Usually around this time of year, we’d be neck deep in NBA draft coverage. But since the Trail Blazers currently own no picks in either the first or second round of the upcoming 2014 NBA Draft, the yearly ritual of watching and interviewing a parade of potential picks who are in town to work out against each other at the team’s practice facility in Tualatin has been discontinued, at least this year.
So since we’ve got some spare time, let’s take a look at where the current players on Portland’s roster were drafted and which teams drafted them before they became Trail Blazers. For reference, five of Portland’s current players were drafted by the Trail Blazers, three were acquired by the Trail Blazers on draft night, three were drafted by other teams and one went undrafted. Portland’s roster currently boasts five lottery picks, 10 first-round picks and two second-round picks. Here they are, in order of where in the draft they were selected …
The Bulls selected Aldridge with the second pick in the 2006 Draft, then sent him to Portland on draft night in exchange for Tyrus Thomas, who the Trail Blazers selected with the fourth overall pick, and Viktor Khryapa. The Blazers also got a conditional second round pick as a part of the deal (though I think that was traded at some point as well). This trade has to go down as one of the most successful in franchise history seeing as how both Thomas and Khryapa are out of the league while Aldridge is likely the best player to come out of the 2007 class. And from what I gather on my once-yearly trips to Chicago, this trade is still a sore subject among Bulls fans in the Windy City. I doubt the Raptors, who selected Andrea Bargnani ahead of Aldridge with the first overall pick, look back fondly on this one either.
Of the four current Trail Blazers selected in the 2012 Draft, Robinson was the first to be selected. He played in 51 games for the Kings before being traded his rookie season to the Houston Rockets in one of the more head-scratching moves involving a rookie. The Rockets then traded Thomas in the offseason to Portland to clear salary for which to sign Dwight Howard in free agency. Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bradley Beal and Dion Waiters were selected ahead of Robinson, with the next pick being …
Another trade, albeit not on draft day, that worked out extremely well for the Trail Blazers. Portland sent Gerald Wallace to the then New Jersey Nets in exchange for Mehmet Okur, Shawne Williams and a top-3 protected pick in the 2012 Draft. Neither Okur nor Williams ever played for the Trail Blazers, but the Nets ended up with the sixth pick in the 2012 Draft Lottery, which resulted in Portland selecting a point guard from little known Weber State. Since then, Lillard has been named Rookie of the Year, an All-Star and a third-team All-NBA selection.
By the way, this is one of the all-time great shaking-hands-with-David-Stern photos. Dame hitting him with the serious ice grill.
The 2013 class had one of the worst collective rookie seasons of any draft class in recent memory, but you can’t fault McCollum for that. After averaging 21.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists at the 2013 Las Vegas Summer League, McCollum suffered a break of the fifth metatarsal in his left foot early in training camp, all but scuttling his rookie season. Trey Burke was selected by Utah the pick before McCollum, while Michael Carter-Williams, who went on to win the 2014 Rookie of the Year almost by default, was selected 11th by the Philadelphia.
After the Trail Blazers used the pick acquired in the Gerald Wallace trade to select Damian Lillard, they used their own pick to select Meyers Leonard out of Illinois. Portland struck a balance with these picks, as Lillard became Portland’s starting point guard moments after shaking David Stern’s hand, while Leonard was selected with an eye toward the future. Meyers was selected after New Orleans drafted Austin Rivers with the ninth pick and before Houston selected Jeremy Lamb.
The Suns selected Robin Lopez with a pick they received from Atlanta as a part of the sign-and-trade that sent Joe Johnson to the Hawks. The Suns got Boris Diaw in that trade and a 2006 first round pick along with the pick that became RoLo, making this a nice little trade for Phoenix. Robin’s twin, Brook, was drafted by the Nets five picks prior in a draft that produced a bevy of quality NBA bigmen, including Kevin Love, Roy Hibbert (who was taken two picks after RoLo), Serge Ibaka, Omer Asik, DeAndre Jordan, JaVale McGee, Ryan Anderson, Kosta Koufos, Nikola Pekovic, Jason Thompson and JJ Hickson. That’s a ton of starting centers and power forwards from just one draft. As Robin would say, RoLo in good company.
While he is primarily thought of as a shooter at this point in his career, there was a time that Dorell Wright was was considered more of an athlete than a basketball player. Wright didn’t start focusing on hoops until he was well into high school, which makes the Heat selecting Wright with the 19th pick out of South Kent High School all the more impressive. Dorell’s draft was the last in which players could be selected straight from the prep ranks, which might explain why eight of the 30 players taken in the first round were straight out of high school, including Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, J.R. Smith, Shaun Livingston and Sebastian Telfair.
The Trail Blazers drafted or traded on draft night for four players in the 2009 Draft. Victor Claver was the only first-rounder at No. 22, though he was the last of the four to play for the Trail Blazers, as he spent the next two season playing for Valencia in Spain. Now, with Jeff Ayres (then Jeff Pendergraph), Dante Cunningham and Patty Mills all playing for different teams, Claver is the last player who the Blazers selected in that draft who is still with the team.
Along with trading acquiring Aldridge from the Bulls, the deal that netted the Trail Blazers Nicolas Batum goes down as one of their better draft day moves. Three-team trades, especially during the draft, can be a bit convoluted, but the gist is the Trail Blazers ended up with Batum in exchange for the rights to Darrell Arthur and Joey Dorsey. In retrospect, that’s a complete no-brainer. Batum was only available at No. 25 after irregularities showed up on a heart test administered during a workout with the Raptors. That test, along with the incorrectly reported news that Batum’s father had died of a heart attack (it was an aneurysm) while playing professionally in France, sent Batum’s stock plummeting, even after new tests showed no issue. An unfortunate draft tale, but it all turned out fine in the end.
There were doubts that Joel Freeland would ever play in the NBA despite the Trail Blazers using the final pick of the first round to select the 6-11 Englishman. But in 2012, six years after he was drafted alongside LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy, Freeland signed a three-year contract with the Trail Blazers after working himself into being one of the top bigmen in Spain while playing for both Gran Canaria and Malaga.
And we’ve come to the second rounders. Allen Crabbe was selected by the Cavaliers with the first pick of the second round, only to be traded soon after to Portland in exchange for two second-round picks. The Trail Blazers felt that Crabbe, a two-time All-Pac-12 selection and the 2013 Pac-12 Player of the Year out of Cal, had first round talent, so when he slipped to the second round, the Trail Blazers made the move to bring him to Portland. I actually broke the news to Crabbe in his post-selection press conference that he had been traded to Portland AFTER he had already fielded ten minutes of questions about playing in Cleveland.
After winning the Conference USA Player of the Year in his sophomore season at Memphis, Will Normal Barton III made himself eligible for the 2012 Draft, presumably because he thought he would be taken in the first round. That turned out to not be the case, as the 6-6 swingman from Baltimore had to wait until well into the second round to hear his name called. The pick Portland used to draft Barton was a part of the trade that sent Marcus Camby to Houston in exchange for Jonny Flynn and Hasheem Thabeet. Considering the strides Barton made this season, you have to feel real good about the way that trade panned out.
Wesley Matthews’ journey from undrafted senior out of Marquette to starting NBA shooting guard is well documented, so there’s probably not much reason to rehash that origin story here. But consider this: there are 10 players who were drafted in the second round of the 2009 Draft who have never played in the NBA, and odds are that none of those 10 ever will at this point. What’s more, seven other players taken in the second round of the 2009 were not on NBA rosters last season. So Matthews, who started every game he played all four years at Marquette, was passed over by 19 players, just in the second round, who no longer have what it takes or never did have what it takes to play in the NBA. Meanwhile, Matthews has started 321 NBA games and had his best season ever in 2013-14 while starting for a team that went to the second round of the Western Conference playoffs. Remember that the next time you find yourself buying into the draft hype.
It’s been relatively quiet in terms of rumors with the trade deadline set to expire on Thursday. But now that everyone is back in their offices and thawed out after a few subzero days in Toronto, it’s possible that the trade front begins to heat up.
Then again, the combination of the salary cap skyrocketing this offseason, prompting teams to keep their options open heading into the free agent signing period in July, and the feeling that no move is going to improve a second-tier team enough to contend with the Warriors, Spurs and Cavaliers of the NBA, leaves one with the sense that the deadline could come and go with little movement. But it only takes one deal to set off a chain reaction of transactions, and there’s still plenty of time between now and Thursday night for that to take place.
But according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe, one of the few must-reads covering the NBA, and his tea leaves, the Trail Blazers will probably play it cool at the deadline despite currently sitting in 7th place in the Western Conference with a 27-27 record. Lowe notes that while Trail Blazers President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey could try to accelerate Portland’s rebuild if there’s “a young-ish player who fits the timeline of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum” and notes that teams nervous about what offers their restricted free agents (both Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe will be restricted free agents this offseason) might receive from other teams have been generally more willing to trade those players rather than lose them without compensation.
But Lowe eventually comes to the conclusion (which I happen to share, by the way) that the Trail Blazers probably stand pat aside from using their ample cap space to lessen another team’s luxury tax bill in exchange for minor compensation…
The Blazers are high on Crabbe, but Leonard’s asking price in preseason extension talks gave them sticker shock. (The restricted free-agency thing is yet another reason to keep an eye on Boston, with both Jared Sullinger and Tyler Zeller ticking toward it).
Alas, the Blazers owe their pick to Denver if they make the playoffs, and given Olshey’s draft record, he might prefer to keep it. My best guess: Portland avoids an upgrade, uses its space to nab a couple of extra second-rounders and resumes its pursuit of (Greg) Monroe — or someone else — around draft time.
Which has always been the most likely scenario. The Trail Blazers are roughly $13 million below the salary minimum, so absorbing the contract of a player in the final year of his deal would cost Portland literally nothing while likely netting at least a second-round pick or two. It’s not sexy, but it’s better than nothing.
But again, there’s plenty of time between now and the deadline and we’ve all been wrong before.
For a few hours Wednesday night, the Trail Blazers were 8th in the Western Conference standings, so if the season had ended in that that short window, Portland would be matched up versus the Golden State Warriors in a first-round playoffs matchup. Also in that scenario, the Trail Blazers would have to send their 2016 first-round draft pick to the Denver Nuggets as dictated by the terms of the Arron Afflalo trade made last season.
But with the Kings defeating the Lakers and the Trail Blazers falling to the Hawks Wednesday night, Portland’s tenure in the Top 8 was short lived, as Sacramento jumped into the eight spot with a 18-23 record. That’s not great news for those of you hoping to see Portland make their third consecutive postseason, but for those who would rather see the Trail Blazers keep their draft pick, Wednesday night’s loss was probably welcomed.
And on the topic of that pick, ESPN draft guru Chad Ford released the third iteration of his 2016 Mock Draft Thursday, and with the 9th overall pick (Ford is using ESPN’s projected win-loss records rather than current standings), he has the Trail Blazers taking 7-0 Kentucky freshman power forward/center Skal Labissiere…
The Blazers have both Meyers Leonard and Noah Vonleh as potential stretch-4s, but that wouldn’t stop them from grabbing Labissiere here.
He was widely regarded as the second-best prospect in the draft after Simmons before the college season started. He’s struggled mightily at Kentucky, but he still has the size, athleticism and perimeter skills teams covet.
Odds of winning lottery, projected record: 1.7 percent, 36-46
Labissiere is averaging 7.7 points on 52 percent shooting, 3.2 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 17.8 minutes this season. He’s seen his minutes gradually reduced as the 2015-16 NCAA season has gone on, as evidenced by the 19-year old averaging 8.4 minutes off the bench in Kentucky’s last five games. Labissiere moved to Memphis from Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010 that leveled much of the island in the Caribbean, including Labissiere’s home.
Ford had the Trail Blazers taking 6-10 freshman power forward Henry Ellenson out of Marquette in his first two 2016 mock drafts.
TUALATIN — The Portland Trail Blazers traded away their long-time starting small forward on Wednesday. On Thursday, they very well might have drafted his replacement.
With the 23rd pick in the 2015 NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers selected Rondae Hollis-Jefferson out of Arizona. A player known for his defensive prowess, Hollis-Jefferson averaged 10.2 points on 50 percent shooting, 6.3 rebounds, a steal and a block the last two seasons in Tucson.
One of the most common refrains you read about Hollis-Jefferson, who declared for the NBA Draft after his sophomore season, is that if he could shoot, he’d be a Top 10 pick. He shot 50 percent from the field last season, but when you dig into the numbers a big deeper and you find he shot just 36 percent on jumpers, you start to understand the concern. Not to mention that the mechanics of his shot are … unorthodox.
But shooting can be taught. That’s not to say Hollis-Jefferson will ever be a great shooter, but there are plenty of guys who rounded themselves into passable shooters after not being able to hit the broad side of a barn in college (if Tristan Thompson can switch shooting hands in between NBA seasons, there’s hope for everyone). And whoever ends up selecting Hollis-Jefferson is going to get a player who has the size, athleticism and skill to be an elite perimeter defender sooner rather than later. He’s a great finisher and excellent at drawing fouls at the rim, which helps to make up for other offensive deficiencies. He also has the kind of personality that teams are looking for out of their rookies.
Hollis-Jefferson worked out for the Trail Blazers on June 9 against Virginia’s Justin Anderson, who was selected by the Mavericks with the 21st pick. After the workout, Hollis-Jefferson said he felt his skills matched up well with Portland’s style of play.
“I feel like they get up and down. I watched the game, they like defenders,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “I feel like me being put in that situation it will only help them because I’m a great defender, I like transition. I feel like I’m a good fit.”