The magic number is down to two. The Portland Trail Blazers draft lottery odds will be locked in at No. 5 with losses in the regular season’s final two contests – at the LA Clippers and home to Golden State on Sunday afternoon.
The Blazers are 33-47 heading into the weekend, while their main competition for that fifth spot – the Orlando Magic, Washington Wizards, and Indiana Pacers – all slide into their last two games 34-46.
Picking at No. 5 would give Portland a 10.5 percent chance at landing the No. 1 selection and super-duper-uber-mega prospect Victor Wembanyama. (For reference, the Spurs, Rockets, and Pistons, who will all likely lose at least 60 games, have a 14 percent shot at the first pick.)
All this means one thing: Draft Szn officially kicks off in less than 48 hours.
When scouring the internet for the most recent mock drafts and which prospects the Blazers could be in the market for if they do land that fifth pick, two players in particular emerged.
Four different mock drafts have the Trail Blazers landing one of two defense-first prospects in the 2023 NBA Draft
Twenty-year-old wing Ausar Thompson and 19-year-old forward Jarace Walker are the two names most often linked with the Trail Blazers as of April 8. It’s admittedly very early in the pre-draft process as the regular season hasn’t even ended, but expect to see these two in the mix all the way up to draft night on June 22.
In terms of fit, Walker might be the right play as a 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward with a 7-2 wingspan and a penchant for defensive energy. “A versatile wrecking ball on defense,” is how O’Connor referred to him.
Walker is big, long, strong, athletic, and competitive, all of which are top-tier traits for a stopper on the defensive end. He also has plenty of switchability, which fits well with what Portland head coach Chauncey Billups wants to do scheme-wise. His strength and effort allow him to be a decent rebounder, another area in which the Blazers struggled all season.
He’s certainly not a minus on offense, either. The former Houston Cougar can be a playmaking hub, is smart in the pick-and-roll, and has more handles and scoring ability than he was able to show in college.
Thompson fits a similar profile except on the wing rather than as a powerful interior presence. He looks like an athletically charged up Lonzo Ball with his sticky man-to-man defense and ability to play a complimentary offensive role as a playmaker rather than a pure scorer.
That athleticism allows him to fly around the floor, switching onto multiple defenders and using his length and quickness to disrupt the opposing teams’ offensive flow and rack up deflections and steals.
He struggles as a shooter and scorer at this point in his development, fitting in more as a facilitator or straight-line driver who’s shown the ability to finish at the rim.
The idea here is clear: Portland desperately needs to improve its defense or it can expect a 2023-24 season similar to the one that just played out. Both Walker and Thompson would help on that end of the floor.