As it stands, the Blazers will have a bevy of picks at their disposal during this year’s draft. How they will use them remains to be seen.
Before we get into that, here is a quick recap of those picks and where they came from:
The Blazers’ first round pick is technically owed to the Bobcats, as a residual effect from the trade in which the Blazers acquired Gerald Wallace. It is, however, top-12 protected from 2012-2014. In layman’s terms, this means that if the Blazers finish in the top-12 in the Draft Lottery during those years, they get to keep the pick.
Right now, the probabilities have the Blazers pegged as most likely to get the tenth pick in the draft (thus allowing them to keep the pick). However, as we all know, the ping pong balls rarely fall according to plan.
There is one way, but one way only that the Blazers would lose their pick this year – if three out of the four lottery teams behind them (the Jazz, the Mavericks, the 76ers, and the Raptors) lucked into the first three picks in the lottery. This is because the ping pong balls only determine the first three picks of the lottery – everything afterwards goes according to record. Thus, this is the only way in which three of those four teams could jump ahead of Portland.
In short, it’s not happening.
With the first round pick all but secured, we can turn our attention to the second round picks. The second round is not subject to the whims of ping pong balls, and instead just proceeds directly according to a team’s record. With 30 teams in the league, the tenth pick of the second round is the 40th pick. The Blazers, though, owe the Nuggets their second round pick because of the trade in which they sent away Andre Miller and acquired Raymond Felton. But, and there is almost always a but:
That second round pick is… top-40 protected. This means that the Blazers are guaranteed to keep that pick this year. If they had finished even one spot better in terms of record, that pick would be going to the Nuggets. Additionally, they hold two more second round picks acquired from the Boston Celtics in the Sasha Pavlovic / Jon Diebler trade (pick numbers 39 and 45).
With the details out of the way, let’s step back and look at the big picture; out of the top 45 picks in the draft, the Blazers own four of them, good for 8.9% of that pool. Before anyone wants to cast aside second round picks as worthless, it’s worth pointing out that Manu Ginobili, Monta Ellis, Marc Gasol, Gilbert Arenas, Paul Millsap, Carlos Boozer, and Michael Redd, just to name a few, were all second round picks.
Within the last four drafts alone, Isaiah Thomas, Chandler Parsons, Lance Stephenson, Omar Asik, Dejaun Blair, and Danny Green, all valuable contributors on their respective teams, have been second round draft picks. The value is out there in the second round if teams know how to find it.
For a team laughably starved of depth, the four picks could be used as a shotgun approach to try and fill some of the holes. What is appearing more likely, though, is that Blazers GM Neil Olshey will use some or all of the picks in a package to acquire a more established player.
As reported by Jason Quick, this is what Olshey actually said – if a player he wants is available, he will “clearly” pursue them via trade. It doesn’t get much more “straight from the horse’s mouth” (Huxley anyone?) than that.
On the whole, this sounds like an acceptable strategy to me. Obsessively following the NFL has conditioned me to scream “ALWAYS BUILD THROUGH THE DRAFT!” but the reality is that this is far more difficult in the NBA than the NFL (in no small part due to the smaller talent pool). The only two teams off the top of my head with recent success that can truly lay a claim to being “built through the draft” are the Thunder and the Spurs. That’s a pretty short list.
The truth is that drafting a quality player is, quite simply, hard. Take a few minutes and flick through the past decade’s drafts – you will find a veritable wasteland of players selected in the first round that you have never heard of. This casts an even more favorable light on the strategy of flipping picks for established players.
The benefits of such a move are compounded by the franchise’s location – much to the frustration of fans, Portland has not been traditionally known as marquee free agent destination (to put it mildly). Damian Lillard, though, has said he will hit the recruiting path for potential free agents, and I heartily welcome the change of attitude. While in some respects Portland simply can’t compete with the sun or celebrity of Los Angeles and Miami, it doesn’t mean that this has to remain the status quo.
While I and every other Blazer fan would love to see Lillard’s recruiting be met with success, if his persuasive skills turn out to be not as smooth as his handles, trading always remains a reliable method through which to bring in veteran players.
Lastly, this draft is one of the weakest in years. This just further decreases the chances of the Blazers finding an “impact” player with the tenth pick (or any of their second rounders). Again, it is possible (Brook Lopez, Roy Hibbert and Rajon Rondo were all selected with the tenth pick or later), but the odds are not in the Blazers’ favor.
For the time being, we can only wait until May 21st when the ping pong balls dole out destiny how they see fit. When the draft finally rolls around, though, don’t be surprised if the Blazers opt to go the “trade for a veteran” route. Preferably a center.