The Portland Trail Blazers are a day away from potentially reshaping their roster in the 2023 NBA Draft. The primary focus surrounding Portland is tied to the No. 3 pick, but the Blazers also possess two selections outside of the lottery. If General Manager Joe Cronin decides to keep those selections out of potential trades, the Blazers are positioned to select a pair of promising prospects inside a relatively deep draft class.
Today we will look at five players that could land on the Blazers radar. The first three are options that fall inside the range of the No. 23 selection. The final two prospects on this list should be on the board when Portland lands on the clock in the second round with the 43rd overall pick.
Maxwell Lewis | Pepperdine
Position: SF | HT: 6’7” | WT: 207 | Wingspan: 7’0”
Lewis blossomed from a quality bench option as a freshman to a premier offensive player in his second year with the Waves. Equipped with a larger workload, Lewis posted 17.1 points per game and connected on 46.8 percent of his attempts from the field (34.8 percent from beyond the arc). Lewis projects as a developmental 3-and-D forward at the next level. His size and athleticism should allow him to hold his own on the wing and his shooting touch will keep opposing defenses honest.
Transitioning from the West Coast Conference to the NBA is a tall task for any player, and Lewis is no exception. On defense, Lewis has to stay locked in when he is picking up assignments off the ball. Offensively, he is likely to become more dependent on getting his opportunities set up for him. At pick No. 23, Lewis is definitely near the top of the list of high-floor options.
Kris Murray | Iowa
Position: PF | HT: 6’8” | WT: 213 | Wingspan: 7’0”
Kris stepped out of his twin brother Keegan’s shadow last season to post 20.2 points per game for the Hawkeyes. Murray is a flexible option in the frontcourt. From setting up for catch-and-shoot opportunities to operating as the primary facilitator, Murray has shown he can thrive in multiple roles. Defensively, Murray is rarely caught flat footed and he has the athleticism to stay in front of ball handlers looking to get to the cup.
Murray will be 23 years old when he steps on a NBA court for the first time. Due to his age, his upside is in question. Similar to Lewis, Murray is a high-floor option at pick No. 23.
Jett Howard | Michigan
Position: SG | HT: 6’8” | WT: 215
Son of former Blazers forward Juwan Howard (one season still counts), Jett is poised to carve out a long NBA career for himself. At Michigan, Howard displayed NBA-ready shooting touch while posting 14.2 points per game in 29 starts as a freshman. Buoyed by his long frame and high release point, Howard is a threat to connect on shots from distance regardless of the pressure that is applied by defenses. Howard’s favorable mechanics go beyond his effortless release point, too. He can get into his shot while on the move and as a stationary catch-and-shoot operator.
Howard’s offense is ready to contribute at the NBA level, but his defensive tool kit needs a complete overhaul. Quick wing opponents take advantage of his loose footwork and he is too often caught ball watching when his assignment darts into motion. All things considered, Howard’s upside as a floor spacer and offensive threat would be a steal in the latter stages of the first round.
Second Round Options
Emoni Bates | Eastern Michigan
Position: SF | HT: 6’9” | WT: 180 | Wingspan: 6’9”
Bates moved on from Memphis after a single season to star in a feature role with Eastern Michigan. The result: a 10-point bump to his scoring average. As a sophomore, Bates displayed all the skills that made him one of the most coveted recruits out of high school. He routinely created separation for his shot and displayed that he can carry an entire offense for long stretches. Inside the arc, Bates connected on 47.4 percent of his attempts.
Bates’ brief stint at Memphis and his production against a lower level of competition as a sophomore certainly raise a plethora of questions. However, he will enter the NBA at just 19 years old with favorable upside on the offensive end. If the Blazers are looking for a big swing in the second round, Bates fits that mold.
Colin Castleton | Florida
Position: C | HT: 6’11” | WT: 250 | Wingspan: 7’3”
Castleton has patrolled the paint at a high level for three seasons inside a competitive SEC conference. As a fifth-year senior, Castleton posted a career-high three blocks per game average. He also managed to post those numbers while avoiding foul trouble and playing above 30 minutes per game. Offensively, Castleton is one of the best passing big men in the entire 2023 draft class. Castleton is an expert at finding open cutters in the lane and he can turn a defensive rebound into an easy transition opportunity with is competent ball handling.
Castleton enters draft night at 23 years old with an unfinished offensive arsenal. He has shown a soft shooting touch throughout his college career, but that has not translated to success as a three-point shooter. Overall, Castleton has the frame and vision to make an impact as a reserve center on both ends of the floor.
Those are our picks for players at Picks 23 and 43. What are yours? Share in the comments below.