Blazers draft: Portland doubles down to fix its biggest flaw in Ringer mock

Cason Wallace, Kentucky Wildcats (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Cason Wallace, Kentucky Wildcats (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

The Portland Trail Blazers are awkwardly straddling the line between the postseason and a high lottery pick. Either the Blazers won’t (perhaps they can’t) win enough games to solidify a playoff spot, or they’re not ready to completely cash in the regular season.

Maybe it’s the optics, or maybe that’s just how it’s playing out.

It’s somewhat of a moot point, however. Even if the Blazers make the play-in tournament, the chances of them winning back-to-back games and missing out on a lottery selection completely are slim. At this point, even if Portland does make a legitimate run at the 10 seed, the consequences are likely to be a lower lottery selection, not a playoff appearance.

In that scenario, the Blazers would have two first-round picks: their own and the New York Knicks’ pick they received in the Josh Hart trade.

In The Ringer’s most recent mock draft, Kevin O’Connor has Portland using both firsts to double down on the team’s most glaring weakness – the one that is keeping the Blazers out of that playoff spot and in the lottery to begin with.

Blazers land Kentucky’s Cason Wallace, Barcelona’s James Nnaji

O’Connor has Portland selecting Kentucky guard Cason Wallace with the 11th pick, so right in that late-lottery, play-in spot area.

Wallace is a 6-foot-4, 193-pound freshman who’s started all 29 games for the Wildcats this season with averages of 11.7 points, 3.5 rebounds, 4.2 assists, and 1.9 steals.

Wallace’s calling card is his defense; he looks like Milwaukee’s Jrue Holiday physically, but more so in play style. In fact, O’Connor has Holiday as a comp for Wallace.

Wallace is long, strong, and smart on defense. He can lock up perimeter players on an island, but is also an excellent help defender.

The Holiday similarities show up offensively, as well. Wallace is a better spot-up shooter than off-the-dribble creator. He’s not going to blow by anyone and get to the rim with ease like some of the more athletic prospects in the 2023 class. But again, he’s intelligent, can manage an offense, and understands how to avoid turnovers (he has a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio at Kentucky).

The 19-year-old would be an ideal third guard for the Blazers. He can fill the gaping defensive holes in the Damian Lillard-Anfernee Simons backcourt, but he can play off the ball and be a secondary playmaker on offense while letting one of Portland’s two best scorers cook.

With the Knicks’ pick, which lands at No. 23 in this scenario, the Trail Blazers stay with the defense theme but address their need for size in the frontcourt with the 6-10, 225-pound Nnaji.

The 18-year-old Nigerian has a 7-7 wingspan and the athleticism to man the paint in Portland. He’s a “long-armed big man built link a tank,” according to O’Connor.

Nnaji is a rare high-ceiling, high-floor prospect. He’s an 18-year-old only playing 12.5 minutes a game in Spain, averaging 5.8 points and 2.9 rebounds. He’s raw and certainly falls along the spectrum of developmental prospects.

At the same time, he’s huge, has arms for days, and is athletic for his size. At the very least, he’s a backup big who can play 15 minutes a night, take up space, block a few shots, and roll to the rim for a few dunks.

But if he can expand on the brief flashes of an offensive game he’s shown – even if it remains near the rim – he has clear double-double potential. O’Connor’s comp for Nnaji is Clint Capela, which would be a welcome archetype in Portland after years of watching Jusuf Nurkic.

Next. Trail Blazers all-time draft bust starting 5. dark

If Blazers general manager Joe Cronin can address defense twice – once at the point of attack and again in the paint – it would have to be considered a successful draft for a franchise starving for either, let alone both.