The Perfect Prospects for the Portland Trail Blazers
This article originally appeared on Oregon Sports News where I write a weekly column: http://oregonsportsnews.com/the-perfect-prospects-for-the-portland-trail-blazers/
The Trail Blazers’ season may have ended sooner than many expected at the beginning of the playoffs, but it’s never too early to start looking ahead toward the NBA draft. The Blazers have multiple holes that they need to fill and with a tightly strapped contract situation, the best option to add difference makers is through the draft that will take place in New York on June 21st.
Fellow OSN Blazers contributor Sebastian Pycior wrote a solid breakdown of what the Blazers’ cap situation will look like this offseason here (http://oregonsportsnews.com/relieving-salary-cap-strain-give-up-first-round-pick-or-cj-mccollum/) so I won’t go into detail about that, but suffice to say, the Blazers have multiple holes to fill and minimal dollars to fill them with.
The Holes to Fill
Before we dive into what prospects in this year’s draft will fill the Blazers’ roster holes best, we need to figure out where those holes are. The biggest issue for Portland is a complete lack of oomph from the wing. Al-Farouq Aminu and Evan Turner, while serviceable, are not the type of wings that can win a playoff series.
Aminu and Turner were both in the minus for the season in terms of offensive box plus/minus and neither added a full win when it came to offensive win shares on the season according to basketball-reference.com. In a league that has put an increased emphasis on offensive efficiency from the win, the Blazers sorely lacked any scoring from the position.
Aminu and Turner actually were above average defenders on the season though. Aminu was clearly better due to his superior quickness on the perimeter, but Turner was a decent fill in as a small-ball power forward. Aminu even guarded Anthony Davis for long stretches in the team’s playoff series against the Pelicans. It may not have worked out for Aminu, but he was coach Terry Stotts’ best option.
The Blazers sorely need a solid three-and-d guy that can switch on pick-and-rolls on the defensive end, and knock down wide open threes on offense. Aminu was all right at hitting threes, shooting a hair under 37%, but Turner was downright bad, hitting just 31% of his attempts from deep.
How to Fill the Holes Via the Draft
The Blazers currently have only the 24th overall pick in the first round, after trading away their second round pick in this year’s draft. It won’t be possible to completely fill the holes on the roster with a single pick, but it’s entirely possible that the front office makes a move to grab another pick or two.
The Perfect Fit: Mikal Bridges – Villanova
Bridges might be the best wing in the draft and for good reason. He was the best player on the national champion this year (sorry Jalen Brunson) averaging 17.7 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. But where Bridges truly shined is from behind the arc, where he shot a career high 43.5%.
Bridges would slot in as an immediate difference maker for the Blazers and would be able to play nicely off of ball dominant guards Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum. Given a couple years to improve his ball handling, Bridges could become a more offensively skilled Tayshaun Prince.
The biggest knock against Bridges is that he might be too lanky. He’ll have to bulk up if he wants to be able to defend stronger forwards, but that is at least something that can be worked on. He has the basketball IQ to develop into a top-tier talent.
The “He Fits Better Than You Think” Fit: Melvin Frazier - Tulane
Frazier is a better defender than Bridges, but his offensive game is vastly inferior. He’s a decent enough shooter, shooting 38.5% from behind the arc last season with Tulane, but can’t really create his own shot off the dribble. This could be a plus since Frazier won’t be asked to handle the ball much with McCollum and Lillard being the dominant ball handlers, but Frazier will have to better his shooting mechanics to make it in the NBA.
Frazier has a herky-jerky shooting form and releases the ball on the way down. It kills the momentum and rhythm of his shot and led to inconsistencies shooting the ball. He’s also often wildly out of control when driving to the hoop. Whether that is due to his lack of ball handling skills or simply poor technique, he’ll have to learn to finish layups with more consistency.
Where Frazier truly shines though is on the defensive end. He was a lockdown defender and was a turnover-creating machine. Calling him the next Bruce Bowen might be a stretch, but he certainly has the defensive ceiling of elite level defenders. Frazier has the instincts and innate ability on the defensive end that is hard to coach, which is why he will be able to immediately contribute for the team that drafts him.
Frazier projects as a second round pick currently in multiple mock drafts, so it’s worth noting that the Blazers could easily make a move to pick up an early second round pick and snag Frazier.
The “Realistic” Fit: Keita Bates-Diop – Ohio State
Keita Bates-Diop was one of the most exciting players this season not named Trae Young. He won the Big 10 player of the year over front-runner Miles Bridges of Michigan State and led Ohio State into the top five in the nation at one point. Bates-Diop is an elite level scorer with NBA-range, shooting just a hair under 36% on the year.
The reason Bates-Diop could slide to the Blazers at pick 24 is his porous defense. He was sturdier when defending bigs, but there’s no guarantee that he will be able to do so against more skilled post players. He also lacks the quickness to stay with guards, but that disadvantage is slightly made up for with his length and skill defending the rim. One of KBD’s most underrated attributes is his ability to switch and defend in the pick-and-roll. In the modern NBA, a player that can’t competently navigate the pick-and-roll is simply useless, but Bates-Diop is solid enough currently and should only get better with time.
Bates-Diop would be an ideal pick if the Blazers are forced to part ways with either McCollum or Lillard as KBD can fill the scoring void. Obviously, that wouldn’t be the ideal scenario, but Bates-Diop would give the Blazers more flexibility if the situation were to arise.
Overall, the Blazers should have a multitude of options to fill their most glaring weakness on draft night. Whether the front office decides to blow it up and make a major trade into the lottery, or whether they decide to stand pat and run it back, there will be options to help fill the void that hurt them last season. Obviously landingBridges would be a gift from the basketball gods, but even the more realistic prospects like Bates-Diop or Frazier would do wonders to improve the team. Whatever the team decides to do moving forward, playing Turner fewer minutes is going to improve the squad.