Portland Trail Blazers’ fans may be more familiar than other fan bases around the league with the undrafted free agent who becomes an integral part of the team. Blazers’ shooting guard Wesley Matthews is proof there are quality players who never hear them name called on draft night but go on to have very successful careers in the NBA. Raja Bell, Jeremy Lin, Bruce Bowen, Ben Wallace are others who went undrafted and had success.
Matthews went undrafted out of Marquette, despite averaging 18.6 points per game during his senior season, and was picked up by the Utah Jazz. He was so impressive during his rookie season that Portland jumped at the opportunity of locking up the shooting guard, signing him to a five-year/$34 million contract, much higher than rookie wage scale if Wes was selected in the second round of the NBA draft.
Every season, undrafted free agents have an impact in the NBA, but no one seems to take notice or even care. All the hype surrounding the top picks in this year’s loaded draft is warranted, probably, but there is value in nearly 100 players coming into the NBA from college or international competition. Depending on which mock draft you look at, in one mock draft, a player could be ranked to fall in the 30-40 pick range, and in another, the same player could go undrafted. It all depends on what the teams need.
For the Trail Blazers, this is very, very, very good. By now, you’re probably aware that Portland has no picks in this draft, while their division rivals combined have three lottery picks and multiple picks outside the lottery. Potentially, that could mean three of Portland’s divisional opponents could find a franchise-player or all-star-caliber talent in what is being called the best draft class since the 2003 draft class, which featured LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh. The fact that some quality players could go undrafted helps Portland’s hopes of reloading their bench for next season.
It’s bittersweet because all the teams have the same chance to sign about 40 players with NBA talent who go undrafted, so there is a possibility Portland is not able to sign any of those undrafted players. Realistically, the odds of a player who goes undrafted actually making an impact in his rookie season are pretty slim anyway, so I don’t want to get your hopes too high. The Blazers aren’t finding another LeBron in the undrafted free agency market. But, let’s try and look on the bright side of this situation.
The Blazers aren’t looking for star players. They’re looking for talent to help the bench, preferably a big man or a guard, in case C.J. McCollum doesn’t pan out as the backup point guard. After checking and cross-checking mock drafts, it seems like there is some consensus that the players I’m about to name as possible undrafted free agents are not going to be taken in the NBA Draft. Here are some possible undrafted free agents Portland could sign, in hopes of improving the bench:
*It’s possible any of these players could get drafted.
DeAndre Kane – PG, Iowa State:
The Marshall transfer, Kane is right on the cusp of being a late second-round pick and not being drafted. At 6’4”, his length and offensive capabilities are his strengths. During his senior year at Iowa State, Kane made nearly 40 percent of his three-point attempts, so he’s also a capable shooter. Yet, throughout the course of his career, his shooting has gone up-and-down. Kane’s downside is his age. If he were four years younger, he would probably be a top-10 pick, but a 25-year-old rookie doesn’t seem to have much chance in the NBA draft.
Sean Kilpatrick- SG, Cincinnati:
Kilpatrick reminds me of Wesley Matthews when he was at Marquette. Kilpatrick had to do everything offensively for Cincinnati last season. While his points per game numbers increased, Kilpatrick wasn’t as efficient as other players around the country. He’s not a knock-down shooter, but in the right system, like Portland’s, Kilpatrick could provide an offensive punch off the bench.
Kendall Williams- PG, New Mexico:
Like Kane and Kilpatrick, Williams had potential to be an everyday player in the NBA, but his efficiency and consistency has been questionable throughout his career. Some games Williams looks like the best player on the court, and in others, he disappears. His length and shooting ability will help him, if he gets a shot in the NBA, and I think he could be a quality back-up in the future.
C.J. Fair- SF, Syracuse:
Fair had a great career at Syracuse, but what position does he play? He’s too slow to match other small forwards and he’s not big enough or strong enough to guard power forwards. He reminds me of Terrence Jones of the Houston Rockets. As a small-ball power forward, Fair could take advantage of bigger players with his quickness and driving ability. His defense is the greater area of concern. In the NBA, he won’t be able to hide in a 2-3 zone. Fair will have to prove himself, but having a player like Fair on the bench wouldn’t be a bad thing for Portland.
Jordan Bachynski- C, Arizona State:
Bachynski has come a long way in his career. Obviously, he’s not going to be a star player anywhere in the NBA. At 7’2”, he’ll definitely get opportunities to play, however. He’s not as good defensively as his size might indicate, but he’s far from terrible. Last season, Bachynski averaged 8.2 rebounds and four blocks per game. If Bachynski can be more aggressive, he’ll have an NBA career similar to Scott Pollard. Portland could use a player like him.
Alex Kirk- C, New Mexico:
Kirk had a slightly down year last season at New Mexico, but for a seven-footer, he doesn’t have a bad shooting stroke. He averaged 13.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game in his junior season. It’s semi-surprising Kirk left college early. With another year to develop, he could have been one of the best big men in the country next season. Defensively, he has room to grow, but with a year in the D-league or practicing against LaMarcus Aldridge everyday, Kirk could be decent back-up center in a few years.
The undrafted free agents Portland picks up after the draft may not have an impact next season, but the draft is all about the future, and maybe, just maybe, the Blazers will find another Wesley Matthews.