A common belief around the league is that with the tenth overall selection, the Portland Trail Blazers will draft Georgia guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper notes that “several teams are convinced” that the Blazers draft Caldwell-Pope. Perhaps the Minnesota Timberwolves draft Caldwell-Pope with the ninth pick, right before the Blazers’ turn. In that case, Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum is known to be of interest to Portland as well.
More to the point, the widely accepted consensus is that the Blazers are likely to draft a guard. They have expressed interest in some big men and worked out their fair share of them, but the general feeling is that Portland will target a player for their backcourt with the tenth pick.
It’s not a very difficult thing to believe. The Trail Blazers’ bench was awful last season, and there are some very nicely polished NBA guards in the draft that can come right in to the Blazers’ system and produce. Not to mention, the Trail Blazers drafted a center just last season with the 11th pick, Meyers Leonard. Leonard’s first season was nothing spectacular to speak of, but in the NBA, young centers typically take more time to fully develop than just one season.
And yet, could the Blazers choose to draft a big man? What would be their motive in doing so?
There are a lot of big men in this year’s draft. Due to a lack of standout talent but a large number of prospects at a similar level, Portland could choose to draft any number of players. Big men that could be under consideration for the Blazers include Steven Adams (a possibility detailed by Jason), Cody Zeller and Kelly Olynyk.
Each of these players are different from the next, in the way they play and in the role they would have within the Blazers organization. Zeller and Olynyk are much more NBA-ready players than Adams. They could see rotational minutes from the start, whereas Adams would be better suited for a smaller role while given time to develop.
What makes drafting a big man tricky is the presence of Meyers Leonard. While some fans have soured on him after his first season in the NBA, it’d be surprising if Portland were to give up on him after year one. That said, he still needs to be further developed.
Depending on the level of faith the team has in Leonard, they could choose to double up on big man prospects. Prospects don’t always work out as planned in the NBA, and talented big men are a rare commodity. Carrying two and hoping one pans out isn’t a flawed strategy, and if they both do, that’s just another asset for the team.
Drafting one of the more NBA-ready big men, Zeller or Olynyk, could risk stunting Leonard’s development by taking playing time away from him. However, the chance that Zeller (considered a top-3 prospect before the season) or Olynyk (consensus first-team All-American this year) could be better than Leonard exists.
Adams, a much rawer prospect, might be a better fit with Leonard than Zeller or Olynyk. He isn’t nearly as proven or well-decorated, but he carries significant upside. Of course, potential always comes with risk. The convenient thing about Adams being raw with upside is that he won’t demand minutes right away and can develop quietly without taking away significant playing time from Leonard. Though his stock has fallen significantly, French center Rudy Gobert could be another raw-with-upside prospect under consideration.
But would Portland want to draft a big man anyway? It’s hard to see them turning on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or C.J. McCollum given the state of their roster. While raw, Leonard is at least somebody to bring off the bench and develop at center. Behind Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews, the Blazers field just Will Barton and possibly Eric Maynor, who could return as a restricted free agent. It’s a situation where they would be drafting to a position of need over a position where they already have a prospect to develop.
It would most likely be in the case that Caldwell-Pope and McCollum were both gone, a very real possibility with Detroit and Minnesota picking right before Portland, that Portland drafts a big man. That’s a situation where drafting a center makes more sense than reaching for a guard that may not be as good a prospect as the available big men. Additionally, with this year being a deeper draft than usual for bigs, Portland might want to capitalize and invest in just one more big man.
If Portland is on the clock with the tenth pick come draft day with Caldwell-Pope and McCollum off of the board, drafting a center becomes a very real possibility. Meyers Leonard in the system is a factor in the decision-making, but at this stage, he shouldn’t be a reason to needlessly draft a weaker prospect than necessary.