If you’re a Blazers fan, you’ve probably had a tough two months. The Blazers were close to that eighth seed in mid-March, but they closed out their season with losses in their final 13 games of the season and 15 of their last 17. Most Blazers fans have since been relegated to watching other teams in the playoffs, with only the news of Damian Lillard unanimously winning Rookie of the Year to brighten things up. It’s been a while since Lillard won the award, so let’s do some daydreaming.
In 2008, the Chicago Bulls won the draft lottery with a 1.7% chance of doing so. They picked Derrick Rose, who would go on to become a MVP and a three-time All-Star. What if the Blazers won the lottery, or ended up with a top three pick, in this year’s NBA Draft?
The odds for the Blazers are long, even longer than those of the 2007 Bulls. The Blazers have a 1.1% chance of winning the #1 pick, a 1.3% chance for the #2 pick, and a 1.6% chance for the #3 pick. Only four teams have lower lottery odds: the Philadelphia 76ers, the Toronto Raptors, the Dallas Mavericks and the Utah Jazz. Don’t get your hopes up; this is purely wishful thinking. When the NBA Draft Lottery is held on May 21st, the Blazers almost definitely won’t get a top 3 pick.
But, for a few pleasant minutes of daydreaming, here’s what would happen if the Blazers get a top three pick:
The Blazers with the 1st Overall Pick (Odds: 1.1%)
Pick: Nerlens Noel, Kentucky
If the Blazers had the first pick, I strongly believe that they would pick Nerlens Noel. He suffered an ACL injury in mid-February that leaves him questionable for the start of the regular season, but that shouldn’t deter the Blazers from drafting Noel. Blazers fans will undoubtedly think of the knee issues that prematurely ended Greg Oden’s career, but Noel is the right pick for the team. However; having only spent only one year at Kentucky, Noel is still raw, and the Blazers would not be drafting him to contribute right away.
Noel can be classified as an (extremely) athletic, boards and blocks-type big man–someone akin to a Larry Sanders or a DeAndre Jordan. At 6’10” and 228 lbs, he’s a little short for the center position, but makes up for it with his elite athleticism. He would need to bulk up to be able to bang down low with NBA bigs though. Offensively, Noel is extremely limited. Scoring mostly off dunks and putbacks, he shows very little upside on that end of the floor. What makes Noel such an attractive prospect, however, is his potential to be a difference-maker one day because of his top-tier physicality and his ability to rebound and block shots.
While they would have to groom him, the Blazers could definitely find a place for Noel on their roster. If they used the same starting lineup as last year, the Blazers would carry over Damian Lillard (22), Wesley Matthews (26), Nicolas Batum (24), and LaMarcus Aldridge (27)–all players that will be an integral part of the Blazers’ future. The only starter from last season that won’t be returning is center J.J. Hickson. While they may want to add a veteran center on a one or two year deal to allow Noel some time to develop as a starter, the Blazers could draft Noel and make him their center of the future.
The Blazers may benefit a little more were Noel a center that was more dominating below the basket offensively, à la Dwight Howard, so that their three-point shooters (Lillard, Matthews, Batum) get more open looks. However, they would gladly welcome Noel’s shot-blocking, which is something they need having ranked 26th in blocks per game last season and mostly struggling to defend the paint.
Between Noel and LaMarcus Aldridge, there’s a lot to like. Aldridge, the league’s 2nd leading scorer at the 4 position last year (21.1 points per game) after Carmelo Anthony, can cover for Noel’s offensive ineptitude and carry the frontcourt scoring load himself. Aldridge, being a player that mostly operates out of the high post offensively, the Blazers could plug Noel into the paint and get him easy dunks if the opposing team sends Noel’s defender to double Aldridge. Additionally, with Aldridge not much of a shot-blocking presence and an average defender for a big man overall, Noel could give the Blazers the impactful interior defender they had with Greg Oden.
Give Noel anywhere from a few months of the regular season to two whole seasons to develop into a legitimate starting center in the NBA. At that point, the Blazers are a solid bench away from being a contender. Between Lillard, Aldridge and Noel, Portland would have a strong base to rely upon.
The Blazers with the 2nd Overall Pick (Odds: 1.3%)
Pick: Ben McLemore, Kansas
Let’s go with the odds and say Orlando gets the first overall pick, and that from there, they draft Nerlens Noel. Picking second, I think the Blazers would go with the shooting guard, Ben McLemore. They’d almost definitely rather have Noel (and Orlando could very possibly go with McLemore themselves, in which case the Blazers happily take him), but McLemore is a strong addition as well.
McLemore is primarily known for his smooth three-point shot and his athleticism at the shooting guard slot. In the half-court, he’s an ultra-reliable spot-up shooter from beyond the arc, and shows excellent jumpshot fundamentals that would help in further developing his offensive game. On the fast break, he’s a blur running up the court and an explosive finisher at the rim. To round things out, he’s also a strong defender, a smart off-ball cutter, and a good passer.
The Blazers already have their three-point specialist at the shooting guard slot in Wesley Matthews, but as a team sorely in need of depth, they would welcome McLemore to their roster with open arms. McLemore is one of the best prospects in this draft class and could possibly replace Matthews as the starting shooting guard at some point. However; the Blazers would simply be glad to be able to add a talented player to what was one of the worst benches in the NBA last year, whether that ends up being McLemore or Noel.
With McLemore in the fold rather than Nerlens Noel, the Blazers would still need to add a center, and even with McLemore, add some more qualiy players to their bench. However, McLemore would be a big step forward for them nonetheless, and a huge force in their attempt to get back into the playoffs next season.
The Blazers with the 3rd Overall Pick (Odds: 1.6%)
Pick: Victor Oladipo, Indiana
Noel and McLemore are likely going first and second in some order, so with the third pick, the Blazers would have to settle for someone else. There’s a lot of possibilities for them there, but I believe they would go with 2013 First-Team All-American Victor Oladipo.
Oladipo bears remarkable similarities to the Memphis Grizzlies’ Tony Allen. He’s tough, he grinds, he’s a lockdown defender…..he’s undersized for the wing position, and he can’t shoot. Oladipo won’t give a team much offensively, though he’s a high flyer and a strong finisher. Most of his points would come through off-ball cuts and fast break dunks. However; he will give a team his hustle and his defense, and as evidenced by Tony Allen’s role on the Grizzlies, those are invaluable qualites to a successful team.
Oladipo would join and strengthen the Blazers’ bench, giving them a strong defender and hustle player that they can use. I could see Oladipo injecting plenty of energy for the Blazers, and I could definitely see Oladipo becoming a Rose Garden favorite. However, in the big picture, Oladipo would just be a piece of the puzzle for the Blazers and they would need more to return to being better than a borderline playoff team.
Other players the Blazers could be interested in with the #3 pick include versatile small forward Otto Porter, 7’1″ center Alex Len, and forward Anthony Bennett.
The Blazers Trading the Pick
General manager Neil Olshey is on record saying that he is willing to trade draft picks for an established veteran center, and the first round pick the Blazers have this year is almost definitely up for sale. Of course, it’d be a little different if it was the 1st pick rather than the 10th, and a top-3 pick would get the Blazers much more in return than one at the end of the lottery. I doubt the Blazers would trade away from Noel, but if Noel were off the board, then a trade is fully possible. I can’t say for certain what the trade value of that pick would be, especially given that this draft class is weaker than most, but if the Blazers could get back someone like Marcin Gortat, I’d be very satisfied.