Shaedon Sharpe’s talent couldn’t help but shine despite modest minutes off the Portland Trail Blazers bench last season. Sure he missed out on one of the 10 All-Rookie Team nods, but the young Canadian staked a claim as a name to watch moving forward.
Sharpe was one of the more enjoyable experiences in what became a pretty dismal 2022-23 campaign for the franchise. And the hype was more than just outrageous dunks and other-worldly athleticism.
By the All-Star Break, the No. 7 overall pick had found judgement and composure, a pretty significant development, considering his age and non-participation at Kentucky.
The Blazers now enter NBA Draft week with a decent enough chance to move Anfernee Simons alongside the No. 3 overall pick. While his understudy in Sharpe appears untouchable in what will likely be a very busy transaction window for General Manager Joe Cronin and his front office.
So just like he cleared a runway for Simons last summer with the departures of CJ McCollum and Norman Powell, Cronin may now be doing the same for Sharpe who appears to be a better fit at the two, next to Damian Lillard.
According to the Jacked Ramsays’ Danny Marang, Sharpe will also be working out with Lillard this summer, another potential sign of the franchise’s future backcourt aspirations.
This all builds on Sharpe’s own exit interview in April when he claimed he was ready to start for the Blazers.
But should he?
Sharpe’s 2022-23 season
Let’s have a look at how far he’s come from over the past 12 months — from mere obscurity and raw talent at the draft to untouchable asset.
His rookie season was the very definition of linear progression. Through October and November Sharpe averaged 20 minutes a night off the bench registering anything between 0 and 20 points a night.
By the final eight games and eight starts, Sharpe was playing 35-plus minutes and only once dipped below 24 points an outing.
The recently turned 20-year-old finished the season with averages of 22.2 minutes, 9.9 points, 36 percent on 3.5 attempts from three, 2.2 boards, 1.2 assists and 0.5 steals.
Among wings, the 6’6 phenom finished 22nd or in the 80th percentile in offensive rebounding and 32nd or in the 70th percentile in blocks.
He made 55.3 percent of his two-pointers, good enough for the 72nd percentile and 40 percent from the corner, which left him a smidge under the 60th percentile.
There’s still work to do. Turnovers were a issue with Sharpe sitting in the 37th percentile and free throws were less than satisfactory at 71.3 percent, good enough for the 11th percentile.
Defensive lapses were regularly evident with Sharpe consistently having trouble keeping out of foul trouble, finishing in the 43rd percentile among wings. He was also in the 11th percentile in steals.
But despite these obvious flaws/growing pains, Sharpe already projects as a better defender than Lillard and Simons, in part due to those physical gifts and instincts.
His rookie-scale contract is incredibly team friendly and will be so for at least the next three years.
And with Lillard, potentially Jerami Grant and whatever may come back in the big trades rumored, the Blazers need as many rotation players on affordable contracts as possible.
Sharpe’s competition at starting shooting guard
Assuming Simons is moved, the only other remaining contracted guards are Lillard and Keon Johnson, assuming the latter has his team option picked up. Nassir Little is more a small forward but could probably fill in at shooting guard in a pinch.
Long-story-short, the backcourt lacks real starting-level talent that could propel the team into contention.
Enter Matisse Thybulle. The 26-year-old restricted free agent is a good probability to return with Cronin holding matching rights. And honestly, any deal that brings him back under $10 million a year is a win for the Blazers
The two-time All Defensive honoree can stop almost anyone on a basketball court, in theory able to cover up for Lillard’s well-known deficiencies on that end.
What was most enticing about Thybulle’s game was the three-point shooting he rediscovered in a Blazers uniform.
Through his Philadelphia 76ers tenure, Thybulle largely figured in the low-to-mid 30s in percentage from three-point range, unable to average more than seven points a game.
But something happened post trade. He found his three-point shot, hitting 38 percent from that range through 22 games.
Thybulle went from 32.2 percent and the 24th percentile through 49 games with the 76ers to 38.8 percent in Portland, good enough for the 72nd percentile among wings.
If the Australian national representative is able to operate as a reliable catch-and-shoot option he’ll be able to serve as an elite point of attack defender.
Conclusion - Sharpe vs Thybulle
This discussion is based on the assumption that Thybulle returns and that the offseason doesn’t deliver the Blazers another starting option at shooting guard.
The 20-year-old Sharpe, known to some as Baby Kobe, is a still-raw talent with All-Star/All-NBA potential written all over him.
Compared with the defensive savant that is Thybulle, who if able to consistently hit from long range, serves as a genuine three-and-D option.
I’d love to say Sharpe should be the man to start alongside Lillard from opening night because I believe that’s where he’ll end the season and hopefully beyond.
But for someone who’s only really played a month’s worth of starter-level minutes, Sharpe still needs to mature into the role, and can do so by initially playing the sixth man role.
The 2023-24 season will be about winning for the Blazers. They don’t have time for a development proposition in the starting lineup when they have a more seasoned, safer pair of hands in Thybulle.
There’s no doubt Sharpe will be the better player, but Thybulle offers more stability to the roster, at least until the end of the calendar year.