Shaedon Sharpe is preparing for a big sophomore year and a bigger role with the re-building Portland Trail Blazers. The 20-year-old’s rookie season exceeded almost everyone’s expectations despite his curious omission from the NBA’s two All Rookie teams.
Sharpe was selected out of near obscurity with the seventh pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. It didn’t take long for the NBA world to see why General Manager Joe Cronin and scouting wizard Mike Schmitz thought so much of the young Canadian.
In year two, Sharpe returns to a roster boasting a guard rotation, including Anfernee Simons, Sterling “Scoot” Henderson, Matisse Thybulle, Keon Johnson and, depending on how things shake out, Damian Lillard.
Even if Lillard does get moved before opening night, Portland is still paying an inordinate number of players 6’5 or shorter.
To help relieve the guard bottleneck, Coach Chauncey Billups will likely rely on Thybulle to play considerable minutes at small forward. He is likely to start. Though 6’5, Thybulle’s length and ridiculous defensive instincts makes him more than qualified at both the two and the three.
While sharing similar measurements to Thybulle, Sharpe doesn’t share Thybulle’s defensive prowess yet. On offense, Sharpe is a dynamite fuse waiting to be lit. With increased playing time almost guaranteed, the match is out and ready to be struck.
But how does he get on the court?
Last season, Sharpe spent 61 percent of his time at shooting guard, 30 percent at small forward and 9 percent at point guard. The latter probably registered during the nitrous-oxide-induced tank through March and April.
Could the above percentages continue or has a full NBA season and offseason in the weight room opened up new possibilities for the young wing?
SG vs SF
In the modern NBA, genuine two-way shooting guards and small forwards are both rare and extremely sought after. The small forward role is particularly useful. Small forwards line up against the likes of Jimmy Butler, Kawhi Leonard, Lauri Markkanen, Paul George, DeMar DeRozan, Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown. Lebron James, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo also spend time there depending on line-ups.
A serviceable small forward has size and athleticism with at least an above-average ability to guard players between 6’5 and 6’8. Stars — a level of player we hope Sharpe can become — possess traits that straddle the size and rebounding of the frontcourt with some of the faster, ball-dominant characteristics of your traditional backcourt player.
Of course there are exceptions to these stereotypes, but these players are a must for any front office hoping to contend.
Sharpe Skill Set
I’ll probably get pushback on this, but Sharpe’s skill set is suited to the small forward position. He’s not a proficient dribbler or creator, skills required for guards.
Last season, Sharpe ranked 21st in assists and 52nd on usage among wings. Conversely, he was assisted 67 percent of his made shots (56 percentile) including 89 percent of his three points shots (65th percentile).
Interestingly, he also ranked in the 70th percentile for blocks (0.3 a game), 80th percentile in offensive rebounding (0.8 a game) and 56th percentile in defensive rebounding (2.2 a game). Solid numbers in areas where bigger bodies tend to succeed.
This gives me hope he might one day be ready to move across to the three. A position where he can do everything he currently does on offense while guarding some of those bigger bodies discussed earlier.
Right now, Sharpe is stuck in positional limbo. He’s small — 6’5.25 in shoes and around 200lbs — making him more suited to the two on defense. But his dribbling and creation game need work, pushing him up to the three on offense.
Offense or Defense?
With the Blazers again being guard heavy, Chauncey Billups needs size at the three, if only to match up on the likes of Markkanen, George and Tatum.
On offense, I could definitely see Sharpe playing small forward alongside Scoot Henderson and Anfernee Simons, offering offensive versatility. But the more common scenario will be Sharpe at shooting guard, sharing the backcourt with one of Henderson and Simons.
There’ll also be a lot of experimenting this year, so don’t be surprised to see three and maybe even four-guard/wing lineups with maybe a Jabari Walker at the five.
Ranking the Candidates
5. Rayan Rupert. Rupert has the potential to be a rotation wing in two or three years but has time to spend with the Rip City Remix to cook some of that rawness out of his game.
3b. Jabari Walker. I expect Walker to get small forward minutes but, on this team, he’ll probably play the majority of his time at power forward and some at center. He probably plays a considerable amount of time next to Murray at the two forward positions.
3a. Kris Murray. Murray will get plenty of run this season. But whether it’s at power forward or small forward remains to be seen. The Iowa product has the size and speed to be passable at either position.
2. Nassir Little. We say it every year. This is the season Little gets his body right but the 23-year-old has no graduated from his rookie-scale contract. It’s time for him be the NBA player we expect him to be.
1. Matisse Thybulle. The clear leader to start at the three, who despite his 6’5 height, makes up for it with unreal reach, versatility and defensive instincts. If he can keep hitting the three the way he did after the trade deadline, Thybulle will be worth the contract the Blazers matched last month.
While positonless basketball is a real thing, size also matters in the modern NBA. Shaedon Sharpe will no doubt play both wing positions this season, I just don’t think he’s 100 percent suited to either right now.
His lack of bulk and defensive immaturity make him a shooting guard on defense. But his lack of dribbling and creation, probably makes him a three on the offensive side of the ball.
The one thing he has in his favor is that the Blazers probably don’t care too much about wins or losses this season. He’ll be given time to mature and make mistakes, growing his comfort and impact on the game.
If he gets small forward minutes this season, it will be out of necessity. Let’s just hope that come the end of his rookie-scale contract, it’s where he excels.