With no draft workouts allowed, the NBA Draft process will be different this year. The Trail Blazers may not need to look far to find a hidden gem.
The NBA season is effectively cancelled. With no realistic chance of a return, this likely means that there will be no draft workouts or combine as we know them either. To protect from the spread of COVID-19, all these extra activities may be off-limits.
Noted NBA scribe Shams Charania also tweeted recently about how much access teams would have to prospects in a virtual sense.
The NBA Draft will still go ahead of course, even with a slight delay. But NBA teams like the Portland Trail Blazers, will need to use unconventional methods to figure out who is worth taking with their two selections. Including their second-round selection, number 44.
The Draft is already a risk as it is, but without being able to get a guy in for a workout they will be relying on other factors.
This includes relying heavily on the work of their scouting departments. The Blazers are also lucky enough to be blessed with three strong local division one schools who have recently been providing talent to the NBA.
Neil Olshey and his scouts are in close proximity to Portland State University while Oregon and Oregon State are an hour so and down the I5. Although the BIG-SKY conference is a mid major, you don’t need to look far down the Blazers roster to spot the last player Olshey plucked from there, one Damian Lillard.
Blazers scouts have attended more than a dozen Oregon State practices and games in which big man Kylor Kelley has played. After watching some of his game footage, we can see why they have been interested.
Kelley is a seven-foot shot blocking machine with a seven-foot-three wingspan, and an offensive game that is one of the most efficient for his position in the NCAA.
He has surprisingly flown under the radar though, with just the two years of NCAA play. After some spectacular performances in high school, including one game where he had 17 blocks, sub par academics unfortunately meant he was unable to secure a four-year ride from a bona-fide D1 school.
Luckily, Ex Oregon Duck and NBA player Luke Jackson had Kelley on his radar and managed to secure him a scholarship to play at Northwest Christian, an NAIA program near Jackson’s alma mater in Eugene.
Health issues in year one meant Kelley had to red shirt his freshman year, and after only ten games the subsequent year, these same issues meant he had to leave NCU for nearby Lane Community College in Eugene.
With his health issues behind him he was able to focus his efforts on catching up in the classroom while catching lobs in the gym. He averaged an impressive 9.9 points, 7.5 rebounds and 4.6 blocks at Lane.
A scholarship to Oregon State followed. In his first season, he edged out a senior for a starting role. Then he went about setting new school records for blocked shots in a game with nine, while also setting a new school mark with 104 blocks in a season
In his most impressive performance in his first season in Corvallis, he matched up with current Trail Blazers two-way player, Moses Brown, who was playing for the UCLA Bruins at the time. Brown, the number 24 high school recruit in 2018, was limited to nine points, while Kelley had 14 points on perfect six of six shooting, with five blocks.
This year he has been just as impressive, averaging 3.5 blocks a game, good enough for not only the top spot in the PAC-12, but second in the nation too.
Digging into Kelley’s game tape, you notice a few key components to his game.
Defensively, he has patience. He doesn’t leap at every shot attempt or pump fake. He has great timing on his blocks and uses strong verticality to absorb contact and impact shot attempts. He already has the rare ability for a young player to block an opponents’ right-hand shot with his left-hand and vice-versa.
Kelley doesn’t leave his feet unless completely necessary, meaning he’s rarely out of position for a rebound or second block attempt.
Though he weighs in at around 230 pounds, you can see that he would be able to add weight to his frame. He has a sturdy body and uses it well.
He has excellent instincts too. Not many big men can block shots on the perimeter, but Kelley’s innate timing combined with improved movement on the floor, means he has been able to block jump shooters this season. He has improved his foot speed from his first season and has shown the ability to recover from the perimeter and then get back to the rim to contest the shot.
Kelley has a great motor, with a willingness to improve. This is obvious in his offensive game too.
He doubled his assist rate from his junior to senior season. And with his shot attempts going from 4.9 a game to 7.2, he still averaged 60.4 percent from the field. Not only did he improve his free-throw rate from .405 to .509 but he also improved his free throw percentage from 61 to 68 percent.
Kelly even flashed some face up ability this season, in knocking down some midrange jumpers.
Per Synergy, Kelley ranks in the 97th percentile in offensive efficiency in the entire NCAA.
This means, of the 1100 division one players in the country who have been involved in 10 possessions or more a game, Kelley ranked 15th in efficiency. He knows his role, and performs this well.
The improvement in his free-throw shooting from year one to year two, combined with his nice shooting touch, means that he has a chance to evolve into a stretch big later on. His overall touch around the rim also bodes well for the development of his offensive game.
The Blazers have some issues to tackle while filling out their front court this offseason. Hassan Whiteside was brought in via trade from the Miami Heat to fill in for the injured Jusuf Nurkic. Whiteside is a free agent this summer and will not likely return to the Blazers due to financial constraints.
With the late Paul Allen’s sister Jody still relatively new to the ownership hot seat there has been talk of her potentially pushing Olshey to watch the bottom line. The Blazers will likely look to sign a veteran agent out of the free agent pool at center position instead of retaining Whiteside.
They lack a development center on a roster laden with guard talent but lacking in the front court. It’s important to note that the Blazers traded sway Skal Labissiere and Anthony Tolliver at the trade deadline, both players who were used to fill in as a backup center to Whiteside.
Kylor Kelley is an élite shot blocker. He moves well for a seven-footer and can provide energy off the bench in a development role for the Blazers. He is much more advanced at this stage as a player than current Blazers two-way player Brown.
As mentioned earlier when the two faced off in the collegiate ranks, it wasn’t particularly close, as Kelley had his coming out party as a PAC-12 player, while Brown looked lost at times.
With no draft workouts being the likeliest scenario, the Blazers scouting team have a prospect here they have seen enough of to take a chance on. Many draft pundits are characterising this draft as one where teams are likely to make their selections based on need, and there’s more no glaring need than defense on this Blazers roster.
Locals may be familiar with known commodities in the Oregon basketball landscape, like Oregon Duck Payton Pritchard and Kelley’s teammate Tres Tinkle. But in terms of being NBA prospects, small four-year guards like Pritchard are a dime a dozen.
While the five-year Tinkle is a wing who had the whole offense built around him at Oregon State, but didn’t show one élite skill that would translate to the NBA.
The last time the Blazers used the draft to fortify their front court with an experienced college player, they struck out mightily with Caleb Swanigan.
It seems like Olshey was almost scared to uncover a big men in the next two drafts, going the guard route with Nassir Little, Anfernee Simons and Gary Trent Jr. But now Olshey has to take a leap and draft a gem like Kelley before another team does.
Kylor Kelly has flow under the radar the last 2 seasons in the Blazers backyard, but with the way things may pan out with this year’s draft process, teams may do a bit more digging and uncover a player who is the biggest gem.