a fairly steady pace during the year, and he ended the season with 3.5 attempts per game.
Early Season Role
Coming off the bench is how Sharpe played most of the year. He was expected to be a scoring presence and momentum-shifter off the bench. His dunks and instant offense could bring a punch to quickly change the tide of the game. However, Portland had the lowest scoring bench unit in the NBA this year. Part of that was due to losing key pieces like Justise Winslow to injury. However, part of it was also inexperience from some contributing players.
Sharpe was one of three players who saw consistent minutes off the bench who were either rookies or second-year players, the other two being Trendon Watford and Jabari Walker. The lack of pure scorers off the bench also put more pressure on Sharpe early in his career. Defenses were able to key in on Sharpe as soon as he showed he was capable on the offensive end. This increased defensive focus led to his slight mid-season dip in production.
Late Season Production
At the end of the season, Sharpe saw his role change from being a bench contributor to the star player and leader of the offense. His scoring exploded to 23.7 points per game and his usage shot up to 28.2 percent in the final 10 games of the season. He was treated as the focal point of the offense and proved he could be trusted to do that again in the future.
The last 10 games of the season saw just one Blazers win. However, it was much more important to see the growth and potential of players who had spent the year on the bench. Sharpe was the standout performer of that group. His shotmaking and play around the rim allowed a glimpse into what an older and more refined version of Sharpe could be.
His efficiency did drop during that span, but not enough to be a concern. Overall, there were very good stretches of basketball played by Sharpe and the rest of the Blazers, despite losing almost every night. The potential showed by Sharpe during that span proved he can contribute on a winning team sooner rather than later.
Playmaking and Defense
Sharpe is not tasked with being a facilitator as a secondary guard. However, early on during his stint as the focal point of the offense, he had the ball in his hands on most possessions. He struggled in that role, and the Blazers struggled to get their offense going. Once Skylar Mays arrived and took over as the lead ball handler, the game got a lot easier for Sharpe to contribute without having to set up teammates. His playmaking leaves a lot of room for growth, but he will not be forced to do that often in his role as a shooting guard.
He will be asked to play defense, however. His defense was good at times, and very bad at others. Most rookies struggle to play defense while adjusting to the talent difference from college to the NBA. That difference is greater for Sharpe than most other rookies since he hasn’t played competitive basketball since high school. Sharpe is a big, long, athletic guard who has all of the physical tools to be at least a good defender — that ability led to some ferocious blocks this season. He just hasn’t put it all together yet.
His growth as a defender will be the deciding factor in his long term compatibility as the shooting guard alongside Damian Lillard or Anfernee Simons. If he can develop into a good to great defender, the Blazers will be a lot better off for it.
Sharpe showed a lot of promise during his rookie season. He continued to improve throughout the season. He went from relying on cuts to the basket and catch-and-shoot 3s, to being able to create offense for himself off the dribble at a high level.
Sharpe is the most intriguing Blazers player going forward. Watching how he develops next season alongside Damian Lillard will be important for the future of the Blazers organization.