The first day of the NBA Draft Combine has passed, and for the Blazers, it seems they have significant interest in wing players.
At the draft combine, the Blazers met with five players, per OregonLive.com’s Jason Quick: UCLA guard-forward Shabazz Muhammad, Syracuse guard Michael Carter-Williams, Syracuse forward James Southerland, Indiana big man Cody Zeller and San Diego State guard Jamaal Franklin. Muhammad, Southerland and Franklin are all players that can play the wing position at the NBA level, and even Carter-Williams is not your average point guard prospect at a height of 6’6″. Zeller was the only big man the Blazers scouted on day one, in spite of starting center J.J. Hickson’s pending free agency.
The Blazers’ lack of interest in a starting center doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. General manager Neil Olshey has expressed an interest in pursuing a veteran center rather than adding one through the draft, and they are only a year removed from drafting center, Meyers Leonard, with the 11th pick. The Blazers likely plan to stick with Leonard, and instead shift their attention to drafting a wing.
The Blazers are nearly a lock for the tenth pick in the NBA draft this year, but they may not keep it–that pick could be traded in a deal for an established center. The same goes for the Blazers’ three picks in the second round (39th, 40th and 45th). However, in the event that they keep those picks, the players they have met with so far speak volumes about where their interest lies in the draft this year.
Shabazz Muhammad, Jamaal Franklin and James Southerland all have one thing in common: they are wing players that serve to put the ball in the basket, albeit in very different ways. Muhammad is a pure scorer (to the point of one-dimensionality?) who gets his through playing off the ball and taking advantage of his superior physical tools in the paint and on the break. Franklin is a much more versatile player than Muhammad, but his main appeal lies in his scoring ability as a slasher/cutter. Whereas Southerland is one of the NCAA’s best 3-point shooters and he is almost strictly a catch-and-shoot specialist.
With the worst scoring bench in the NBA last year (last in the league at 18.5 bench points per game, while the 29th-ranked Pacers averaged 26.1), it’s clear the Blazers are seeking help in the draft. The silver lining is that they have a bit of a blank canvas in terms of how they want to upgrade their bench. Muhammad, Franklin and Southerland are all very different types of scorers, and it seems the Blazers are looking indiscriminately for scoring help.
Other players the Blazers could be interested in that fit the scoring wing mold include LeHigh guard, C.J. McCollum, a Lillard-esque scorer with the ball; Georgia guard, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, an off-ball scorer with a sweet stroke; and Virginia Tech guard, Erick Green, the nation’s leading scorer with a smooth jumpshot and the ability to score with and without the ball.
Meanwhile, neither Michael Carter-Williams nor Cody Zeller identify much as scorers. Carter-Williams is a versatile point guard that actually struggles to score, much like a young Rajon Rondo, and Zeller is an all-around big who, admittedly, has a relatively polished offensive game but is also extremely unselfish. They strike me more as the Blazers doing “due diligence” on prospects, but anything could happen in the Blazers’ effort to retool their bench.
Whether or not the Blazers keep their picks, it’s clear they have an interest in adding a much-needed scoring punch to their bench. If they don’t like anyone to fill that role in the draft, it could become a priority during free agency.