3. The Portland Trail Blazers have to nail the draft pick
There’s no guarantee that the Trail Blazers will wind up with a primo prospect, no matter how many games they lose. The 2022 NBA Draft is panning out to be pretty top-heavy with Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Duke’s Paolo Banchero, and Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren leading the charge.
The Trail Blazers would be lucky to wind up with a top-three selection and have the opportunity to select one of these ready-made pros — each of whom could help Damian Lillard compete for a title immediately, as well as lay a foundation for Portland’s future.
Outside of the top-three though, the draft board becomes a little dicey with two scoring-minded guards in Jaden Hardy and Jaden Ivey as the pretty much consensus next best options.
With those two rounding out the top-five, the draft reverts into a crapshoot that has some potential stars, solid role players, and high-risk gambles.
The Trail Blazers — and Damian Lillard, more specifically — no longer have the luxury of time to wait for projects to grow into quality pieces. Honestly, Neil Olshey shouldn’t have even drafted Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little, but those two worked out for the best.
If Portland happens to pick outside of the top-three, Joe Cronin — or whoever’s calling in the pick at that point — needs to ensure that their selection can help Lillard lead a title chase from day one.
The Trail Blazers will need to balance fit, talent, upside, and NBA readiness when making their pick, but overall, how quickly the rookie can contribute should be the number one factor in making their decision.
A small reach for a player like Memphis’s Jalen Duren — an athletic marvel at center who might be a defensive savant — or Milwaukee’s Patrick Baldwin Jr. — an absolute sniper with size — would wind up being the best move for ensuring the best possible future for Lillard.
If all things go wrong before they go perfectly right, the Blazers could wind up with a depth chart that looks a little something like:
PG – Damian Lillard, Anfernee Simons
SG – Norman Powell
SF – Nassir Little, Patrick Baldwin Jr.
PF – Larry Nance Jr.
C – Deandre Ayton
With a top-seven like that, the Trail Blazers could fill out the remaining slots with any number of veteran minimum guys and be a contender next year.