Why the Blazers Should Not Draft a Center


June 28, 2012; Newark, NJ, USA; Meyers Leonard (Illinois) heads up to the stage after being introduced as the number eleven overall pick to the Portland Trail Blazers during the 2012 NBA Draft at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

The Blazers are slated at the 10th pick in this year’s draft, and it’s time for them to think long and hard about how they want to use the selection. Many have speculated that Portland should take a center in order to fill the hole J.J. Hickson will leave when/if he departs in free agency. I am going to tell you, flat-out, that this is a bad idea.

First of all, Meyers Leonard is already a capable 5, despite his defensive shortcomings. The Blazers spent last year’s 11th pick to draft him, which is not a resource to be taken lightly. Putting Leonard’s development on the backburner in favor of a fresh start would be a terrible mistake; especially since he is a strong shooter for a big man.

I am of the camp that believes Meyers could be a starter next season if he focuses on defense and bulking up this summer. If Portland were to choose another man for the job in the draft, they would be back to square one; a brand new project in need of big minutes to develop.

Besides, the Blazers need a veteran presence in the post. I would like to avoid a scenario in which two youngsters assume responsibility for Portland’s paint game, to the tune of Benny Hill. If they are going to acquire a new big man, it should be in free agency or via trade. Someone who can support and teach Leonard, while contributing in-game, that doesn’t need big minutes to become effective.

Even if the Blazers elect to pursue a new starting center, like Pekovic, Gortat, or Varejao, it would be better for Leonard (and the team) than blowing the 10th pick on a big man. Another year of coming off the bench would be alright for him, as long as it is to back up a polished veteran that he can study under.

Adding a rookie 5 to the starting lineup would stymie Leonard’s development, but adding one to the bench would be just as problematic. Leonard is not yet rounded enough to show a rookie the ropes he needs to be familiar with. The two would cut into each other’s developmental minutes and leave Portland without the big man they desperately need.

This is why the Blazers need to go all-in on Meyers Leonard’s future. The best options for Portland are to: a) start Leonard and bring in a veteran backup, or b) sit Meyers behind a veteran leader. Either way, they cannot toss out all the time they spent improving him last season.

Since the lottery, some mock drafts have been adjusted to match up the Portland Trail Blazers with French Center, Rudy Gobert. Although a genetic jackpot, the 7’2” prospect would take away from what the Blazers already have. Instead, Portland should focus on other areas of improvement.

What Portland should do with the 10th pick

Option a) Trade up for Victor Oladipo

  • Oladipo is a top tier defensive guard out of Indiana. With a quick first step, he is athletically explosive and a strong finisher at the rim. The Blazers would have to trade up to the 3rd pick to guarantee his availability however, and it is unlikely that Washington is willing to trade away their auspicious position.

Option b) Draft a scoring wing

  • The Blazer bench was hands down the worst in the league last year. They desperately need a sixth man who can provide energy and, more importantly, points off the bench. UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad could be available at 10th, as could LeHigh’s C.J. McCollum or San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin, among others. This option creates the most opportunities for Portland.

Option c) Trade for depth

  • As mentioned, the lack of talent on the Blazers’ bench is appalling. The 10th pick could be bundled up and sent away in a deal to bring role players to Portland’s struggling secondary.

Option d) Trade for a center

  • Quality veterans don’t just fall out of the sky. In order to bring one to the Rose City, the Blazers would likely have to include their first round pick in some sort of package deal. Addressing their need at center without drafting a green one is an ideal move for Portland.

My point is that the Blazers need to exercise patience with Meyers Leonard and mold him into the player he has potential to become. In recent days, reports of Blazer veterans’ “win now” mentality have surfaced. I believe the Blazers can do that without giving up on Leonard. With the proper training, and perhaps the support of an established vet, Leonard could make the sophomore season leap that is necessary for Portland’s success. Drafting another big man would slow that process more than anything, and the backward step in development would certainly betray the direction they are pushing toward. The Blazers need to bring in a vet down low and focus their draft selection on a position that is already well anchored in the starting lineup.

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