The Portland Trail Blazers own the third overall selection in the 2023 NBA Draft. With that high of a pick in their pocket, pre-draft workouts will become a near-constant between now and June 22nd, when the draft will commence. While most of the focus has been on twin superstars-in-waiting Scoot Henderson and Brandon Miller, Portland’s first major workout of the season featured twin brothers Amen and Ausar Thompson.
Amen and Ausar Thompson in the gym. pic.twitter.com/TDvFVdtWmI— Portland Trail Blazers (@trailblazers) May 31, 2023
The 6’7 wings are expected to shine in the NBA, though not quite at the level of Henderson, Miller, or presumptive first overall pick Victor Wembanyama.
Trail Blazers Assistant General Manager Mike Schmitz tweeted out a positive assessment of the twins, expressing appreciation for their approach to the game.
In Atlanta for Overtime Elite Pro Week and just finished up a highly-entertaining ESPN Film Session with twins + potential 2023 top-10 picks Amen + Ausar Thompson. We broke down their head to head possessions from the OTE Playoffs. Elite prospects w/ a super impressive approach. pic.twitter.com/dUh43zytyG— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) April 13, 2022
The positive assessment from Schmitz, a prominent draft guru, isn’t surprising. He’s hardly going to tweet out something negative. But if the Blazers do fall in love with one of the Thompson brothers, valuing them as highly as their more famous draft classmates, new avenues of approach open up for Portland on draft day.
The Blazers’ stated objective is to build a contender around star guard Damian Lillard immediately, or as close to it as possible. The third pick is widely presumed to be in play to get them veteran help.
Exploring potential deals, it’s hard to find a direct trade that’s “right-sized”, bringing the Blazers sufficient talent, balanced with the pick and salaries they’d have to send out in return. In particular, widely-rumored trade target Anfernee Simons would be a significant loss for the Blazers, yet his inclusion would be near-mandatory in any significant trade package, as he carries one of the only sizable salaries on the team.
To this point, targets for Portland start at Pascal Siakam then rise through Jaylen Brown before approaching the intimidating heights of Joel Embiid. Those are the only names strong enough to make a difference, yet they’re near-impossible to obtain.
If the Blazers were to make such a deal, their cupboards would be emptied. That’s not a trivial concern. The window on a Lillard championship run is so short that, should it fail, Portland might be left without a ring, without a superstar, and without future assets just a few years from now.
In aggregate, this amounts to the Blazers threading an incredibly difficult trade needle to engage in a short-term gamble with long-term consequences. That’s an unpleasant prospect even if the trade return is good.
Having framed the issue, let’s return to Amen and Ausar Thompson for a moment. They’re not considered likely candidates for the third pick. The mock-draft interest picks up at Pick 4, but one of them might slip further down the lottery order.
If the Blazers coveted one of the Thompsons and were fairly agnostic about which one they got, a new possibility opens up: trading down in the draft. That would allow them to get veteran help while obtaining a talented rookie instead of going all-in on one approach or the other by drafting third or trading away the pick entirely.
Two teams slightly lower in the lottery—the Orlando Magic (6th) and Indiana Pacers (7th)—are in the rebuilding process. They might be interested in a high-profile pick like Henderson or Miller. Just as critically, each team features a center that the Blazers might be interested in: Wendell Carter, Jr. for the Magic and Myles Turner for the Pacers. Turner is the more veteran of the two, but Carter, Jr. is 24 with a nice defensive profile.
Each center’s 2023-24 contract lies within shouting distance of Trail Blazers pivot Jusuf Nurkic. Depending on the leanings of the teams involved, extra incentives might need to be added around the edges, but a core deal of Nurkic and the third pick for Carter, Jr. and the sixth or Turner and the seventh is in the ballpark...certainly more plausible than many of the superstar trades being posited for Portland right now. If one of the Thompsons was available at that 6th or 7th spot, the Blazers would get a revamp at center plus a rookie wing, bolstering their present lineup without sacrificing the future entirely.
There are flaws to this plan. The Thompsons might be gone by then. Miller or Henderson might turn out to be an All-NBA superstar. An upgrade at center doesn’t resolve Portland’s issues as much as kick them down the road. But it does offer a credible, achievable middle path between sacrificing everything tor a lunge at a title with Lillard and telling Dame to pound sand as the team rebuilds with the next generation.