Thursday, June 23rd the Portland Trail Blazers will enter the NBA Draft with the seventh overall pick, their highest pick since 2012 when they drafted their franchise cornerstone, Damian Lillard.
Just a decade later, the Blazers and their revamped staff look to do right by the six-time All-Star in their quest to build a team with aspirations to compete for an NBA Championship. The starting five for the start of next season seems to have just two positions locked up. Damian Lillard and Anfernee Simons– who enters this offseason as a restricted free agent– look to be the backcourt the front office is committed to following Simons break-out 2021-2022 season.
Joe Cronin, the Trail Blazers official new General Manager, has a few short months to restructure what is almost an entire roster in order for the Blazers to return to not just post-season play, but in hopes to break through the metaphorical glass ceiling. As of now, Portland has nine players on their books for next season but of those nine, just five were involved in the nightly rotation.
Of their own players, the Blazers likely prioritize three main free agents: Anfernee Simons, Joe Ingles, and Jusuf Nurkic. Even under the assumption, that all three are brought back, there remains a gaping hole in the front court that cannot just be filled but has to be stacked to the brink to escape the same fate Blazer’s seasons faced for what was almost a decade.
That process all starts Thursday night.
It should not come off as an exaggeration when one makes the claim that this offseason has been positioned as the most crucial offseason the Blazers have had since the turn of the century. With the seventh overall pick, it is no surprise to think the front office will shop around with that lottery pick to land a more solidified player for the long-term. The Blazers are in a win-now scenario as Damian Lillard’s window of excellence becomes smaller and smaller to execute within.
Portland has been linked to several players since the season came to a conclusion and seemingly has viable options to look into when it comes to bolstering up their roster. Reports have it that Portland has their eyes on Luguentz Dort of the Oklahoma City Thunder and OG Anunoby of the Toronto Raptors.
According to Jake Fischer of Bleacher Report, the Blazers are very much interested in swapping the seventh overall pick with the Thunder in exchange for the 12th overall pick and G/F Lugentz Dort.
On the surface, this trade looks like one that goes through with both sides pleased to come to agreement but in the immediate future, how does this hold up for the Blazers?
Lu Dort is known league wide as one the better perimeter defenders and has improved year by year on the offensive side of basketball. The issue does not come from a lack of skill, but instead is a question of fit. Dort stands at just 6-foot-3 playing heavy minutes at the forward position. Coming out of a time where the Blazers experimented with a three guard lineup, and found little to no success, what good will it do to not just trade down in the draft but also downsize on the wing?
With that being said, the 12th overall pick is still more than enough as its own asset to go and add another dynamic front court piece that can help push the Blazers up the ladder.
Though Lu Dort and the 12th overall pick look like a fairly enticing package, OG Anunoby is perhaps most intriguing player that Portland have been linked to.
When looking back on the past half a decade of Trail Blazers teams, Portland had always lacked two-way ability on the wing and when you are running lineups with guards who are more offensive-centric, versatile wings are simply a necessity. At 6-foot-7 with the ability to guard positions one through four, Anunoby could be the perfect fit in the front court.
Anunoby is 24 years old and coming off of a season where he posted 17 points per game while shooting 36.3% from beyond the arc. The Indiana alumni posses a physical presence on the wing that the Blazers have lacked for years and adding him to the roster would open several possible lineups for Chauncey Billups to utilize. Big enough to play both the three and the four, Portland would be able to throw a lineup out with both Anunoby and Josh Hart on the wing. Two above average defenders with the ability to create for themselves when defenses hone in on the Blazers back court.
Like every off-season, the rumor mill has continued to remain at the forefront of every fans timeline across several different platforms. Portland being linked to several other players like John Collins, Miles Bridges, and Jerami Grant has been happening since April and while those rumors have taken a step back, they prove that the market for Portland to delve into is perhaps as rich as its been for quite some time.
To entertain potential draft day trades is normal, but in doing so it is a must to acknowledge the other side of the spectrum. A world where Portland uses the seventh overall pick to add to their overlooked young core of Simons, Little, Watford, etc. is still well within the realm of possibility.
Recent reports have come out from ESPN that Shaedon Sharpe, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Kentucky, has caught the eyes of not just the Trail Blazers but specifically Damian Lillard in a recent workout. Sharpe possess all the physical tools and potential to be a special talent in the NBA, especially with the right guidance. A keen scorer at just the age of 19 with tremendous upside, Sharpe would be hard to pass up if he were to still be on the board at seven.
During the month of June, Portland has held several workouts with a plethora of prospects as they continue to weigh their options. Portland could use their pick to draft a guard, more so looking towards the future when pairing someone next to Anfernee Simons. They also could take a flyer on a front-court player hoping the rookie could add a spark in the rotation, be that as a starter or finding his place coming off the bench.
The 2022 NBA Draft is just the beginning for this Trail Blazers organization. Coming off a year with major changes made in both the front office and the roster, the 2022-2023 season will be an exciting time for players, staff, and fans.